Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the late 6th century BCE, said the world is identified by ‘an ongoing process governed by a law of change’. Even if we look at just the last 50 years, we can see that change is an essential and natural part of life. It follows then, that to remain relevant, IT in Higher Education must continue to adapt and where possible, lead the way in order to help institutions meet the demands of future students, researchers and administrators.
With funding increasingly focused on successful student progress and completion, along with the achievement of competitive research outcomes, it is essential for IT to play its part in determining technology investments to deliver key services, enable digital capabilities and provide a competitive advantage. The ability to deliver effective services in an agile, time-sensitive way is predicated by IT being engaged in conversations at a strategic level with the organization’s leadership, staff and students and aligned to support the institution’s goals.
Collaborating IT for a New ‘Direction’
The push-pull between centralization/decentralization, budget pressures, and provision of reliable infrastructure and the need to be seen to be responsive and delivering value in a timely way have been common themes throughout my 20 years in higher education. We need to know, with fair a degree of detail, who our stakeholders are and who is likely to be impacted by the implementation of a new initiative or a breakdown in service and build relationships with them before they are impacted. Collaboration needs to be our normal way of thinking, operating and making decisions. A good example of this is the implementation of a new ITSM tool in a university with decentralized IT support. By including all of the IT Managers from the faculties and research schools as members of the Project Management Group from the very beginning a successful implementation was achieved. And while some things could have been done differently or better, this phase of the project provided a good foundation for further development and other projects.
The project mentioned above was not ‘cutting edge’ from a technical point of view however it did involve significant change for IT in the university. An ITSM tool was introduced for the first time. Use of ITIL was introduced for the first time. The project was done in collaboration with all of the IT Managers. A significant difference to previous projects was the inclusion of all key stakeholders in the project management team and true ‘ownership’ by the members of the Steering Committee. There were some key messages throughout. For the Project Management Group, it was that ‘this’ has to work for all of us. For the Steering Committee, it was that their job was to ensure the project was successful. My personal commitment and leadership were also important. I would also say that ‘Investment Logic Mapping’ (Developed by the Department of Treasury & Finance in Victoria, Australia) is a really valuable tool for getting to the crux of why a project should be undertaken and what the benefits should be.
It is important to ask what our organizations goals are. How can technology help and provide competitive advantage? When it comes to the IT operation, what are the things that are core to our operation / that we must do? What are the things that are not core and that others are better placed to do? Where do the things we do add value to our organization? Ask: how does ‘this’ (e.g. project outcomes) benefit the organization, its staff and its clients? What new things do we need to do? I believe good governance, good planning processes (with the end user as the focal point), enterprise architecture and good project management can do much to improve the effectiveness of how universities operate. Key to all of this is to utilize the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm of the IT team.
Discovering the Leader in ‘You’
It is important to be true to yourself –to be authentic and to have focus on a clear vision. Emotional intelligence; honesty and ethics, courage; fairness; empathy; confidence and good communication skills are also the key. Add passion, commitment and enthusiasm for the mission of the organization and the team; a desire to help people; a willingness to listen and a never ending desire to learn. Plus a positive attitude, resilience and a commitment to excellence, impatience and patience at the right times. An ability to ‘let go’, truly delegate and trust in individuals and the team. Creativity and intuition balanced with an understanding of data; along with a tolerance for ambiguity.
It is also important to get up and talk to people wherever they are working. There doesn’t have to be a task-related reason for this. Just demonstrate that you care about them and that they are important to the success of the organization. And, in terms of engagement, it is important to step forward, to ‘own’ the discussion – to shift the discussion from the technical and operational to the business and strategic. And let’s not forget – a good sense of humor!
‘Digital First’ is the New Mantra
The changing nature of work, with the shift to ‘virtual’, ‘mobile’ and ‘flexible’, will mean universities need to look at where and how people are working, learning or studying. We will need ubiquitous Wi-Fi along with easy-to-use video conferencing at the desktop, laptop and on mobile devices facilitating a seamless way of learning and interacting with and between students and colleagues wherever they may be.
Access to work tools, corporate records, working documents and information should be easy regardless of where people are and what device they are using because they are ‘in the cloud’, not locked away in some difficult to get at file server or, worse, still in paper format. ‘Digital first’ will be the mantra. There will be an increasing push to automate and for seamless integration between different functions. Open access to data and to people with the data carpentry skills to support researchers and analytics to gain competitive advantage / improve student outcomes plus cyber security will gain prominence. Predictive analytics and artificial intelligence will help improve student success. It is an exciting time to live and work.