Technology innovations have had a dramatic impact on the education sector in recent years. To attract students, universities in particular, have needed to upgrade IT infrastructure to support digital strategies that provide richer multimedia experiences to students and staff across their campuses.
Mark Gregory, CIO at the University of Adelaide says students now expect to interact with the university with the digital convenience they enjoy from global commercial services.
“Today, we see 75 per cent of traditional age students using mobiles as the primary devices to access university services,” he said.
To meet these needs, IT groups inside higher education have undergone cultural changes of their own. Let’s take a look at the six common denominators of the new IT culture in higher education today.
1. Recognition of being in the education business
Wil Daniels, associate director, IT operations at the Australian Catholic University says gone are the days when IT specialists thought of themselves as ‘being IT people or being in the business of technology.’
“One must now think from the industry and evolution of being in the education business and all the trends that are taking place in that arena,” he says.
2. Thinking from an organisation perspective
David Formica, CIO of University of Canberra, is an advocate that both IT and the organisation have had to change the viewpoint of how IT is perceived.
In the past, IT was viewed as an enabler to operations and administration of a university but now IT must go beyond and build a partnership with students, faculty, and researchers, he says.
The University of Adelaide’s Gregory has a similar belief, in that the role technology is playing in the organisation has elevated; IT is more strategic and directly related to individual researcher or academic unit success and standing.
“We have to get much closer to our customers and effectively partner with them on research and academic innovation. This even means changing our organisation structure to look less like an IT shop and more like the customer groups we serve,” he says.
3. We are now relationship managers
Anne Kealley, CEO of the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT), notes one of the biggest cultural shifts is moving from the role of technology managers to now being more engaged with the goals and business of the university and focusing on building strong relationships.
“IT has moved (or is moving) into the role of being trusted partners with others in the organisation and leading discussions on the future direction as well. IT must now be fluid and flexible and adopt some of the mind-set of an entrepreneurial start-up.” Kealley says.
“Like other key functions, IT can no longer operate in a vacuum. One of the cultural changes currently progressing is that IT’s planning is shifting from being done in isolation to now being done in integration with the rest of the university.”
4. Increased use and a strategic approach to vendors
One of the key relationships that has altered is the approach to utilising vendors. They have transitioned from being viewed solely as a supplier to now being a partner that is measured and held accountable to strategic and business outcomes.
5. Develop a sales/marketing mindset
During a workshop for the Queensland University Directors of Information Technology (QUDIT), Wayne Mallett, systems manager, high performance & research computing at James Cook University said a standout cultural shift was the need to now be skilled in sales and marketing.
Whereas in the past IT departments were given budget almost without challenge, we are increasingly required to pitch and win budget based on a business case and our contributions to business success.
6. Change is the new normal
Rapid response time, speed, agility and flexibility are paramount. Change is constant and the speed of change is increasing. If IT doesn’t move rapidly, students, faculty, research and organisations will seek other solutions from what is offered in the marketplace.
To achieve this IT has had to lose the mindset that they are the one-stop-shop and sole place that a client could turn to for solutions, and instead adopt a mindset of integration, innovation and work in a way that is complimentary and not competitive.
With the synergistic evolution of the IT organisation, the education business, and technology, it is clear that the impact in the future on higher education will be significant and one can only imagine how the manner in which education is delivered will occur in years to come.
About the author: Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. Lou is currently the Practice Leader, IT Culture and Talent Development, at DDLS.