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3 Hurdles Ahead for Academic IT Teams

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Kivuto and University Business surveyed academic IT leaders to learn how digital resources are being managed and distributed in higher education and what challenges the process involves.

Education is changing to keep pace with an increasingly high-tech world. Technology is no longer limited to a supporting role at academic institutions—it's become a core part of curricula, critical to equipping students with the skills they need to succeed. As this trend continues, school IT teams face a growing burden: managing the increasing amount of software, cloud products, e-textbooks, and other digital resources used at their institutions.

A recent study by Kivuto examined how academic IT teams are coping with this burden. The results indicate that it already isn't easy. A significant majority of respondents (63%) find the management and distribution of digital resources challenging as it is. As the demand for these resources increases—and as more vendors move their products to the cloud—the challenges will only grow.

To keep from being overwhelmed, many school IT teams will need to rethink their approaches to digital-resource management. Kivuto's research suggests there are three key issues these teams will need to grapple with sooner rather than later. We'll call them the three Cs—centralization, the cloud, and compliance.


One of the clearest takeaways from Kivuto's study is that decentralization and silos are creating huge hassles for school IT teams.

When respondents were asked how digital resources are managed at their institutions, the most common response (59%) was that the process varies by department. And yet, in a majority of cases (53%), the institution's central IT team is responsible for procuring these resources. This requires these teams to remember and master a patchwork of procedures, which is time-consuming and inefficient. As a result, it's unsurprising that 55% of respondents identified time management as one of the biggest challenges to managing and distributing digital resources.

But the most commonly identified challenge to managing these resources by far (86%) was a "lack of integration between systems and workflows." This is another result of decentralization—siloed systems with no interoperability. When digital resources are distributed through multiple independent systems, it's all but impossible for IT to get a big-picture view of adoption rates, usage rates, product demand, and compliance with terms and conditions.

Ryan Peatt, Kivuto's chief product officer and a leading expert on academic software licensing, has seen schools struggle with decentralization and can speak to the challenges and risks it brings. "When procedures and resources are decentralized, IT service organizations can't ensure compliance," he says. "They can't provide support, they lack governance, and they can't ensure value to their institutions."

Fortunately, there are signs that schools are starting to recognize the problems with decentralized license management. According to the EDUCAUSE 2020 Top 10 IT Issues list, digital integrations and administrative simplification are both priorities in 2020. A study by Promethean [https://resourced.prometheanworld.com/technology-education-industry-report/#schools-use-of-tech] found that making content centrally available is the biggest use of online technology by UK schools. These findings suggest that institutions are making an effort to simplify things through centralization and integration.

The Cloud

As established above, academic institutions are already struggling with decentralized systems and procedures. And though some steps are being taken to address this, the ongoing shift to the cloud is compounding the problem.

When asked to name the biggest challenge to managing cloud products used on campus, the most common response from IT leaders (60%) was "multiple processes to handle different licenses." So not only do school IT teams have to master processes that vary by department, they're increasingly forced to master processes that vary by product.

It's unclear how large a problem this is at present. Only about half of the respondents to Kivuto's survey currently manage any cloud products for their institution. However, this is bound to change. The cloud is rapidly becoming the new standard in software licensing. More vendors are moving to cloud models all the time. The Promethean study [https://resourced.prometheanworld.com/technology-education-industry-report/#schools-use-of-tech] found that cloud-based lesson-delivery tools are the technology that has seen (and is expected to continue seeing) the most growth at UK schools. The 2020 Gartner CIO Survey by Gartner, Inc., the world's leading research and advisory company, found that after artificial intelligence/machine learning, the cloud (including XaaS) is seen as the second most game-changing technology by CIOs in higher education.1

The takeaway is that cloud technology is on the rise, and we believe schools will inevitably have to manage more of these products in the future. And if IT teams keep having to manage each of these products independently, using separate systems and processes, then those teams' struggles with decentralization are going to get worse before they get better.

As Peatt puts it, "The cloud is making decentralization of software licensing easier, more prevalent, and probably more costly, and it's increasing risk to organizations."


The subject of risk brings us to the third and final C on our list—compliance. Or, more specifically, the growing risks of noncompliance.

Sweeping new privacy laws are springing up around the world. While schools in the US (Kivuto's area of study) may not be too concerned with the European Union's infamous General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), similar laws are cropping up closer to home. The recently passed California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), for example, mandates fines of up to $7,500 per record breached, which, in the event of a large data breach, could add up to a staggering amount of money. It also gives individuals the right to sue organizations for any violations of the law, creating additional financial risks to noncompliance.

With this being the case, it's strange—and concerning—that there seems to be a certain complacency around compliance among higher ed IT teams. Fewer than a third of respondents to Kivuto's survey (32%) feel very concerned about compliance with these new laws. According to Gartner, "embracing risk is a key ability for innovation and a learning organization. Higher education is relatively risk averse."2 Considering the potentially steep penalties institutions that breach these laws can face, we might ask why compliance isn't more of a concern in academic IT.

As with schools' centralization issues, there are some encouraging signs that institutions are wising up to the importance of compliance. After not appearing on any of the EDUCAUSE annual top 10 IT issues lists in the last decade, privacy debuted at number 3 in 2016 and now holds the number 2 spot (second only to security, a related concern), as summarized in a Kivuto blog. And though few of Kivuto's respondents reported feeling very concerned about compliance with emerging laws, even fewer (16%) claim not to be concerned whatsoever. These findings indicate that institutions are starting to recognize the importance of compliance with these laws.

Of course, IT teams have to worry about compliance with more than privacy laws. They're responsible for ensuring compliance with the various terms and conditions attached to each digital product licensed on campus. This is a challenging task under ideal circumstances. In a decentralized environment, it's all but impossible.


So those are the three Cs that academic IT teams will need to deal with in the near future—centralization (or a lack thereof), the cloud, and compliance (and the risks of noncompliance).

These issues relate and feed into each other. Decentralization limits IT teams' visibility into product usage, making it hard to ensure compliance with terms and conditions (not to mention applicable laws). The shift to the cloud creates more decentralization (due to the distinct processes involved in managing each product) and increases compliance risks (due to the need to manually deprovision users' access as they lose eligibility).

The good news is that there are signs that these issues are being recognized and planned for. The growing priority of privacy protection among academic IT leaders suggests institutions' complacency toward compliance is coming to an end. Centralization and simplification are also gaining traction as academic IT priorities.

The higher education industry still has a long way to go to address the three Cs. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will become, as digital resources become more ingrained in education and more of those resources move to the cloud. But at least some steps are being taken in the right direction.

This article is based on findings from Kivuto's 2020 survey report, A New Era of Learning Brings Complex Challenges for Academic IT. View the full report for more insights into the complexities and challenges of managing digital resources in higher education.


  1. Jan-Martin Lowendahl, 2020 CIO Agenda: A Higher Education Perspective, Gartner, October 31, 2019.
  2. Lowendahl, 2020 CIO Agenda, 2019.

Sean Paterson is Content Manager at Kivuto.