Corporate Perspectives on the EDUCAUSE 2018 Top 10 IT Issues

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Five members of the EDUCAUSE Corporate Membership Advisory Committee share their perspectives on a few of the 2018 Top 10 IT Issues.

Corporate Perspectives on the 2018 Top 10 IT Issues
Credit: / Shutterstock © 2018

John O’Brien, President and CEO, EDUCAUSE:

Each year, EDUCAUSE surveys the community of higher education IT professionals to find out what, among the broad range of challenges and opportunities they face in their jobs, is most pressing. This research produces an annual list of Top 10 IT Issues. Some issues show up regularly. In 2018, for the third time, Information Security topped the list. Other issues, such as Student Success (#2 this year), rise or fall based on the changing priorities for higher education and the role that information technology can play in advancing institutional missions.

The Top 10 IT Issues list benefits greatly from the wide variety of higher education institutions surveyed. In addition, input from individuals and organizations that are dedicated to the higher education sector but are not from colleges or universities is crucial to gaining an understanding of these challenges. The community of companies that offers products and services to higher education institutions can contribute valuable perspectives. Dedicated and committed to the academic enterprise, individuals from this community see the issues facing higher education manifested across multiple industries, settings, and business models. Indeed, they often have a global knowledge base, insightful best practices, and a readiness to conduct research and find solutions that can be invaluable as colleges and universities work to address these top challenges. Moreover, in some cases, industry-academia partnerships and collaborations may provide the extra support needed to envision and create new paths forward.

This year, we asked several members of the EDUCAUSE Corporate Membership Advisory Committee to share their thoughts and views on the 2018 Top 10 IT Issues. We look forward to incorporating these ideas into the conversations and resources that are developed to support the Top 10 list, and we hope you will share these perspectives with your colleagues.

Cole ClarkCole Clark
Executive Director, Higher Education


Kelly DoneyKelly Doney
Vice President, Global Partner Success


Ron KraemerRon Kraemer (Co-Chair, CMAC)
Vice President and Chief Information and Digital Officer
University of Notre Dame


Mark MillironMark Milliron (Co-Chair, CMAC)
Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer
Civitas Learning


Renee PattonRenee Patton
Director of Education
Cisco Systems


Issue #1, Information Security:

Developing a risk-based security strategy that keeps pace with security threats and challenges

Renee Patton:

Security is arguably the single most important topic in higher education today. With the proliferation of devices, applications, information, and new cybersecurity threats—and with the scarcity of IT staff to identify, manage, and remediate threats in this environment—the problem seems overwhelming and fraught with risk. Of trends today, this one screams for automated approaches, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to identify and remediate risk across the network and to share this information across the broad range of networks everywhere.

Administrators must keep information about an institution's faculty and students secure. And in today's threat landscape, it's not "if" a data breach will occur—it's "when." In fact, the Verizon 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report concluded that the education sector ranked sixth in the United States for reported "security incidents" in 2016 — higher than both the healthcare and the retail industries.

As the number of network entry points balloons, we will continue to see an increased number of breaches. While colleges and universities cannot prevent every incident, they can prepare a strong security posture to keep valuable information safe from intruders. And they can find solutions that automate the detection and remediation of risks, saving valuable time for their IT staff.

Colleges and universities experience higher traffic on networks due to Wi-Fi and the use of personal devices in lecture courses and to collaborative message boards in online classes. Moreover, networks are more loosely controlled in higher education: 59 percent of surveyed higher education students use personal mobile devices for coursework and research, opening more access points for intruders.

While all higher education institutions are at risk, research universities are particularly vulnerable. Research schools engage in cutting-edge data evaluation, which includes both confidential and sensitive information on topics such as power grid issues and health data frontiers. This data can be invaluable to hackers.

Although technology has advanced to meet educational needs, it can put student and faculty privacy, along with important district and state information, at risk unless security measures are built in. As threats from hackers continue to penetrate networks big and small, colleges and universities need to be prepared to handle what comes at them at all times. Finding a solution that scales to fit network needs will ease fears of a data breach, allowing institutions to continue to focus on educating students.

