Now the Challenging Part...

I believe in the value of strategic planning. Since serving as the deputy CIO responsible for strategic planning across a large public higher education system, I have led several planning processes and have been involved in many more. I've seen plans that are inspirational expressions of hope in the future, and I’ve seen some that define operational goals and read more like a to-do list than aspirations for the future. I know firsthand how hard it can be to get that balance right, and I’m also well aware that the completion of the plan is more a commencement than a conclusion. More than once, I've looked over a completed plan with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, only to feel that mood give way to a dawning realization: now the real work begins.

I'm genuinely proud of the EDUCAUSE strategic priorities that were unanimously approved by the board of directors in October 2016. As you may recall, we began this planning process in my first months on the job, and the important environmental scanning phase helped build a foundation for a strong plan. That scanning stage was illuminating and rigorous, including a community poll to all members, a detailed member survey to all members, many focus groups, and quite a few one-on-one calls with a range of important voices in our community. In the course of asking for input, we responded immediately when we heard that some in our community didn't feel they had a strong voice; for example, we created a Young Professionals Advisory Council for IT professionals in the earlier stages of their leadership journey. Over 2,000 members responded to the written surveys alone, and we carefully reviewed your comments and counsel—which I hope you see reflected in our new priorities. I'm proud of the care that went into building a comprehensive understanding of the EDUCAUSE landscape, the strong participation of the EDUCAUSE board, and the boldness of the vision we present for the next five years.

From the beginning of our planning discussion, the board and the EDUCAUSE executive team and staff worked hard to demand focus and avoid the planning sprawl that is so frequent. You know how it goes: you start a planning process determined to focus, and then before you know it, you have fifteen goals instead of the handful you had hoped for. Someone points this out, much to the distress of the planning group, and then someone else proposes a heroic solution: just use semicolons to group the fifteen goals into five goals. Instant focus.

Instead, we bring together three focused strategic priorities: personalized member experience; reimagined professional learning; and expanded partnerships and collaboration. It’s important to note that these priorities are not intended to capture all the vital activities of the association; instead, these priorities concentrate on levers that promise to transform the member experience in ways that we heard matter most to you.

Membership Priorities Graphic from EDUCAUSE Town Hall Meeting

We believe that over the five years, EDUCAUSE will offer a membership experience that will provide you with exactly the information you need, exactly when you need it. When I was in college, I got the information I needed by exhaustively rifling through the card catalog—or sometimes just by wandering the book stacks to find what I needed. Back then, we were starving for information. Today, we are drowning in it. No one has brought together a more comprehensive array of high-quality content for the higher education IT community than EDUCAUSE. Our website is overflowing with research, reports, toolkits, presentations, videos, and much, much more. Over the next five years we want not only to expand the resources we make available to our members but also to build out a significant new capacity to personalize the distribution of that content.

As we implement this new vision, you will have the opportunity to update your EDUCAUSE profile to reflect the topics that matter most to you, and this information will incrementally change your experience as a member. Knowing your interests and worries, we can send you targeted content. We can recommend specific events instead of attempting to share news of all of them the same way, and when you sign up to attend an EDUCAUSE event we can, because we will know you better, suggest the sessions we think will be most relevant. Maybe we can even build a proposed schedule for you. For those who want to opt out or who want to simply browse and search as we do now, that will be an option as well. At this beginning point, we don't know how all of this will be designed for members, but we do know that targeted content, rather than sheer quantity, better serves you at your point of need. Finally, this is just the tip of the personalization iceberg, and the value swings both ways. Personalization involves targeting information to you, but it will also help us shape our focus as an association. Imagine how much more responsively we could shape future resources, research, and events if we knew, with the click of a mouse, what topics our EDUCAUSE profile holders identify as their top concerns or interests.

