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Meeting Customer Expectations Central to Postsecondary IT Priorities in 2017

The EvoLLLution | Meeting Customer Expectations Central to Postsecondary IT Priorities in 2017
With institutional IT’s focus on supporting the business of higher education, creating an environment that suits the varied but central demands of their array of customers is a critical priority for tech-focused leaders.

With 2016 in the rearview mirror and universities beginning to look to 2017 and beyond, it’s important to pause and reflect on the lessons learned from the previous year. As IT staff prepare for the future, the lessons from past years will help inform decisions as technology evolves and customer expectations change.

This consideration is made both more critical and more complex by the varied nature of the customers we serve in higher education. Colleges and universities serve a large range of people, each of whom may play multiple roles at our institutions. Academic institutions are simply not equivalent to Fortune 500 companies where a single mandate from the leaders of the organization can set the standards and expectations for technology service offerings. We must be even more fluid and adapt, sometimes on the fly, to the newest devices and protocols as they appear on our campuses.

The customer base for higher education institutions range from the recent high school graduate to the venerated faculty emeritus, from the operations-focused staff member to the innovative boundary-pushing researcher or aspiring entrepreneur. No matter where our customers fall on the spectrum, they all have a common need: to use technology efficiently and effectively to support their academic, operational, residential or research pursuits. They all approach this need in their own way and from their own comfort level in technology adoption.

However, no one can miss the prevalence and importance of technology as a tool to assist, but not drive us, in our academic, research and operational pursuits.

Keeping this diverse customer base in mind and our shared goals for living, learning, researching and smooth operations, below are five important focus areas for IT professionals working in higher education in 2017:

1. Self-Help

Empowering our customers to help themselves. With a robust knowledge base around how to use university technology and basic troubleshooting information, students, faculty and staff are able to help themselves quickly and efficiently. In the age of on-demand services, this trend will appeal to your customers’ expectations.

2. Austerity

The first focus area of self-help above is driven by the need for all higher education environments to manage tightening resources during a period of austerity. With the changing higher education landscape, there is not a lot (if any) room for increasing tuitions or revenue at most institutions. Despite this, IT needs to find a way to keep up with evolving technology in an increasingly challenging marketplace. A focus on fiscal responsibility and doing more with the resources we have will help institutions meet this challenge.

3. System Integration

How can we work smarter and not harder? We need to get our enterprise systems talking to our customer-facing systems and vice-versa. This enhances self-help, reduces cost and brings new efficiencies to technology operations.

4. Migration to the Cloud

When does this make sense for an institution? How do we determine when to use a third-party service from a security perspective? How do economies of scale come into play?  Total cost analysis and risk analysis both need to be considered carefully as institutions measure twice and cut once before proceeding into software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and hosted data warehouses.

5. Vendor Management

While this may not seem as intuitive as some of the other focus areas, it is important that IT professionals consider the importance of holding partners accountable for delivering services within pre-agreed-upon standards. As institutions start to move services to the cloud, service providers will need to make sure they have strong Service Level Agreements (SLAs) in place and that these SLAs can be enforced and validated. Institutions and the IT teams that support them will need to consider how to retool to serve as shepherds of the “virtual flock” of institutional data and services and less as primary service providers.

Gearing Up for 2017 and Beyond

Moving forward into 2017 and beyond, higher education IT professionals will continue to have exciting opportunities to enhance and refine the services we provide to our customer base. The diversity and varied needs of these communities are part of what keep our jobs challenging and rewarding.

In the coming year we will need to assess how our data networks are prepared to handle the flood of devices, revisit mobile device management strategies and work on the focus areas above to continue to move our institutions forward.

The goal of IT in higher education is to support the business of learning and to empower our customers to safely and securely pursue their own path with minimal intrusion, but maximum effectiveness. This challenge is one we face head on in 2017, and will deliver a significant return on investment if properly balanced and delivered.

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