Making a Difference: Moving Your Organization from Transactional to Transformational

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Key Takeaways

  • A reallocation of budget and resources in Bucknell University's Library and Information Technology division enabled a shift from transactional functions to transformational initiatives.
  • Involving the campus community early in these conversations makes them part of the process when you need to make choices on focus and what to stop doing.
  • When considering reallocation of resources in libraries and information technology divisions, universities should take a holistic look at services across the organization.

Param Bedi, Vice President for Library and Information Technology, and Jason Snyder, Librarian/Manager of Communications and Outreach, Bucknell University

Since the 2008 economic downturn, the conversations among CIOs have often turned to the perception that IT departments don't have enough resources to keep up with technology on their campuses. Higher education is not known for canceling or sunsetting services, be it on the administrative or academic side. The economic downturn (and the ensuing financial issues it created) gave IT the perfect opportunity to reevaluate workflows, processes, and services. Does IT really need to continue offering everything they always have? Just because they did it in 2005 doesn't mean that they need to do it in 2015. Faculty and administration shared a similar mindset and were much more open to having these discussions in the context of the larger strategic vision for technology on campus.

While painful, the 2008 financial crisis forced CIOs to think strategically and transition some areas of the IT organization from support to partnership. IT departments have upped their attention to the academic side of the house, giving them the opportunity to become more strategically involved with institutional goals. They could do this by examining staffing, revamping processes, moving products/services to the cloud, and strategically reallocating positions to capitalize on this new academic focus.

In IT, with every initiative considered comes the question: How is this project or initiative going to distinguish my institution? Once IT has answered this question, IT leaders need to determine whether they have the staffing and budget resources to execute the plan. Not every project will pass this test, but it will help ascertain where projects fit with each institution's strategic goals.

Bucknell's Approach

In 1997, Bucknell University merged the library and information departments into Library and Information Technology to create a unified organization that has evolved into one that has shed many of the traditional distinctions that separate library and IT departments, and in the process has become much more academically focused.  Over the past several years, we have attempted to design projects that will distinguish our university in the eyes of not only the campus community but also external constituents. We devised four significant initiatives that we thought would set Bucknell apart: digital scholarship, summer course redesign grants, open educational resources, and business intelligence and analytics.

Given their scope, these initiatives require significant staffing and budgeting resources. To make sure we meet our goals for these and other operational projects, we created a department of Project Management and Assessment. We have funded these significant strategic initiatives without any new budgetary resources by reallocating budgets and staff positions from elsewhere in the organization.

An essential part of the reallocation process was change management. We recognized this from the start and made sure we used the change management process for all our reallocations. Our strategy was to reallocate budgets and positions from transactional functions to transformational initiatives. This meant taking stock of the skill set we had in the organization and doing a gap analysis on where we need to be in terms of skill set to realize our long-term strategy. This proved challenging, as we investigated moving positions and budget dollars. Having a strong leadership team was the key, because they participated in the process of designing the long-term strategies. So, if we moved an open technology support position to support digital scholarship, the leadership team understood why.

For these new initiatives, we made the following organizational and staffing changes:

  • Digital scholarship: Since 2008, we have more than doubled staff on the Instructional Technology team. Their model has shifted from supporting faculty to partnering with faculty. We hired staff with deep expertise in geographic information systems, digital media and video editing, and digital scholarship, and faculty often ask these staff members to co-teach courses. We also created a Digital Scholarship Center in the library where faculty can experiment with new instructional technologies and meet with instructional technologists. (We received a Mellon Foundation Grant [] to support digital scholarship activities.)
  • Summer course redesign grants: We have funded a significant number of technology integration grants based on student learning outcomes, also using Mellon grant funds.
  • Open educational resources: Bucknell established a Presidential Task Force on Open Educational Resources and Residential Learning to investigate potential opportunities for achieving Bucknell's educational goals. We have since devoted significant resources in our Instructional Technology division to supporting faculty exploration of open educational resources [].
  • Business intelligence and analytics: We created a new team for our business intelligence initiative. The project has established a data warehouse to facilitate a new open access model that looks at student data holistically rather than as data silos of the registrar, admissions and financial aid offices, and institutional research. Three new staff members are dedicated to this initiative.

