5 things presidents need to know about IT

by Danielle Yardy, senior analyst with the IT Forum, and Jim Adams, executive director of Advisory Board's Healthcare IT Advisor

For CIOs, toeing the "strategic partner" line is getting old—but not all academic and institutional leaders see the value in IT beyond its cost-center relationship to basic administrative functions. In this expert perspective, the IT Forum delineates some of the ways that IT adds value across campus, and the initiatives and capabilities that the President's Cabinet need to be aware of.

1. IT is increasingly essential to implementing and executing your mission

At the dawn of the digital age, when computers were both expensive and functionally limited, IT was simply a cost to be minimized. As prices came down and capabilities increased, we started seeing IT as an efficiency tool to reduce costs or improve quality—particularly in administrative units.

Now, IT is an essential part of enabling strategies across campus. Paper-based administrative and student engagement processes (e.g., registration, scheduling, advising interactions, or bill and fee payments) are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The broad reach of IT means that it is not necessary just to spend more in IT; you need to spend smarter. IT spending that isn't backed by a clear strategy, strong governance, and a common vision and vocabulary may hurt more than help.

We're also in the early stages of IT-driven industry transformation. Higher education can't focus on just automating what we've always done; we're using technology to help fundamentally change the rules of education—both what we do and how we do it.

2. IT is outpacing higher education's ability—and willingness—to adapt

In the mid-1960s, Gordon Moore of Intel noted that the number of integrated circuits on a transistor had been doubling every 12 to 24 months. His observation eventually became Moore's Law, which states that technology capacity grows exponentially, rather than linearly, and has done so for several decades.

We're seeing Moore's Law-like rates of advances in computing speed, storage capacity, and, significantly, in the sheer number of devices and technology domains (e.g. 3-D printing, robotics, artificial intelligence [AI], the Internet of Things [IoT], etc.) that are useful in education. But while a generalized Moore's Law can offer vague predictions of the rate at which the capacity of a given technology domain will advance, it's not so easy to predict how multiple domains will interact in the future or what capabilities they will enable.

For example, only a few years ago, most experts thought that self-driving or autonomous cars were a distant goal. But by combining robotics (i.e., the car), IoT (sensors and networks), AI (machine learning), and cloud-based computing and storage, we've seen remarkable progress.

In the same vein, no one could have guessed that the introduction of smartphones would lead to suicide prevention technologies. But artificially intelligent applications are learning to read user emotions and push notifications to flag at-risk users based on their expressions while interacting with technology. The smartphone is no longer simply a communication device: It is a portal to an intelligent digital world. These advances have the potential to radically alter the health and safety of students, but higher education is only just beginning to experiment with predictive analytics.

Yet as much as IT has improved since the 1960s, our greatest period of IT growth could still be ahead of us. That growth will apply not just to capability, but to complexity. Therefore … 

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