It Takes a Village to Build the Digital Campus

min read

As new technologies enable the development of digital ecosystems, campus constituents must work together to create those environments.

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Credit: JohnTV / Shutterstock © 2018

"It takes a village to raise a child" is an African proverb that means it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children in order for them to grow up in a safe environment.

"It takes a village to create the digital campus" is SUNY Oswego's proverb to convey that a campus has the best chance to thrive virtually when the entire community embraces technology. For this to happen the campus needs a mature ecosystem in which the community takes an active role in contributing to the infusion of technology in all aspects of campus life.

Higher education's technical ecosystem is changing as mobile, cloud, social, and advanced analytics technologies are transforming the way our community interacts within that ecosystem. Faculty and staff throughout the institution are much more technically savvy then in the past, and most students entering the college system are digital natives with an expectation that they will be able to interact with our institution through an online experience. As campuses move into this next generation IT, it is characterized by niche cloud applications giving end users greater power. The consumerization of cloud services has led to more options for departmental users to implement technology to improve personalization and increase effectiveness and efficiency and meet the needs of this new generation of faculty, staff, and students.

Many of these systems are marketed and sold with the promise that minimum enterprise IT involvement is required. This may be appealing to departments that believe enterprise IT is too slow to implement new technologies, but are these decisions the best for the institution? Is full value realized when IT is omitted from the equation? Is this changing the technical ecosystem in unintended ways?

Healthy Digital Ecosystems

Any healthy ecosystem needs four components: nonliving elements, producers, consumers, and decomposers. A healthy, mature digital ecosystem contains the following elements:

  • Green, robust, environmentally responsible infrastructure to support growing needs
  • Knowledgeable practitioners, including technically savvy faculty and staff and trusted IT workers who produce and maintain the ecosystem
  • Faculty, staff, and students who take advantage of the digital offerings
  • A recycling process that effectively implements change, both in learning and scholarly environments and in business process

In a healthy digital ecosystem, enterprise IT must lead in the stewardship of that ecosystem. To do this, we need to ensure ample infrastructure, be effective change agents, and show the ability to collaborate and cooperate with departments that want to implement technological change. It requires clear roadmaps that outline a direction forward yet are agile enough to evolve as the environment around us changes. Also necessary is appropriate governance that allows timely decisions by the appropriate decision makers.

Governance and Process

Effective stewardship of the digital ecosystem is a matter of effective campus-wide IT governance. Successful governance processes outline the decision rights that departments have in implementing their own technology and create a process for approval. The process should include considerations that departments need to make in acquiring technology, as well as guardrails that they need to follow to ensure that their decisions fit into the overall environment of the institution.

At SUNY Oswego, with the assistance of other SUNY colleges, we have created a document that outlines what departments wanting to implement cloud services need to consider and do. The document outlines considerations for implementing cloud technology and explains why such projects are often more involved than departments imagine. It discusses items such as engaging IT to ensure that the application's security meets campus standards; obtaining proper legal vetting of the contract; understanding the scope of implementation in areas including integration with existing technologies such as SSO, data exchange requirements, and customization; and branding of the application.

Cooperation and Collaboration

For a healthy ecosystem, the producers, consumers, and decomposers need to work in harmony. In our digital ecosystem analogy, this is also true, particularly with respect to enterprise IT and departmental IT. A healthy relationship based on trust between these units depends on the cooperation and collaboration of all involved.

Cooperation is the act of sharing resources and information to support reaching separate goals. Collaboration is working together to achieve a shared goal. Both of these interactions are necessary by all parties to ensure that our digital ecosystem remains healthy. In particular, IT needs to look at how we can contribute to the success of these initiatives. Here are some examples of what enterprise IT can do.

Cooperation can come in a variety of forms:

  • Documented cloud process with timelines for implementation
  • Allocating resources to implement the required tasks in a timely manner
  • Defining security requirements for a cloud implementation that systems must meet

Collaboration may come in these forms:

  • Leadership and/or assistance in the selection and procurement of a system
  • IT project management to ensure that the project receives appropriate resources for the scope of the project, timelines are established, and change management is planned and managed
  • Business process design assistance to understand how the technology is going to change workflows and jobs inside a department


As technology becomes integral to the workings of all departments, it is important that IT understand and plan for the changes and issues that individual units are expecting technology to solve. Ensuring that we have strong partnerships with the campus will help leadership collaborate throughout the institution to understand what departments want to do and how they want to implement technology to improve the experience of their stakeholders and the efficiency of their departments. Enterprise IT has unique skill sets, which can assist in the implementation of these projects, skills such as project management and business process redesign, enterprise architecture, and service management. Bringing IT's skill sets to these implementations helps ensure that they succeed and that true value is received from each implementation.

One of the difficulties in planning for this type of assistance is the allocation of the proper resources at the right time. To offer these types of services, they need to be allocated on an agile basis as these types of projects arise. This takes a different type of planning—planning that leaves resources available for smaller projects. It takes both an understanding that there is some ambiguity in the future and a belief that we will be able to handle it as it comes more closely into focus.

At a recent conference I attended, a roundtable discussed "innovative ways to ensure campus technology delivers on the institution's promise and objectives." The shared wisdom of the roundtable was that higher education IT is far behind other industries in providing a strong digital experience for students and that strong leadership and partnerships across the institution will be necessary to improve the situation.

To develop the strong and healthy ecosystem where our digital environment is thriving, IT will need to play an important role in the implementation of these niche systems. It will require recognition of our leadership and partner roles, the necessity of adding our unique skill sets to projects where appropriate, and the need to cooperate and collaborate to ensure departments succeed in the implementation of their digital service offerings. As these systems succeed and deliver value to the institution, IT will improve our partnerships and act as proper stewards of our digital environment and develop a closer link between IT and the institutional goals and mission.

This is part of a collection of resources related to how colleges and universities can take advantage of business process redesign efforts to become more agile. For the full set of resources and tools on this topic, go to Continually Improving Business Process Redesign Efforts.

Sean Moriarty is Chief Technology Officer at the State University of New York at Oswego and chair of the SUNY Council of CIOs.

© 2018 Sean Moriarty. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.