I was just thinking
Information Technology was once the domain of specialized skill sets which were set apart from the rest of the institution. In fact the need for my organization to better embrace the need for specialized data processing services led to my first position in IT leadership nearly 20 years ago.
Traditionally in IT we talked about very concrete concepts. Ours was a world which black and white results are were the norm. You plug in a cable and it either works or not, turn on your computer and it works or it doesn’t , you install a printer and it works or it doesn’t. Evaluation of success is very easy in those situations. Certainly none of these activities are particularly innovative, but certainly easy to measure. For goodness sake even deploying ERP systems, consolidating computer labs and data centers, or completing an outsourcing deal are difficult and worthwhile but rarely innovative.
However, several interesting things have happened over the years. First, IT has often been given huge piles of institutional cash over the years usually based on a voodoo acronymic explanation of why this is a need. As a confession, even though I have prided myself on communication well with my institutional constituents. I am going to say that on occasion I have used “technobabble “ to justify an expenditure. Maybe it is payback time now that in many instances IT is being asked to justify the expenditures which a few short years ago were simply accepted. Below are a few examples of State Research networks being under fire when just a few short years ago these were accepted as important to the state. Now I will say I believe that most of the time IT expenditures institutions make for IT are based on really great logic and have very valid reasons for being made
Second, consumer technology has caught up with and has often surpassed the capability of the enterprise. In my early years in IT technology was almost viewed as magic. Not everyone had all of the wonderful technology toys I had at the office. Not everyone had a massive 56K frame relay circuit like we had. Guess what now in many cases the consumer has better tools than I can provide in the enterprise. In the higher education world faculty, staff and sometimes even the IT people themselves have gone out and found tools which they have more control over and which allow them to do their work better and often for free. The availability of robust open wireless technologies, free online storage, powerful applications such as Google's Gmail and a host of other services and applications were beginning to increase the pressure to provide equivalent or better services. Administration, faculty, and student expectations for the provision of adequate technology resources began to increase rapidly in spite of the limited financial means of our institution. I would continually get questions about why we weren't using a particular product or why one of our systems could not do a particular function. Many times the question had developed because someone was using a free web based tool. Essentially a perspective had started to develop in which whatever Google did yesterday you as an institution are expected to do today. Maybe the greatest related challenge in being a small rural community college participating in a sea of online courses and programs is the expectation from students you will provide not only quality programming but the exact same student services for online students you provide for your on campus students. The questions seemed to be increasing while legitimate answers to these questions were decreasing. Back in the old days when we were a WebCT shop no one would have dreamed of creating their own WebCT LMS install. With access to the source code everyone on the planet has the ability to create their own LMS install and thus their own learning system. With each progressive improvement my grip on my IT kingdom was lessening each and every day.
Third, outsourcing and consolidating IT functions has become very popular. There is a great big pile of perspective in the Presidential Perspectives: The 2011 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Coll.... I will talk about the technology perspectives later, but one of the most interesting items in that report relates to Strategies Public Sector Presidents use to Address the Financial Challenges confronting their Institutions absent political consequences. My mom and maybe your mom told you, “if it seems to good to be true then it probably is” Well I am going to speak out of both sides of my mouth on this one. In the open source world it is often false while in the consolidation and centralization of IT functions it is often true. On the IT consolidation issue Texas and in other states have seen some Texas sized troubles as shown in the following articles.
State Higher Education Networks including our own OneNet is under greater and greater scrutiny. It might prove valuable to look at a couple of articles covering the Wisconsin WiscNet example which includes some hard numbers related to:
1. The cost (in millions) to agencies IF they were on BadgerNet (and not WiscNet).
2. Numbers of jobs LOST due to the legislation
At any rate Higher Ed IT managers should probably stand up and pay attention to this one. In the table below I have compared higher ed IT managers top 10 IT issues with those of college presidents. Educause has been a great resource to me over the years. However, I must ask are we patting our selves on the back because our keen observation of the obvious? I have always respected and utilized many of their resources but I don’t think this is near as useful as the Inside Higher Ed report. Kenneth Green (2011) says about this survey and report, “In aggregate and also by sector and segment, these data about IT issues provided by the Presidential Perspectives survey do not bode well as "measures of success." Indeed, what emerges from the survey is a portrait of campus leaders who appear to be dependent on, captive to, but also ambivalent about the continuing investment of people and money required to acquire and support a full range of campus IT resources and services.”
Educause 2011 Top IT List
Inside Higher Ed 2011
1. Funding IT
1. Online/ Distance Ed Courses and Programs
2. On-campus teaching and instruction
3. Library resources and services
4. Administrative Info Systems and Operations
5. Data Analysis and Managerial Analytics
6. Academic Support Services
7. Student Resources and Services
8. Student Recruitment
9. Research and Scholarship and Development efforts
10. Alumni activities / Engagement
This is a nice list, but the top 4 have not substantially changed it the past 4 years
Maybe our absolute biggest responsibility in IT is to provide the most robust network possible to enable the tools that people need to innovate and at the same time stabilize the financial side of IT implementation. The free and low cost technologies are available, but if every student comes to college with 3.7 mobile devices each and every institution will be challenged to provide the bandwidth required.
10-15 years ago the enterprise controlled videoconferencing , email, LMS technology, the enterprise. I hate to tell my friends at Cisco this, but the quality of telepresence can be simulated using low cost HD cameras and strategic camera placement. I have spent $100,000 on a videoconferencing room.
And that era is over. H.323 is the "video-conferencing language" that is utilized in most "traditional distance learning videoconferencing rooms" This protocol is not starting to see some age and although it was a great breakthrough back in 1997 various tools and most importantly increased bandwidth has give us pervasive access to video tools such as Skype (for free) Google Video Chat (for free) and FaceTime for the iPad (for free) allow the end user to buy hardware and have very powerful video software tools for free. Heck even Apple the champion of costliness had a free H.323 client called Xmeeting. I used on my MAC notebook to videoconference from China to Oklahoma in 2009. The moral of this story… “Free is Better Even if you have a budget. More on that later.
Background Reading & Resources
Horne, Andrew. "4 Steps To Spark Innovation -- InformationWeek." InformationWeek | Business Technology News, Reviews and Blogs. Information Week, 28 May 2011. Web. 14 June 2011.
Green, Kenneth. "Blog U.: Presidents Confront Technology - Digital Tweed - Inside Higher Ed." Home - Inside Higher Ed. Inside Higher Ed, 0f4 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 June 2011.
Maron, Nancy, and Matthew Loy. "Funding for Sustainability: How Funders’ Practices Influence the Future of Digital Resources." Ithaka :: Welcome to ITHAKA. Ithaka. Web. 15 June 2011.
Pratt, Mary K. "The Grill: Larry Bonfante - Computerworld." Computerworld - IT News, Features, Blogs, Tech Reviews, Career Advice. Computer World, 06 June 2011. Web. 14 June 2011.
Murphy, Chris. "Innovation Atrophy: How Companies Can Fight It (WTN News)." WTN. WTN News, 31 May 2011. Web. 15 June 2011. a href="http://wistechnology.com/articles/8620/%3E">http://wistechnology.com/articles/8620/>;.