by Doug Bonderud
The “IT guy” stereotype is entrenched in popular culture: Socially awkward and technically adept, these experts excel at connecting devices and fixing network problems—but they’re rarely consulted about strategic business decisions.
This pervasive attitude translates to a lack of action at the boardroom level: Just 29 percent of CIOs are full-time boardroom members, despite a 71 percent jump in the total number of technology C-suite positions over the past few years. According to Damian Doyle, assistant vice president of enterprise infrastructure solutions at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, this also holds true at many colleges and universities.
“While there are an increasing number of institutions that recognize the strategic value of IT, many still view IT as a necessary function: Schools need to have it, but it’s not strategic,” says Doyle. As a result, IT experts are often brought in after decisions have been made, limiting their ability to positively impact policy and spending.
But change is on the horizon: At schools such as Oregon State University, new approaches to on-campus IT have shifted the perception of technology teams. With research firm Deloitte now highlighting tech initiatives, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) migrations, identity, and access management adoption and strategic risk management solutions as some of the top industry trends in 2020, tech teams must adopt new strategies to stand out from the IT crowd.
Here are three ways technology leaders can help take charge in higher education:
1. Prioritize the People Before the Technology
Technology is the mechanism, not the mission. While Software as a Service, the Internet of Things, or Wi-Fi 6 deployments can help improve user access and reduce overall complexity, they’re not enough in isolation. Doyle puts it simply: “We’re not in the business of technology. We’re in the business of higher education. We are a support organization.”
Delivering on this mandate means prioritizing people—something many IT leaders haven’t been taught to do. In practice, this means better communication with stakeholders at all levels of the organization, from staff and students to the university board. It means taking the initiative and asking questions about technology needs rather than simply responding to immediate technology demands. “It’s all about trust and meeting people where they are,” says Doyle.
2. A Proven Digital Transformation Approach
As noted by an EDUCAUSE Review, effective digital transformation is now critical for colleges to leverage the competitive advantage of emerging technologies. But according to author, speaker, and innovation adviser Greg Satell, the biggest factor in successful digital transformations isn’t technology investment; it’s how users leverage new technologies to achieve specific outcomes.
For IT teams, this presents a unique challenge: Their innate understanding of technology means they’re predisposed to finding solutions to problems that aren’t on the radar of other departments. As Doyle puts it, IT experts often have, “the perfect solution for a problem you didn’t ask about.”
Getting other campus leaders on board means listening first and speaking second. IT teams need to discover where technology meets department expectations and where there’s room for improvement before advocating for new 5G connections or single sign-on solutions.
3. Translate Technical Complexity and Avoid Jargon
To excel in IT, technical skills are paramount. But, “to be a leader requires a very different skillset. It’s about how you relay the value of IT. How do you help translate IT? How do you meet people where they are?” asks Doyle, who offers a simple rule for achieving this aim: no technical jargon.
Consider the case of information security solutions, often seen by the administration as a necessary spend rather than something of strategic value. While IT professionals can articulate the hard data—common attack vectors, data volumes, and the expanding number of connected endpoints—in support of the purchase, to capture executive interest, Doyle suggests that IT pros “need to tell the right story.”
Here, it’s not about the number and type of malware threats identified and remediated, it’s about the cost savings delivered because there have been no major incidents over the past several months. It’s the positive public perception that comes with secure registration and student ID systems. Effectively translating technology helps identify IT input as a strategic advantage rather than an afterthought.
Source: EdTech: Focus on Higher Education