Personalizing the EDUCAUSE experience requires an important, sweeping change in our membership model. If your top personal concern today is information security, the right information for you might be the new research report we just released, but that won't help you if the report is immediately available only to members who pay to subscribe to the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR). We want to share the important ECAR and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) content with all members, and we see this as an enabling step toward personalization. To make this happen, beginning in July 2017, we will make ECAR and ELI resources available to all EDUCAUSE members. This change will require a recalibration of our dues structure to spread out the cost of these core services to all members, lifting all boats with access to resources and sharing the burden more broadly than before. This change is necessary to advance personalization, but it must also be recognized that an adjustment to our member dues structure was overdue. Our board asked that our new dues structure be financially viable and equitable—that it replace ECAR and ELI revenue but not raise additional revenue. The board also asked us to simplify and modernize. Finally, it was agreed that now is the time to standardize our inconsistent application of discounts and, importantly, to include a budget differentiator. For example, the current dues structure creates circumstances in which two colleges or universities of similar size but with vastly different budgets pay the same dues; this will change under the new structure.

The decision to make changes that will result in increased dues for some members was not made lightly. However, we believe it is the right thing to do for our community. We estimate that around one-third of our member institutions will see their dues go down. When member dues go up, 77% will go up less than $2,000 (44% less than $1,000). Virtually all who will see dues increase are those who do not currently subscribe to ELI and ECAR, which cost $6,200 in 2016. We know that no increase is welcome, and Member Services is available to let you know what your dues will be and to discuss any needed transition plan with you.  

Our second strategic priority promises a "reimagining" of professional learning. From our regular assessments, we know that members are very satisfied with our current portfolio of professional development offerings, but we also heard that you are hungry for more. Following the retirement of Julie Little, we are searching for a new vice president to lead this reimagining in a way that builds on the strong offerings currently in place. We'll be exploring many possibilities, including leadership development programs that serve emerging roles like chief digital officers and that use team-based approaches to professional development. In line with personalization, we will also be considering a concierge approach to help you figure out what professional learning path is best for you personally. It's not hard to imagine that your EDUCAUSE profile could identify your professional development interests as well as help us connect you with appropriate opportunities in our professional development portfolio.

Our third strategic priority, expanded partnerships and collaborations, emerges from the growing conviction that individuals, organizations, and institutions can (and must) do more together than we can do alone. We believe that the future of higher education information technology is not IT professionals working in isolation; rather, successful IT leaders will increasingly be working collaboratively with presidents and chancellors, as well as others across the c-suite. We will continue to stress the value of having the senior IT leader report to the campus president or chancellor, but we will also acknowledge that what matters most is the degree to which information technology is strategically influential. We will work to advocate for this change by providing tools for IT professionals to tell their story to presidents and c-suite officers and by making substantive connections with other campus organizations and higher education associations.

I should mention that we strongly considered making diversity and inclusion a fourth strategic priority because it is so important, but we ultimately agreed that rather than isolating this work, it would be more effective to embed it throughout our priorities and our existing efforts. Last fall, many of you at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference noted that you appreciated the higher visibility of the diversity and inclusion theme across the conference program, and we are committed to deepening and broadening this in the years ahead across EDUCAUSE. In fact, we recently received a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to expand our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) capacities and improve our effectiveness in this crucial area.

At the March 2017 EDUCAUSE board meeting, we will move from the planning phase to delivering on the commitments we have made for the next five years. We have created five new working groups (Governance and Member Advisory; Platform; Personalization; Diversity and Inclusion; and Process, Project, and Prioritization), and they have already started work to develop a more detailed understanding of these three priorities and detail specific work planned for 2017 to take us where we need to be by the end of 2021.

I'm pleased to bring to you a plan that is bold and focused—with grounded, practical expectations as well as ambitious aspirations. I am confident our plan reflects the strong themes we heard throughout the planning process. I want to thank all of you—far too many to name—who were involved over the last year in developing a plan and a vision for the future of EDUCAUSE. Now the even harder work begins.

John O'Brien's signature


John O'Brien is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

© 2017 John O’Brien. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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