Facebook – The New Quality Standard for College IT Services

The college campus has become expandable, constant, elevated. Breaking out of the traditional brick and mortar confines, the higher education institution is truly open access at any time of any day with the ability to reach students all over the world. With this newly found superpowers, colleges have an increased sense of responsibility and direction to provide a quality learning experience. Welcome higher education to your new ivory tower, welcome to the CLOUD!!

Cloud is not only a great enabler of new IT services and IT operations models, it is also a great equalizer of user expectations with respect to the quality of IT services consumed. All of us, regardless of generation expect the same quality in terms of uptime, response time and support from our applications at work or in school as we come (or were conditioned) to expect from Facebook or Google. This is even more the case in higher education where the new generations of students, true digital citizens view the Internet and its applications as a utility.

The education process and administration critically depends on IT services, from facilities and student administration to content delivery and testing. This is generally understood at an intuitive level. The question is: How critical do administrators actually see IT to be to the students, how much do they care about the student perception of college IT services quality?

To answer this question, the Bellwether College Consortium and Nephos6 recently ran a large survey focused on 2 and 4 year, higher-education institutions. Respondents included Presidents, Senior Administrators, Administrators and Faculty. Tim Wilson and I will present the results of this survey in a series of blogs highlighting the importance of taking a new, systematic approach to assessing and optimizing IT performance in higher-education. In this first installment, we will share several key findings on administrators’ understanding of IT’s role in the performance of their institutions.

Administrators understand the importance of IT services in enabling students to be successful.

Almost 97% of respondents believe IT services are critical to the education process and the success of the students (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Question: How critical is IT services to student learning success?

Probably the overwhelming response captured in Figure 1 is not surprising. After all, administrators and faculty are using IT services daily. The enabling power of IT services such as eLearning or online testing and the crippling effects of an outage or a slow application hit close to home on a regular basis. It would be however interesting to see if administrators and faculty care or are aware what the students think about the IT services delivered by the college. Understanding their students’ perceptions of the campus IT climate could assist colleges in all areas of student progress from recruitment to retainment to completion.

Administrators are keenly aware of the importance of student perception of the quality IT services delivered by their colleges.

More than 81% of the respondents Agree or Highly Agree that students will evaluate the college in terms of quality of IT services (Figure 2). It is evident that college administration and faculty understand that while IT might not be viewed as core competency for the organization, staff but more importantly students expect IT services to simply work and work well.

Figure 2. Question: Do you believe students will evaluate your college performance based on maturity and quality of IT services?

Our survey clearly shows that not only it is well understood that IT services are essential to student success, the quality of IT services is not just a localized metric, relevant only within the college community. Similar to the previous question, over 81% of the respondents Agree or Highly Agree that students will share their experience with friends and family (Figure 3). Colleges understand that perception of IT services quality will be attached to the brand of the organization.

Figure 3. Question: Do you think students will share their perception of IT quality with their social network?

Combining the data in figures 2 and 3 we naturally conclude that the quality of IT services strongly influences the overall college experience of students and they share this experience with their social network. The next logical question is: Does perceived IT quality impact student choices in applying for college? We honestly thought the survey would show little correlation between IT quality and admission. We were wrong.

Administrators believe students will make college choices based on perceived quality of IT services.

Over 66% of the respondents Agree or Highly Agree that quality of IT services is relevant even to the admission/enrollment numbers.

Figure 4. Question: Do you think students will factor IT readiness/performance in their college choices?

The survey data made it evident that today’s colleges are fully aware of the technology expectations from their students and the impact poor IT has on the success of their experience and the college operation, from admission to graduation. We found the results very encouraging in terms of problem recognition and understanding. Next, we want to see how colleges manage this critical infrastructure and set of service. So how do colleges measure the quality of IT services delivered? Is there an “IT metric” that the CIO reports in the board meetings? We all know we cannot manage something we do not measure and we all know we cannot measure something we do not clearly define.

In the next installment of this blog series we will discuss the challenges of assessing the effectiveness and performance of the college IT organization. Hint: Constantly putting out fires is not a sustainable operational model.