What do we get from Higher-Ed IT? What we ask for!

We are continuing our series of blogs on IT in higher-education and the data collected through the survey conducted by Bellwether College Consortium and Nephos6. This survey was focused on 2 and 4 year higher-education institutions. Respondents included Presidents, Senior Administrators, Administrators and Faculty. In our previous blog “Facebook-The New Quality Standard for College IT” we discussed how the survey data indicated that college and university administrators understand the importance of IT in student success and the fact that students share and make college choices based on their experience with IT. Good user experience is impacting key operational metrics for higher-education institutions: enrollment, graduation rates and brand power.

In this blog we use the survey data to assess college administrators’ perception of their IT department’s performance.

Higher-Ed seems to fall into the trap of asking their IT organizations to be proactive, innovative but measuring them based on reactive metrics.

We asked our audience: “Do students and staff complain about IT?” The answer was not surprising: 78% of respondents said “yes”.

One would naturally conclude that IT is not doing a good job in delivering services. Unhappy customers means poor services. Nevertheless, we wanted to test this conclusion. We asked our audience: “Does your IT team seem to be able to keep up with requests and issues?”

Almost 63% of respondents think that IT is doing a good job keeping up with customer complaints.

These two data points highlight the systemic problem we have with IT. We know there are problems that impact the quality of education, the staff and student productivity, however we give IT a pass for valiantly putting out most fires within what we came to accept as decent time frames. It works for now, but it is not the way to run an information railroad.

The problem is not necessarily with the IT organization. Ultimately we get what we ask for, what we measure. If we evaluate and incentivize the IT team based on the number of issues opened in a month, the number of tickets closed within a given SLA, then we will get an organization constantly chasing fires rather than preventing them. Our heroes are the nice IT guys who come to our rescue right away after fixing another issue burning across the campus.

According to Educause, the IT spending profile for higher-education looks like this:

  • Between 5% and 6% of the overall budget is spent on IT – Most administrators have no idea whether that level is critical to keep the institution relevant and competitive
  • Between 75% and 85% of the IT budget is spent on running the business – Most of the time and effort is spent on keeping it all together, very little resources are left for optimization and transformation
  • Between 50% and 60% of the IT budget is spent on compensation – We are keeping the IT environment running through “brute force”

This spending structure matches the reactive nature of our IT organizations. Our IT teams will always need more people to just keep things running as they are.

What if we encourage them to stop bailing water for a moment and turn off the faucet instead? What if we evaluate them not in terms of reactive metrics (number of open tickets) but rather in terms of proactive metrics (issues detected before users did)? They might feel less needed at first but they will now have more time to work on automation, optimization and transformative initiatives. Something to think about!

In the next installment of this blog series we will elaborate on IT metrics and incentives. Hint: The IT guy goes from firefighter to invisible superhero.