Educause Top-Ten IT Issues - the most change in a decade or more

The Education IT Issue Panel has released the 2012 top-ten issues facing higher education IT leadership, and instead of the customary reshuffling of the same deck, the issues reflect much of the tumult and dynamism facing higher education generally.  I find it interesting (and encouraging) that at the top of this year's list is "Updating IT Professionals' Skills and Roles to Accommodate Emerging Technologies and Changing IT Management and Service Delivery Models."  This reflects, in my view, the realization that higher education IT must change in order to fully realize the potential for transforming the institution, and therefore it's people must learn new skills, understand and accept new ways of solving problems, and not be tied down by past practices or institutional inertia.

What follows in the remaining 9 top issues all speak, in some form or fashion, to the need for dramatic change, but not just in the areas of "funding IT" (code for cost containment or reduction), but rather the need to increase effectiveness and efficiency of the institution through the use of technology—leveraging the wave of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to the institution's advantage, rather than viewing it as a threat and a problem to be contained.

Although it's #10 of 10, IT Governance (and establishment and implementation of the governance model throughout the institution) is key to effectively acting upon many of the preceding issues in this year's list.  In the majority of cases, technology exists to meet the needs and requirements to effectively address many of the challenges outlined in top-ten issues list.

Which brings me to my next point. Although I try not to sound too much like an Oracle commercial in these (all too infrequent) blog posts, I can't help but point out how much confluence there is between several of the top issues this year and what my colleagues and I have been evangelizing for some time. Starting from the bottom of the list up:

1) I'm gratified that research and the IT challenges it presents has made the cut.  Big Data (or Large Data as it's phased in the report) is rapidly going to overwhelm much of what exists today even at our most prepared and well-equipped research universities.  Combine large data with the significantly more stringent requirements around data preservation, archiving, sharing, curation, etc. coming from granting agencies like NSF, and you have the brewing storm that could result in a lot of "one-off" solutions to a problem that could very well be addressed collectively and "at scale."  

2) Transformative effects of IT – while I see more and more examples of this, there is still much more that can be achieved. My experience tells me that culture (as the report indicates or at least poses the question) gets in the way more than technology not being up to task.  We spend too much time on "context" and not "core," and get lost in the weeds on the journey to truly transforming the institution with technology.

3) Analytics as a key element in improving various institutional outcomes.  In our work around Student Success, we see predictive "academic" analytics as essential to getting in front of the Student Success issue, regardless of how an institution or collections of institutions defines success.  Analytics must be part of the fabric of the key academic enterprise applications, not a bolt-on.  We will spend a significant amount of time on this topic during our semi-annual Education Industry Strategy Council meeting in Washington, D.C. later this month.

4) Cloud strategy for the broad range of applications in the academic enterprise.  Some of the recent work by Casey Green at the Campus Computing Survey would seem to indicate that there is movement in this area but mostly in what has been termed "below the campus" application areas such as collaboration tools, recruiting, and alumni relations.  It's time to get serious about sourcing elements of mature applications like student information systems, HR, Finance, etc. leveraging a model other than traditional on-campus custom.

I've only selected a few areas of the list to highlight, but the unifying theme here (and this is where I run the risk of sounding like an Oracle commercial) is that these lofty goals cry out for partners that can bring economies of scale to bear on the problems married with a deep understanding of the nuances unique to higher education.  In a recent piece in Educause Review on Student Information Systems, the author points out that "best of breed is back". Unfortunately I am compelled to point out that best of breed is a large part of the reason we have made as little progress as we have as an industry in advancing some of the causes outlined above.  Don't confuse "integrated" and "full stack" for vendor lock-in.  The best-of-breed market forces that Ron points to ensure that solutions have to be "integratable" or they don't survive in the marketplace. However, by leveraging the efficiencies afforded by adopting solutions that are pre-integrated (and possibly metered out as a service) allows us to shed unnecessary costs – as difficult as these decisions are to make and to drive throughout the organization.

Cole

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Comments, news, updates and perspectives from Oracle's global vice president of the education and research industry--which includes higher education, research, and primary/secondary education (K-12) organizations worldwide.

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