Enterprise IT Perspectives on the 2017 Top 10 IT Issues

Next-gen enterprise IT offers the opportunity for IT organizations to align more closely with institutional strategy by taking advantage of a variety of solution and service providers to meet institutional goals.

Each year, members of the EDUCAUSE Enterprise IT Program1 Advisory Committee share their thoughts about the Top 10 IT Issues. This year’s list includes one issue so central to the enterprise IT community that committee members chose to focus solely on it:

Issue #9: Next-Gen Enterprise IT: Developing and implementing enterprise IT applications, architectures, and sourcing strategies to achieve agility, scalability, cost-effectiveness, and effective analytics

What is next-gen enterprise IT, and how might it play out differently among various types and sizes of institutions? Four committee members share their thoughts and offer advice on how to approach this issue:

  • John Barden, Deputy CIO, University of Rochester
  • William E. Morse, Jr., Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Pomona College
  • Michael Quiner, Chief Information Officer, Linn-Benton Community College
  • Mitchel Rogers, Director, Financial Systems Solutions, Harvard University

What does next-gen enterprise IT mean to you?

Quiner: In the classic Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle, working as the Macy’s department store Santa, starts telling shoppers about the alternative stores and shops where they can find items that are not available at Macy’s. This is an example of the philosophy and structure of the next-gen enterprise IT. The new baseline for enterprise IT is to anticipate the needs of the institution and look outside the services and systems traditionally found in the IT department. It is about more than collaboration, although that is a big component. The new model requires networking throughout the institution and the higher education ecosystem to collect data and resources. The new goal of enterprise IT is to make the college’s “Christmas list” a reality by looking beyond what our campus already has on our IT shelves and by becoming a broker instead of a single-service provider.

Barden: Next-gen enterprise IT represents the outcome of the consumerization of information technology and the expanding footprint of technology-enabled processes. In this dynamic environment, there is an increasing need for the IT department to be a strong partner in stitching together comprehensive solutions from a variety of solution and service providers that are responsive to institutional goals.

Rogers: I see it as optimizing administrative and technical resources in a way that allows the maximum allocation of money and people to the institution’s mission. Spend less money and time on technology and more money and time on teaching and research. Next-gen enterprise IT also highlights the importance of raising the bar on IT staff business competencies and providing more integrated training for administrative staff on core competencies such as business process and data management.

Morse: Administrative systems no longer simply provide transactional services limited in scope and ability. New technologies are enabling colleges and universities to greatly expand their offerings while at the same time providing incredibly important information in the form of analytics. Today’s modern systems make it possible to integrate a myriad of “micro best-of-breed” solutions that cover practically every possible function of a modern institution in very tailored ways. Everything—from personality matching of roommates to specific applications to help enable student success—is now possible. And because these solutions are almost always located in the cloud, they can be deployed without overly burdening IT staff. Further, through data-integration efforts, the resulting analytics generated by these applications can then be funneled back into predictive analysis for student success. It is a different world, one that requires a rethinking of what the traditional college/university administrative support unit should do and be. However, the rewards can be amazing!

How does this issue play out in different types or sizes of institutions?

Rogers: Harvard is admittedly less resource-constrained than most institutions (though more resource-constrained than commonly thought, I would guess). Also, Harvard is even more decentralized than most, which can make it challenging to fund enterprise-wide initiatives. But if a strategy that supports the mission of the institution can be demonstrated and communicated, it’s possible to gain traction for institution-level enterprise investments, especially if a case can be made for cost reduction or containment so that more funds can be applied to the missions of teaching and research.

Quiner: Community colleges have the strengths of extremely variegated student populations and close ties to regional communities, including businesses. One of their weaknesses is that their IT resources and budgets are severely restricted. Community colleges can look to make their enterprise IT more sustainable by taking a page from the private schools that know how to energize and capitalize on their alumni base. Looking at the relationships, we have to make up for lack of resources.

Morse: The services needed by administrative systems are, at core, the same regardless of the size or type of institution. In the past, larger institutions with larger budgets have been able to buy and support far more complex systems and, thus, make their offerings far richer. However, with systems moving to the cloud using the software-as-a-service model, I suspect a great leveling of the playing field. After all, functionality will be more standard, and any institution using the service will have the same access to that functionality. The differences, then, will be in the richness of the variety of third-party solutions used in addition to the core system and in the capability of the analytics tools. I believe every institution should invest in these services from a strategic perspective so that, in the end, the differences will not be as great as they once were.

Where do you start?

Morse: Administrative systems are today at an inflection point. The move to software-as-a-service is inevitable as institutions standardize core operational processes. However, with this change comes great opportunity, particularly with analytics and an expanded scope of functionality. All institutions should be looking at what is coming with administrative systems and should be starting to think about how those systems can be made a strategic asset to their institution.

As with any other initiative, the first step is to talk with key stakeholders about what these various support systems could be. What are the outcomes we want? What resources do we want to make available to our community? What are we missing today? The answers to those questions will enable an institution to develop an architecture to achieve those outcomes and goals. For example, if a desired outcome is analytics or predictive analysis, then the resources needed and the way systems are integrated must be carefully architected. If the goal is to be able to manage a variety of outside tools to enhance the core administrative system, then further deliberate consideration is required.

Modern systems also mean that IT departments need to rethink what is needed for administrative system support. With the core systems moving to the cloud, critical team skills now include application integration, data architecture, and analytics. In addition, to manage the ever-increasing scope of potential opportunities, IT departments would be wise to deploy project management and structured engagement with key stakeholders so that they are aware of the needs and desires of various units and can manage the project portfolio. Finally, security and contract awareness are must-have skills in this new world of administrative systems.

Rogers: Start with alignment with regard to enterprise IT strategy, demonstrating how it supports the core institutional mission. Next, focus on three to five critical topic areas such as procurement, people, space, administrative and institutional data, and business process optimization.

Barden: This is very much an evolution, since most of these trends have been developing for a number of years. IT organizations that have not already done so should look carefully at their IT governance models, sourcing strategies, and internal readiness to support an increasing pace of change and heightened systems dependency.

What other advice would you give about this issue?

Rogers: Always support and tie back to the institutional mission. Abandon anything that does not support that mission.

Barden: Focus on the institutional goals, and recognize the potential opportunity in advancing collaboration. Be active and transparent in helping your individual team members understand and prepare for the role changes inherent in these shifts.

Morse: Pay attention to it! These changes are coming. Every vendor is moving in this direction, and every institution should be looking at what these opportunities will bring. This does mean we are in for a period of disruption from both a services and an IT support model point of view. However, in the end, administrative systems will become a far more important strategic asset to institutions—and so will the IT organizations that support those systems.

Note

  1. The EDUCAUSE Enterprise IT Program helps to make campus enterprise IT more informed, efficient, and strategic.

Betsy Tippens Reinitz is Director of Enterprise IT Programs for EDUCAUSE.

© 2017 Betsy Tippens Reinitz. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 52, no. 1 (January/February 2017)