Published on 2017/01/27

The Strategic Imperative of Technology in the Modern University

The EvoLLLution | The Strategic Imperative of Technology in the Modern University
IT today is about more than technology—it’s about listening, communicating and working collaboratively to develop a university community that meets the needs and expectations of its stakeholders.

Twenty years ago we often considered technology an “optional” part of university life. My “notebook” computer, heavy as a brick, hardly ever travelled with me to meetings across campus. My first cell phone sent and received actual phone calls—no text messages, no email access. Wireless networks simply did not exist. We had cable—lots of cable—running in lots of places. The ‘90s version of “eLearning” meant students received “distance learning” course materials (also known as VHS tapes) via snail mail.

Life is much different today. Cell phones alone have morphed into an appendage that we cannot be without. The smart phone serves as our virtual airline ticket, alarm clock, book, bank, calculator, calendar, library, newspaper, high definition TV, wrist watch, calorie counter, radio, stop watch, video recorder, record player, theater, mailman, doorman and navigator (among other things!).

Students, faculty and staff depend on IT systems, services and support to teach, learn, research and conduct university business. Take wireless devices for instance. Studies estimate that students bring up to six devices to college with them. At the University of Cincinnati, more than 63,000 devices connect to our wireless network each day. That’s approximately 20,000 more wireless connections than three years ago.

Technology is no longer an optional part of higher education. “Anytime, anywhere” is the expectation.  90 percent of courses at our university utilize some form of enterprise technology. This phenomenon contributes to the ever-growing reliance on robust IT services and support. Much like electricity, students, faculty and staff believe IT systems, services and infrastructure should simply work and be as easy to use as flipping on a light switch.

In higher education, IT often grew from a need to serve the academic and research needs of individual departments. Continuing to operate in “silos” to meet the needs of individual academic and research departments makes meeting the collective needs of the enterprise more challenging.  Becoming an interdependent IT community—sharing individual expertise to collectively solve problems— adds value to the institutional mission.

IT has a commitment to serve, to lead and to partner with the university community to effectively enable student and faculty success and drive innovation. Our jobs require us to be agile to meet rapidly changing needs. I have learned that to do that well, you need to be able to understand where people are coming from—we need to practice empathy and engagement.

Listening, validating and having agreement on the desired outcomes (deliverables, timelines, cost and sustainment) helps the community navigate the course of rapid change cycles together. Building trust in one another, and combining that trust with a spirit of helpfulness and a commitment to transparent communication and decision making move the technology needle toward innovation and mutually beneficial, measureable results.

Student, faculty and staff representatives attend monthly meetings and serve as part of university-wide IT Governance at the University of Cincinnati. These partnerships and collaborations are essential to sustainably funding infrastructure that is reliable, secure, and up-to-date to meet user expectations for 21st-century teaching, learning and research.

By working together across colleges and units, we strengthen our community and make high-quality education more accessible to all students and faculty. It doesn’t stop at the university level. Community engagement at all levels is needed to grow our regional IT digital capacity and bench strength.

The movement to the cloud has the potential to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness while freeing up more IT resources for discovery, innovation and custom development. As leaders, we have to strike the right balance between scale and local innovation allowing for different paces of technology adoption across organizations.

Vendor relationships also play an increasingly important part of the equation. If a cloud provider pushes out a change, we have to be aware of it to effectively manage it on the ground.

IT isn’t just about technology. It’s also about people listening and communicating. It’s about supporting all the members of the higher education community and partners together.

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