Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Higher Education IT Trends: 2016

Note: this is cross-posted at the Simon Fraser University site.

As part of my duties as President of CUCCIO I am expected to give the President’s report to the Annual General Meeting. At the June meeting my talk included some observations about trends and changes in higher education IT I have seen in the past year. Several folks have asked me to share these ideas so I wrote this blog post as a summary of the speech.

1.      Cloud computing isn’t a big deal

Cloud computing is simply a fact of life and we are dealing with it. Every organization has its own approaches and strategies that suit the uniqueness of their institutions and legislative domains. From Dalhousie University’s fascinating cloud first strategy to SFU’s cloud consumer and provider strategy, every university is dealing with it.

2.      Security is compelling and demanding and ubiquitous

The recent ransomware attack at the UofC has raised the profile of IT security in a jarring and shocking manner. Not only was the university forced to pay an embarrassing ransom, but more importantly, all their IT systems were shut down for 10 full days which has an immeasurable fiscal impact. Universities can no longer hide behind the veil of academic freedom to continue to justify a network security blanket that resembles cheesecloth.

3.      IT isn’t a cost, it’s an investment

Conversations with President’s, Provosts, VPs of Finance, and Research VPs are reflecting a new perspective of IT. In the past the conversation about IT was typically all about the cost. Now the conversation is changing; we are talking about how to extract value from the investment in IT. These are investments helping the university achieve educational, academic, research, and community objectives.

4.      Social media is no longer special, it’s just media

We are now talking about a digital experience, not just a learning experience for our students. We are creating digital strategies that engage our stakeholders and integrate new media changes into everything happening on campus. From a media perspective, traditional IT is like a millstone around the neck of media innovation. “Social” media is no longer unique – it is the media.

5.      Benchmarking is community building

A number of universities across Canada participate in a benchmarking initiative. This sharing of IT data exposes our strengths and weaknesses in a measurable manner. The act of sharing such sensitive data requires an unusual level of community trust. Emerging from this trust is a stronger community of shared interests. If I see a similar school with interesting metrics I can simply pick up the phone and to ask what they are doing and how they are doing it. The ability to compare and contact is priceless, and it builds a stronger and healthier higher education IT community.

6.      IT used to provide technology with a service component; now IT provides service with a technology component.

Our clients don’t want technology; they want the service delivered by the technology. The entire emphasis of our information systems organizations has clearly shifted from technology to services. We are becoming client-centric and the shift to out-sourcing (cloud computing) is accelerating that change. In a more cloud oriented world, we do increasingly less with baseline technology and we become integrators of a basket of services from a wide variety of providers.

7.      There is no such thing as IT strategy

IT departments expend a lot of energy developing technology strategies. Nobody cares. Much to IT’s chagrin, they are discovering that IT staff are the only folks in the institution reading the strategy. Today, real IT strategy is part and parcel of the fabric of the university strategy. The best IT strategies are the ones embedded into the university strategic plan.

As we wrap up the current academic year and entering into the summer months, we have the opportunity to reflect on these trends and think about how we should respond to them effectively. I look forward to a new academic year with more changes and a new series of ever-changing IT trends.