The future of higher education will be more affordable, more convenient and more accessible. How do we know this? Because students are demanding it in every other industry. 

Technology plays a key role in nearly every part of modern life – mobile banking, videoconferencing and even prescription eyeglass ordering are just a few examples of technology transforming how we go about our lives. Yet, even as consumers have come to expect the convenience and variety technology enables, higher ed has been slow to adopt many of the available advances.  

Many colleges and universities have been able to delay digital transformation thus far because their IT departments lacked the resources and expertise needed to upgrade, manage and maintain new technology solutions across all departments. But the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for adopting new technology solutions. Schools can no longer afford not to prioritize their IT strategy.  

9 tips for developing and maintaining a sustainable IT strategy 

Now is the time to proactively embrace technology’s role in helping your institution refocus on its academic mission by alleviating administrative burdens and delivering a supported and robust technology experience to studentsfaculty and staffConsider the following guidelines for implementing a proactive IT strategy that will help your institution achieve digital transformation. 

1. Establish institutional goals and conduct assessments 

It can be hard to recognize how technology fits into a school’s overarching vision. To get started, institutional leaders should first establish that technology is a strategic enabler. Then they can build it into their overarching plans, see how technology has moved other industries, uncover existing vulnerabilities that need to be addressed and determine priorities. 

2. Recognize how technology can support objectives 

In their strategic plans, colleges might identify such objectives as “enhancing academic achievement and post-graduate outcomes,” “fostering alumni and community engagement” or “contributing to a more equitable higher education system.”  

In the same way they might detail specific actions that aim to support those goals, institutions should also mention tech-related initiatives that align with each tactic. For example, if a university’s objective is to start offering certificate-based training, an important step is realizing that technology is essential to delivering those credential programs. 

3. Evaluate existing IT services and security risks 

Every institution’s IT strategy should include the implementation of assessments for both information security and information technology. The former identifies vulnerabilities in day-to-day operations. The latter identifies areas where technology can support the institution’s strategic plan, uncovering the risk associated with lacking the right tools, systems or processes. By conducting thorough technology assessments, it becomes clear how well the existing ecosystem can help the college or university achieve their vision for the future and prevent hacks.  

4. Gain buy-in from key stakeholders 

A proactive IT strategy that enables digital transformation requires a top-down approach. Support for technology initiatives should move from the president to a cabinet (or IT steering committee), backed by executives and, finally, to the remaining constituents. All stakeholders across campus should be encouraged to see technology as a strategic enabler, not just a necessary evil.  

5. Secure funding 

It’s no secret that most higher ed institutions are operating on tight budgetsIT departments are often the first on the chopping block when it comes time to scale back spending. This is concerning, given that many colleges are only investing enough in their IT departments to keep them afloat as it isThere’s very little capacity for minor improvements, much less a full IT strategy implementation needed for digital transformation. On average, around 4.2 percent of institutional spending goes to IT, but that percentage should be closer to 7 percent to properly invest in the required technology capabilities and staff. 

6. Prioritize basic needs first 

Many institutions have fundamental issues that need to be remedied. It’s crucial to address those problems before even thinking about leveraging sophisticated technologies. For most schools, this should start with addressing vulnerabilities that were revealed through the security risk assessment or gaps in operations identified through the IT assessment. 

7. Transition to the cloud 

The primary elements most schools should be concerned with are their data center, servers and network. Migrating from on-site to cloud-based data centers is a crucial first step in creating a stable, standardized tech environment. In addition, it’s critical that every school’s network can support a high number of users and devices with a reliable connection.  

8. Integrate the right tools 

Once an institution has taken care of its technology needs at the infrastructure level, it can begin implementing tools that align with the primary objectives outlined in its strategic IT plan. Technology leaders should influence these decisions to ensure that all future technology elements are compatible with one another.  

9. Train and support users 

Helping individuals across the institution understand how to effectively use new tools is one of the most critical components of digital transformation. When adopting any new technology, whether it’s used by students, staff or both, anticipate there will be a learning curve.  

Take the next step toward digital transformation 

By following these general guidelines for developing a proactive IT strategy, higher ed leaders can position their institutions to begin optimizing and transforming to serve tomorrow’s college students. 

If your college or university lacks the IT resources, governance or expertise necessary to support all of these functions, Collegis Education can help. Our team of expert technologists can help you overcome all of your technology challenges. Learn more about the comprehensive, flexible technology support we provide 

Author: Elise Povejsil

Elise Povejsil is a former marketing manager (content and communications) for Collegis Education. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Conflict Studies from DePauw University.