How did we get to this point? What did we reallocate? The following initiatives helped us get to where we are today. Many of the items listed involved transitioning from longstanding on-campus services to cloud-based or off-site services. They also involved letting go of longstanding processes and systems in order to achieve desired strategic outcomes. The savings (not only in terms of budget but also staff positions) allowed us to redirect effort and resources to our new initiatives.

Moving to Google Mail

Many campuses have moved to Google Mail, Office 365, or other cloud-based solutions for campus e-mail and calendaring. Moving to Google Mail produced significant savings for us in terms of staffing, equipment, and cost. We no longer need to spend staff time and resources on setting up and maintaining servers, filtering spam, licensing desktop mail/calendar clients, and so on.

Increasing Internet Bandwidth

In 2008, Bucknell had a 100 Mbs Internet connection. Today, we have two connections, one for 2 Gbs and one backup for 1 Gps. Our primary Internet provider is KINBER. Bucknell University is a charter member of KINBER, a statewide research and educational network. Today, we are paying less for our Internet service than we paid in 2008 (figure 1).

figure 1

Figure 1. Increasing bandwidth while paying less

Patron-Driven Acquisitions

Rather than focusing on speculative collecting for future use, the library concentrates on acquiring materials at time of need. Over several years, our librarians noticed a trend: materials purchased through standard acquisitions processes (approval plans and speculative buying) were circulated only about 20 percent of the time. However, items purchased based on specific faculty or student requests were used more than 80 percent of the time and usually used multiple times. In consultation with Bucknell's Committee on Library and Information Resources and departmental faculty representatives, the Bertrand Library instituted an exclusively patron-driven acquisition (PDA) model for purchasing library materials. Items are now purchased on the recommendation of library users (faculty, staff, and students), thereby building a vibrant collection that receives significant use (figure 2). PDA also freed up funds to purchase significant additions to the library's collections, both physical and online.

Figure 2. Expenditures vs. circulation of library materials

Moving to a Cloud-Based Library System

The decision to decommission our long-standing on-site library system was not easy. It required us to become an early adopter of a somewhat revolutionary idea: completely moving our library system (circulation, acquisitions, cataloging, discovery tools) to the cloud. In 2011, we adopted OCLC WorldShare, a hosted solution, as our library system. This resulted in savings of over a quarter million dollars. Because the system is cloud-based, we don't have any servers on campus, we no longer need a systems librarian, and we don't need third-party discovery tools, since OCLC offers its robust WorldCat front end.

Steps You Can Take

How can you make a similar change on your campus? We have several pieces of advice:

  • Don't be afraid to stop doing things. Evaluate the services and resources you offer, and determine whether or not they're meeting your strategic goals.
  • Just because you've always done something doesn't mean you have to continue.
  • Strategically engage with academic and administrative leadership on innovative programs that library and/or IT teams can create.
  • Capitalize on your existing strengths, and figure out what new expertise and programs are needed.

As we went through this exercise, one of the hardest conversations on campus and among the Library and IT staff was what we should stop doing. This is difficult in higher education, as we are good at starting things, but not at stopping them. So, our suggestion is that the library and IT departments create a vision by working with faculty, students, staff, the president and provost, and then look into what would it take to realize the vision. That way we know the resources we need to realize our plans, can look for places in the organization to find them, and yes, stop doing some things. Our advice is to involve the campus community early in these conversations, so they are part of the process when you need to make choices on focus and what to stop doing.

These conversations are not easy, even among IT staff. Someone hired to manage the e-mail system might wonder what they do once e-mail moves to Google. What would a systems librarian do once the library system is outsourced to another provider? These are smart people; we should let them know that their skills will be used on institutional initiatives, and their contributions will help us become strategic in our approach. We need to remember, IT is not a goal in itself, but an enabler for academic and administrative initiatives.

As a final thought, we leave you with some words from Bucknell's leadership. In an address to the university staff, Bucknell President John Bravman encouraged our campus community to think strategically about the way we operate. He challenged us to be highly intentional, student-centered, prudently bold, data-driven, and forward looking. We think these overarching goals make excellent tenets that any campus can follow.