Ask most any student or staff what the college IT department does, and they’ll probably say that IT gets them a computer and fixes it when it breaks. Ask an IT person, and they’ll tell you they do much more.
There is no one on campus who does not depend on digital systems. Very often, however, perceptions of an IT department are derived only from experiences of having had a technologist arrive to fix a computer problem at someone’s desk. Now that digital systems are campus-wide and relied upon 24/7 to operate almost all parts of the college, it may be time to reframe how your college looks at IT. Following are six ways to upgrade your view.
- Think of IT as the root system of your college
Digital systems have become as essential to colleges as roots are to a tree. You may not see the wires, networks, servers, and databases, but the health of your college is a reflection of what’s behind the scenes. The stronger your digital systems are, the stronger your college will be. This plays out in all areas, including admissions, student engagement, staff productivity and overhead.
- Create an IT steering committee
Chances are, your IT department has more to offer than what it’s been asked for. Their knowledge likely goes beyond what type of computer to buy or how to fix it. For instance, this overlooked resource could probably help integrate each department’s tools for more streamlined use.
By understanding where data is collected, who needs it and what decisions might be influenced by that data, an oversight committee could help prioritize the college’s technology initiatives and investments. Many schools find that the marketing department wishes it had access to data collected by another department, but isn’t sure if that data exists and who might be collecting it. A steering committee is a great way to begin generating better information flow.
- Focus IT on building data integrations between systems
In spite of advances in technology, a lot of people still enter data manually when they want to transfer it from one system to another.
Let’s say, for example, you run a report within a customer relationship management system (CRM). Then, you export it to Excel to upload that information into a new program. How many of you have then run into system incompatibilities and begun hand-keying data again?
Another example is in how robust Google Analytics can be. All sorts of things can be tracked in Google Analytics, even building usage. Yet few outside of IT realize the potential of harnessing the data that could be captured if systems were configured to do so. Ask your IT team if there might be a way to connect systems so that you can capture data to inform better decision making and create efficiencies in system-to-system transfers.
- Cross-departmental business process mapping
Business mapping looks at how process flows between people and then looks for steps that may have lost their purpose over time. Routines provide structure and clarity, but even the best routines need an overhaul from time to time. Process mapping helps identify where technology may have increasing demand, It can also help speed parts of a process, or raise expectations regarding outcomes.
Perhaps it no longer makes sense to send acceptance letters only once a week. In the fall, when you have a late admission, that student may appreciate getting an acceptance letter within a day, rather than a week. Quick delivery could make the difference between setting that student up for success — and failing to capture their interest. Make the time to evaluate your cross-departmental business processes with IT’s help. You may find that by reducing paperwork, your staff is freed to do what they do best: build relationships with students.
- Develop an online strategy, not just an LMS
It can be jarring for your students to have to get acquainted with new learning management system (LMS) settings for each class. Certainly, every instructor has their style — but creating a few guidelines and standards for how content is uploaded, tagged and organized should bring out the best in each instructor’s approach. Have a faculty-wide discussion on what LMS features they most appreciate. Identify best practices and share these among faculty.
- Collect student and faculty feedback about technology experiences
Some people can be more vocal than others, so take steps to encourage feedback from large groups at multiple times and in multiple formats. Be sure to request feedback from both students and faculty. End-of-course surveys are always helpful but be sure to also look at data from your help desk. Impromptu comments on social media can also point to issues in need of attention. Having a combination of sources will give you a more balanced view. Note: A helpful part of encouraging constructive feedback is to report back on what you’ve heard, and how the feedback will be addressed.
Digital systems are most appreciated when they work as intended, thereby allowing users to focus on the tasks at hand rather than the technology. The hidden benefits of systems that operate well are that they drive efficiency across departments, provide institutional insights, and enable a rewarding user experience. By rethinking IT, schools can leverage their technology investments to advance their mission and vision and allow faculty and students to do what they do best: teach and learn.