Cole Clark:

It's no surprise to see security at the top of the list for 2018, especially given the high-profile nature of this topic—as well as the high-profile incidents—both within and outside of higher education. To many who are not in the cybersecurity profession (i.e., most higher education executives), the topic is big, scary, amorphous, and overwhelming. While we've definitely developed depth and capability around the "what" of cybersecurity (building better mouse traps to protect sensitive information and foil the bad guys), the real emphasis should be on the governance, not just on the tools and technologies. Developing a culture of cyber-awareness and a focus on the people and process sides of this issue proves particularly challenging in higher education, given the decentralized nature of most institutions and the shared governance variations that exist at almost every college and university. The risks of inaction or inadequate action are increasing, however. In addition to the financial costs of remediation, as well as the reputational risks associated with an incident, the federal government is applying growing pressure on the sector to embrace leading practices in instituting controls and appropriate governance. To quote from a recent paper coauthored by Deloitte and EDUCAUSE: "Traditional approaches to cybersecurity in higher education are no longer adequate. . . . Institutions that do not comply risk losing federal funding for research and, potentially, financial aid."

A strategy that ensures these topics are routinely addressed as part of a broader enterprise risk-management approach, at the executive leadership and board-of-trustees level, is essential to guaranteeing both adequate funding/resources and adequate cultural change and awareness in order to successfully mitigate cyber-risk.

Issue #2, Student Success:

Managing the system implementations and integrations that support multiple student success initiatives


I see this issue as inextricably linked to #5, Student-centered Institution: understanding and advancing technology's role in defining the student experience on campus (from applicants to alumni). Designing systems (processes and functions as well as the technology that "represents" them) in a student- (or persona-) centric manner is directly related to persistence and success. For too long, we've been unable to break down the silos between administrative units, schools, and colleges, and as a result, students are left to connect the dots and follow the breadcrumbs (if they're lucky). Persona-centric design thinking holds dramatic potential for higher education. It's important to remember that this is true not just for technology but also for the way in which student services are organized. A 2017 Deloitte paper stresses the important "marriage" of student-centric organization and process design with technology as key to addressing both of these EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues.

Kelly Doney:

While the definition of student success necessarily varies from institution to institution, the ultimate goals of any student success initiative are to increase retention and graduation rates for enrolled students and to enable students' gainful employment in their area of study. However, given the fiscal realities in higher education, it isn't feasible to expect faculty and staff to reach even more students for individualized interventions and interactions—and this is where technology comes in.

Technology can't do it all, however. While we can harness the power of constituent relationship management (CRM) technology and predictive analytics to flag students at risk and to automate responsive actions, the technology must be backed by a solid student success strategy. Given the plethora of data available at most institutions, it's easy to configure a student success system to measure many aspects of students' behavior, and therein lies the danger. Without consensus-building strategy sessions, it is easy to collect the wrong metrics and conclude that your system isn't working.

Student success systems rely on predictive analytics, the results of which are presented to the user in a digestible format to drive decisions. In the future, the technology needs to become even more proactive. Just like a traffic app tells a user what time to leave for an appointment without the user having to ask, student success systems should be more proactive in directing faculty, staff, and students to take action.

In addition, 87 percent of students surveyed said that the "tech-savvy of colleges" was important when they applied, and 97 percent said that "beyond teaching and learning technologies . . . technologies that support them outside of class are just as important." Can the student use a mobile device to get to all of the information needed to make decisions? How easy is it for a student to figure out degree requirements and how he/she is progressing toward those requirements? Can the student pay tuition and fees online, including through a mobile device? All of these seemingly small factors add up to influence students' success in their higher education experience.

Issue #3, Institution-Wide IT Strategy:

Repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner of institutional leadership in achieving institutional missions


It's gratifying to see Institution-Wide IT Strategy as the #3 concern. Throughout my career, I have been disappointed by how little attention has been given to the problems created as a result of solving for IT issues at the local or unit level in a college or university. Increasingly, senior leadership has recognized that while not all IT resources can be part of the central administration, strong coordination across the divisions and departments is critical, since information technology is so much more than a utility. With many traditional IT services offered "as a service" (i.e., through the cloud), a strategy that tightly integrates and aligns these services (and the data they develop and draw on) is imperative. To help drive this conversation, start with the institution's strategic goals, and then outline how information technology plays an essential, enabling role in each of those goals. Creating that vision reveals how counterproductive the uncoordinated, unit-level IT services can be to achieving those strategic objectives.


