Is your university IT department leading or following?

There are way too few Education IT folks in K-12 with the luxury of thinking like CIOs -- in large part because Ed-Tech decisions are left up to politicians and school boards, not the folks we typically envision as having robust IT credentials. But what about colleges and universities?

While K-12 decision makers are often not the ones who have to implement those decisions, many in K-12 settings still have the advantage of one or two experienced IT people who somehow figure out how to do more with less.  The importance of thinking like a CIO (not a consumer) should be clear to anyone who has found themselves arguing with an administrator who got some silly idea from their neighbor's kid. 

If we can think of K-12 as analogous to the small business, often with limited buying power, it is easy to see why thinking like a CIO doesn't come easy to Ed-Tech.  The situation is markedly different in a university setting however.  Even a 'small' university may have thousands of students all of whom will someday influence their employer's buying decisions.  Vendors consider this when quoting services to institutions of higher learning.  For this reason alone, universities often have remarkable buying power -- if they exert it. 

Universities fall into two broad categories:  small liberal arts colleges and large research institutions -- with a large variance between the two.  Large multi-campus institutions often reflect both settings -- whether you represent IT on one of the larger main campuses or on one of the smaller "satellite" campuses.  My employer is one such multi-campus institution and the differences between campuses are striking. 

Working at a large research institution, I have come to realize that centralized IT leadership plays an important role in the delivery of state-of-the-art IT services.  While each department in a university setting needs some discretionary IT funds, if the bulk of your school's IT funds are spread out, no single department has the resources to take on really big projects.  Intercollegiate collaboration in IT projects can allow your school to take on even larger projects and initiatives. 

Better IT resources mean better collaboration between researchers across the country and across the world.  In a public university setting, the visibility of such collaborations brings your institution to the attention of your state legislature.  This can lead to unanticipated collaboration with state and local authorities to stimulate economic development and bring prestige to the state. 

And, of course, robust internal IT systems permit your university to save millions of dollars in administrative costs.  (Exclusive use of e-mail for official university communications with students instead of relying on the U.S. Postal Service is just one obvious example.) 

Leadership is the key.  As long as a university views its IT operations as just another cost-center, the opportunities for students and faculty to take part in serious research are dramatically limited.  Instead, university IT needs to serve at the highest levels of the university administration --preferably at the vice-presidential level. 

Your university leadership needs to be aware of the vast potential of a robust IT infrastructure and your CIO (hopefully a VP of IT) needs to take a leadership role within your university.