Can CIOs in Higher Education Really Make a Difference?
Posted by Marco Rolla
Today’s Education CIO
One of the most common phrases in higher education today is “budget cuts,” and one of the places where those cuts are often felt the most is in the Information Technology Department. Since college and university administrators don’t always see technology as a direct contributor to the education of their students, CIOs at institutions of higher learning are seeing an increase in their departments' vulnerability to the budget-cutting ax.
But any academic administrator who fails to see that information technology is an essential component of an institution’s ability to survive and thrive is living in an alternate reality. The chief information officer is a vital cog in the academic machine, and to underestimate his or her role in the successful education enterprise puts the institution at risk of falling behind in the competition for students and even of becoming obsolete.
To this end, it’s the job of the CIO to make sure that the administration at his/her higher education institution is aware of all the ways technology can make a campus smarter, safer, more efficient and more successful. Otherwise, the CIO risks having the areas under his/her jurisdiction falling victim to the wave of underfunding that is plaguing colleges and universities today.
How to Avoid Becoming Just Another Budget Cut
The CIO in higher education must be socially adept and politically adroit. He or she must have the ear of the chancellor, the board of regents, the alumni association and whoever has influence in the institution’s budgeting process. At a state university, the CIO must be able to “break bread” with the appropriate politicians. In order to strengthen his/her position, the CIO should work to make sure that all stakeholders understand the importance of these eight vital information technology functions:
- Data Security. Staying up to date on the latest security technologies can be expensive in both dollars and resources, but universities that cut corners risk consequences that can be catastrophic.
- Technology Oversight. Without this, the institution might end up with costly inefficiencies and ineffective technology tools.
- Data Governance. Someone needs to mind the store, to make sure not only that data and systems are managed effectively but also that access to those systems is restricted to authorized users.
- Analytics. The institution of higher learning is a home for knowledge, but without measurement and metrics knowledge cannot be put to optimal use. Along with myriad other items, schools have to constantly gather and analyze how students are performing and how teachers are rated; in simple terms, what is working and what isn't.
- Social Media Participation. It’s ultimately up to the CIO to make sure that the school has a positive and active presence on social media, particularly certain departments (like athletics, for example.) People want to interact with the institution, to be involved. This is particularly true of donors.
- The School’s Website. Administration and content, as well as how the website is built and what it is built with drive the CIO’s irreplaceable role in this regard. When deciding on a college, virtually all applicants begin their selection process with a visit to the school's website. It must convey the institution's mission in an attractive and user-friendly manner.
- eCommerce. Most college/university bookstores sell online, and making sure that its eCommerce site suits the needs of the bookstore and its customers is another very important function of IT, and, as such, the CIO.
- Online Education. Offering online degree programs can be an important source of revenue and prestige for schools. Again, the CIO is responsible for selecting or building the software used for online education and making sure it is efficient and reliable.
All eight of these points illustrate how important the CIO’s role is and how important it is for universities to recognize that the CIO is the one person who can ensure that the school gets more bang for its IT buck, saving more by spending on the right technologies.
The Cloud-Based ERP: Value Meets Security Meets Efficiency
Item number two above references the ERP. Next to the intersecting issue of security, this is no doubt one of the most critical decisions that the CIO will make — that is, should the school utilize an ERP and, if so, which one? In this regard, it’s possible to kill several birds with one stone. By implementing a cloud-based ERP, many of the security issues can be handled by the vendor/host. Additionally, an ERP that’s hosted in the cloud can offer increased flexibility, automatic upgrades and a robust customer service organization (provided the CIO picks the right cloud ERP vendor). That means an overall reduction in resources necessary to maintain a secure and efficient IT infrastructure and a secure data environment.
Today’s CIO in the higher education sector has a lot on his/her plate. The days when data security meant having a clean, dry place to store the punch cards is long past. But if the CIO is not able to clearly convey the benefits of technology to the forces controlling the educational institution he or she works for, the risk of being adversely affected by today’s tight budgets is real. The CIO must constantly be on the lookout for IT solutions, like the cloud-based ERP, that can consolidate several solutions onto one unified and integrated platform. By doing this, the CIO can accomplish all of the vital objectives native to the job and save the school money and resources in the process. It’s up to the CIO to make sure that those who control the finances avoid taking the path of least resistance, the penny-wise-pound-foolish approach to their information technology infrastructures.