One of the major challenges in being a CIO is in driving change across an entire institution. In the past, IT organizations operated in a silo, and many still do. The massive shift toward digitization is affecting entire institutions, not just one group or department. Becoming digitized requires participation by all stakeholders. 

This probably goes without saying, but it bears repeating: the enterprise-wide IT strategy must be aligned with, and in full support of, the overall institutional vision and strategy. The most important question that IT leaders can ask is: "How can technology enable my college/university to reach and exceed our overall goals and objectives?" This requires truly understanding the strategic plan and the ways in which technology can help leaders realize key outcomes: increase efficiency, decrease cost, improve the college/university brand, engage and retain learners, provide a great student experience, generate more research dollars, better support faculty members, be more connected with the community, increase access, and more. By identifying these impact areas and creating an IT business case for ongoing institutional support, IT leaders can help colleges and universities execute more effectively toward their overall strategy.

Issue #4, Data-Enabled Institutional Culture:

Using BI and analytics to inform the broad conversation and answer big questions

Mark Milliron:

Although postsecondary institutions have been awash in data for decades, it's only recently that colleges and universities have started to leverage tools and techniques to learn more from their data—in particular, using the data to take timely action and measure the outcomes of policy and practice change. This represents a fundamental shift in how data is used—and in the democratization of information. Institutions across the country are moving from a focus primarily on using data for reporting to one that also includes shifting to operational and predictive analytics in order to support students in real time and better prepare them to navigate their higher education pathways.  

Consider the University of South Florida []. Equipped with timely student success intelligence, everyone—from administrators to resident advisors—became more informed on how to support students. As a result, they closed equity gaps, improved students' persistence rates, and increased graduation rates. To be clear, far more important than the tools was the cultural and operational changes surrounding the data. The institution moved its data culture from one dominated by reactionary reporting to a one informed by signal processing aimed at seeing all students and helping more of them succeed.

In short, data is at the core of the sort of transformation that can occur when institutions look beyond established heuristics and best-practice-based generalizations. Data enables institutional leaders to take a deeper look at what's moving the needle for their students—and at what, though well-intended, may not be as effective as they thought (or at all). As more institutions begin to fully utilize their data, the broader conversation in higher education will become truly informed—allowing us to fully understand what needs to be done to help all students succeed. Moreover, faculty, advisors, and students will have more and better data at their fingertips to do their work and achieve their goals.


The phrase "business intelligence" (BI) came into use in the early 1990s. Yet higher education is only now talking about BI the way that commercial entities did about twenty years ago. Why is higher education so far behind?

Higher education has some of the most complex data, and that data is often spread across hundreds of systems on a campus, making it difficult to organize, structure, and maintain. Further, the number of roles in an institution is significant, and each of these roles has different data and analytics needs. To be relevant, analytics needs to speak to each role. Lastly, successful BI programs have historically relied heavily on support from IT staff. In higher education, the size of the IT staff dedicated to solving these problems is negligible compared with the staff in corporate entities. All of these factors have contributed to limited uptake of true data-enabled decision-making within higher education. However, with the reality of decreased funding and the competition for limited resources, data-driven decision-making has grown in importance.

To turn data analytics into actionable insights, higher education institutions need the following:

  1. A higher-education-specific data model that includes data from all systems on campus and that is shared broadly with the market to drive integration
  2. Role-based analytics that create a richer user experience
  3. Analytics delivered as a service, removing the reliance on IT staff

This approach has the capability to change analytics in higher education because it addresses the key points of friction (i.e., data complexity, multiple roles, and the reliance on IT) that have prevented significant adoption to date.

Issue #10, Change Leadership:

Helping institutional constituents (including the IT staff) adapt to the increasing pace of technology change


Change leadership—in and of itself—is not a problem that technology can solve; rather, it poses a challenge because technology changes so frequently. Historically, institutions have leveraged their on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions for upwards of 10–20 years before investing in a new system, but now, software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions bring new changes multiple times each year. Both scenarios affect users who may exhibit resistance, lack understanding of the imperative for change, and fail to see how their jobs will or will not change as a result—which is where change leadership comes in.

