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Why IT Governance in Higher Education Institutions Is So Essential

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2020-12-17T16:49:52+00:00December 16, 2020|

Today’s digital solutions have transformed business as we know it. Just think of how chatbots allow buyers to quickly find information while also eliminating the need for staff to repeatedly answer the same questions. It’s clear that the right technology ecosystem can make life easier for employees and consumers alike. This is just as true for higher education institutions as it is for any other type of organization.

But it’s incredibly complex to determine the highest-priority technology needs, the most appropriate solutions and even the right time to introduce new tools. Many colleges and universities struggle moving toward digital transformation, because they lack an effective way to make these types of technology-related decisions. This may happen for a number of reasons, but it’s often because they lack any type of formalized IT governance, a structure that ensures IT is used effectively and efficiently in support of organization objectives.

Now more than ever, IT governance in higher education is critical. It’s a key component required to become what Collegis Education calls the “University of Tomorrow” – an education experience that’s mobile-first, driven by data, focused on students and cloud-enabled.

Without an established IT governance structure in place, an institution has little hope of being able to provide the type of sophisticated digital experience students now expect. Such a school will be up against numerous difficulties.

Understanding the need for IT governance in higher education

Outlining potential problems is probably the clearest way to illustrate why higher ed institutions need IT governance. According to Todd Pombert, vice president of information technology and campus CIO at Collegis Education, one common issue is that different departments don’t recognize how a particular technology could affect them. If they’re not involved in discussions surrounding IT initiatives, why would they? Without cross-departmental support, though, institutions struggle to move forward with any technology initiative.

It’s also possible that different areas of the institution will take the initiative to adopt solutions without consulting anyone else. This is particularly problematic if the department in question doesn’t seek input from any IT professionals.

“When departments make those decisions, rather than technologists, and then think about how to get data into the system after the fact, they might find the tool actually can’t integrate with their other tools,” Pombert suggests. “Maybe there’s no easy way to do that, and you have to key everything in manually.”

The result is a collection of technologies that don’t communicate with one another. It actually makes life more difficult for many employees. This is a common problem at many organizations, not just colleges and universities.

Institutions also struggle with making sure projects are completed in the proper order. Every department has its own priorities. Without IT governance, it’s impossible to decide which initiatives need to happen first.

You need a process. Otherwise, your IT team is going to be spinning their wheels on 100 different projects and getting none of them done.

Todd Pombert

If you need further proof that IT governance is important, consider an EDUCAUSE report that polled both institutions with a formal IT governance body in place and those without. Results show the former rate themselves as more capable when it comes to establishing policies, planning strategically, making smart investment decisions and involving key stakeholders.

Establishing an IT governance structure

While institutions unquestionably need IT governance, the exact way they structure and organize it can vary. It depends on the school’s size, culture, hierarchical structure and whether it’s a public or private institution. That said, most colleges and universities rely on one of two basic models:

  1. Hub-and-spoke model – A single structure involving multiple subcommittees that report into one overarching strategic committee.
  2. Parallel model – Multiple structures for different IT functions that work together to make decisions.

Even within these models, there are countless different ways the final structure could take shape. To start gaining a sense of what may work best for your institution, it can be helpful to research IT governance policies at other schools. Larger public universities, for example, often devote an entire page to laying out their approach somewhere on the IT section of the website.

For smaller institutions, it often makes sense to go with the hub-and-spoke model. This would entail one main body, often called the IT steering committee, that’s responsible for making decisions and determining priorities. Any time a department or subcommittee starts to think about the potential to buy and use a new digital tool, it needs to be brought forth to this larger group.

The IT steering committee should have representation from most of the major departments of the university. All potential technology investments should flow through this committee.

Todd Pombert

Illustrating how IT governance in higher education helps accomplish objectives

With formal IT governance structures and processes, identifying priorities like stabilizing network infrastructure is far simpler. It also makes it possible to evaluate every proposed project in a way that’s fair, organized and repeatable. Importantly, IT governance ensures that the technology experts on campus are always involved.

“IT will go off and evaluate different solutions,” Pombert explains. “They’ll be thinking through the impact on other areas, assessing for information security and evaluating whether it’s actually possible to get data in and out of a particular system.”

Armed with this information, the department (or departments) interested in purchasing a new technology will think through all the pros and cons. They’ll also need to make a formal business case by putting together a return on investment (ROI) analysis. Once they go through these steps, they’ll make their case to the IT steering committee.

“It should then be proposed to the steering committee with specific recommendations, and they’ll approve or deny it,” Pombert says. This might sound overly idealistic, but these sorts of scenarios play out at colleges and universities all the time.

Pombert recalls one instance where a department head wanted to start using a customer relationship management (CRM) system. During initial discussions, it became apparent that another department was also interested in using that type of platform. It was clear that the suggestion warranted further investigation.

“I got involved, helping to evaluate multiple technology vendors to determine if they could satisfy both groups’ needs or just one group’s needs,” he reflects. “Then we ultimately came together and made a decision on which product we wanted. We collaboratively negotiated it and created a project timeline together as a group.”

Embrace a technology-focused approach

Effective IT governance in higher education is crucial for adopting technology that has a positive impact. But it’s only part of what it takes to become the technology-driven University of Tomorrow. Schools also need to ensure they’re gaining organization-wide support, starting with stable infrastructure and adding more sophisticated tools in the right order.

Prioritizing technology can be daunting, but it’s no longer an option at this point. But you don’t have to go at it alone. Our team of expert technologists can help you overcome all of your technology challenges. Learn more about the support we offer by visiting our technology services page.

Let our team of technology experts help you overcome your school's IT challenges.

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About the Author
Christine Skopec
Christine Skopec is a senior content specialist for Collegis Education. She holds a Master of Science in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.