Think of the "three-legged stool" of people, process, and technology. Resisting the urge to focus only on the technology is critical to the success of any tech project. Instead, it is critically important to focus on the people component of these efforts; failing to do so can ultimately limit adoption of the new solution. Knowing how to truly bring people through significant change requires knowledge, skill, and experience; it is not something that someone in the IT department can just take on as a collateral duty.

Change leadership provides the focused discipline that institutions need to address resistance, assess and plan for impacts, and position user communities for rapid adoption of new solutions. Change leadership is an important ingredient for achieving student and institutional success.


In a world where a higher education degree is the price of admission for even entry-level jobs, increasing students' college completion rates is fast becoming not just an economic but a moral imperative. Moreover, in today's world, the IT infrastructure is mission-critical in the larger infrastructure of education. Indeed, it is often the nexus of policy and practice change, data and information processing, and innovation and ideation. IT teams are at the heart of the learning enterprise in a way they've never been before.

It's time to lean in. IT professionals must engage with broader leadership teams—academic, student services, facilities, operations, and more—to better understand and "own" the vision of the road ahead. When that happens, IT leaders become true enablers of the future, rather than gatekeepers. But doing so means taking on many diverse roles, all at the same time:

  1. Visionary: helping fellow leaders see and prepare for the road ahead
  2. Practical Builder: helping fellow leaders build thoughtful crawl/walk/run plans for IT infrastructure
  3. Team Builder: helping fellow leaders build thoughtful crawl/walk/run plans for the cultural change that always comes with infrastructure change
  4. Collaborator: helping fellow leaders in academics, finance, facilities, student services, and other areas to ensure alignment and synergy of the continuing build-out
  5. Learning Leader: helping the team keep up not only with IT change strategies but also with educational, societal, and leadership change strategies (today's IT leaders are living learners, constantly expanding and improving their skills)

None of this is surprising to savvy, long-standing CIOs. But the pace of change and the needs of students now are such that there is less room for error. What's clear is that the IT leadership and change management imperative is only going to increase in importance in the months and years to come.

Moving Forward: Transactions, Partnerships, and the Top IT Issues

Ron Kraemer:

Looking at the EDUCAUSE 2018 Top 10 IT Issues in this era of cloud-based service delivery, I often wonder what we should call the relationship between higher education institutions and the organizations that provide colleges and universities with hardware, software, and service solutions. Higher education institutions are colleges or universities. Are their supplier organizations vendors, merchants, collaborators, sellers, providers, partners—or something else? The one thing I keep coming back to is that the answer to this question depends on the quality and the amount of time each entity invests in nurturing the relationship.

In the least-developed relationships, sellers make cold calls, send many emails, and add unasked-for meetings to calendars—without receiving responses. In this type of relationship, the best that can be hoped for is transactions. A college or university pays some amount of money, and in return it gets some amount of hardware, software, or service. The burden of understanding the risk and reward is entirely on the buyer side, and in many cases, this transactional relationship is adequate. Conversely, the most highly developed relationships involve a shared understanding of needs, trust, risk, and collective rewards. There are thoughtful interactions even when there is no opportunity to buy or sell. In the best situations, both parties invest an incredible amount of intellectual capital, time, and care.

To maximize success as we move to more cloud services, college/university interactions with providers must evolve from transactional to more highly developed relationships.  In many cases, higher education institutions can no longer just buy something that is managed in campus data centers, with staff applying their own user experience parameters, security protocols, disaster-recovery methodologies, and continuity-of-operations strategies. Colleges and universities today must operationally understand what providers are delivering. This will require that both parties invest more in the relationship if there is hope to have fewer transactions and more partnerships.

I encourage everyone to consider the challenges and opportunities outlined in the EDUCAUSE 2018 Top 10 IT Issues and to think deeply about what each of us will need to invest in order to progress through partnerships.

The EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues Website Offers the Following Resources:

  • A video summary of the Top 10 IT issues

  • Recommended readings and EDUCAUSE resources for each of the Top 10 IT issues

  • An interactive graphic depicting year-to-year trends

  • Top 10 IT Issues lists by institutional type

  • Additional subject-matter-specific viewpoints on the Top 10 IT Issues

  • The Top 10 IT Issues presentation at the EDUCAUSE 2017 Annual Conference

© 2018 Cole Clark, Kelly Doney, Ron Kraemer, Mark Milliron, Renee Patton, and EDUCAUSE. The text of this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.