Special Series: Technology >> Part 1: Strategy/Mission/Vision
|Michael Townsley on presidential leadership|
and its key role in campus technology use.
THE ACCELERATION OF NEW TECHNOLOGY has outpaced the ability of many CEOs to
keep abreast of it and more importantly, to effectively channel their perspective
on technology advances and solutions, in order to advance their respective institutions.
Three years ago, at an annual program for new presidents sponsored by a high-level
higher education association, several new CEOs mentioned that one of the most
complex issues they have to address is the use of technology on their campuses.
Most participants acknowledged that they lacked sufficient knowledge to appropriately
address comprehensive issues dealing with technology.
Not long after that meeting, based on actual discussions among college presidents,
SunGard SCT (www.sungardsct.com) facilitated a year-round dialog on the topic of
technology in higher education. Ensuing roundtable discussions led to the formulation
of topics, which later comprised chapters. Now, thanks to the vision of SunGard
SCT, the corporate sponsor of this new presidents program, a tree has grown
from that small acorn. The book, President to President: Views of Technology
in Higher Education (SunGard SCT, 2005) is the end product.
It is important to note that President to President is not an in-depth look
at technology, per se. Rather, the book is intended as a user-friendly guide
written by and for college presidents, tantamount to a presidential chat room
that had its beginnings in a physical setting—a dialog between and among presidents.
Each of the ten presidential authors has addressed his or her topic in a clear,
succinct and we believe, helpful manner. Chapters include:
- "Technology & Organizational Strategy /Mission/Vision," by Dr.
Michael K. Townsley, former president, Pennsylvania Institute of Technology,
- "Continuing Technology Evolution," by Dr. Laurence W. Mazzeno,
Alvernia College, Reading, PA
- "Attract, Serve and Retain Students, Faculty and Staff," by Dr.
Rosemary Jeffries, president, Georgian Court University,
- "Wireless Networks and Associated Costs/Issues," by Dr. David
R. Black, president, Eastern University and Seminary, St.
- "Accountability and Institutional Effectiveness" by Dr. John L.
Ewing, Jr., president, Mount Union College, Alliance OH
- "The Role of Portals in Higher Education" by Dr. Jake B. Schrum,
president, Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX
- "IT Security" by Dr. Thomas Meier, president, Elmira College,
- "Integrate Disparate Systems and Unify Your Digital Campus," by
Dr. Earl D. Brooks, II, president, Tri-State University,
"The New Learning Age and the Management of Online Curricula,"
by Dr. Walter D. Broadnax, president, Clark Atlanta University,
- "Deploy Comprehensive Administrative Solutions," by Dr. William
T. Luckey, president, Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, KY.
Some 1,500 private college presidents throughout the United States have received
President to President this spring through the generous support of SunGard SCT.
Now, the editors of the work, SunGard SCT, and Campus Technology, have partnered
to bring this exchange of presidential views to readers of Campus Technology,
over coming issues. —Marylouise Fennell, Ph.D and Scott D. Miller, Ph.D
Marylouise Fennell is coordinator of the New Presidents Program,
and senior counsel at the Council of Independent Colleges (www.cic.edu).
Scott D. Miller, president of Wesley College
(DE), is chair of the program. They are co-editors of President to President:
Views on Technology in Higher Education published this spring by SunGard SCT.
Strategy, Mission and Vision
By Michael K. Townsley
“Without task force input ...the president will
be the author of an uncoordinated technical strategy that will fall short of
If colleges and universities are havens of reflection and restraint where change
is glacial and all systems exist to serve the institution, high technology is
a revolutionary temptation—a promise of control to students, faculty, and presidents—that
offers the same regard for academic tradition that the iconoclast offers the
Most presidents recognize the obsolescence of their institutions¹ mission statements
and strategic plans amid the self-serving, high-speed, high-tech movement. Students
at colleges large and small won¹t tolerate lengthy queues, ad nauseum policies
and procedures, or educational services that treat them as arms¹-length objects
rather than key-punching participants in their educations. They, along with
faculty and administrators, want more control over decisions that affect their
lives—a more transparent learning and working environment that is ever more
accessible and responsive to their input.
Savvy presidents recognize the potential of technology to enhance mission,
improve educational services, and provide flexibility to decision chains. Harnessing
the high-tech pace, and coordinating technology with mission and strategy require
more than just a huge information technology (IT) investment. A fiscally responsible
and forward-thinking leadership will reorganize operations, reevaluate market
position, and press their institutions to utilize technology wisely. According
to George Keller, speaking in Academic Strategy (John
Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1983), "Presidents who do not look ahead, who
do not plan, become prisoners of external forces and surprises most often unpleasant."
“In the first part of our series, a frank discussion about why presidential leadership is key to the use of technology in colleges and universities.
Six Conditions to High Technology Management
Condition I: Technology is a given. Whether to invest is no longer
the issue. It is the rare institution that has not made a substantial
IT investment. The chart [BELOW] displays the impact investments in technology
have had on higher education between 1988 and 1996. Note that ³equipment² encompasses
all purchases treated as capital (depreciated), and so includes technological
equipment as well as desks and furniture. (Source: Table 356, Additions to physical
plan value of degree-granting institutions, by type of addition and control
of institution (millions of dollars); Digest of Education Statistics, National
Center for Education Statistics, 2002; nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d02/index.asp.)
That the gap between equipment and building additions grew for the period (except
around 1993 when the stock market declined) suggests a departure from the expected
consistent growth relationship between equipment and building additions, and
an increase in higher education¹s investment in technological equipment.
Condition II: Effectiveness and efficiency criteria must be set
and met. Efficiency can be defined as the per-unit (e.g., student
or some other quantifiable measure) operational costs (e.g., staff, maintenance,
depreciation) associated with a technology service. Effectiveness refers to
the fit between the technology service and strategic goals. IT systems cannot
be deemed effective and efficient merely because the central processing unit
has been plugged in. Recall the sweeping replacement of typewriters with word
processors in the 1980s: Managers assumed a unit-per-unit swap—i.e., one CPU
for each typewriter—and failed to anticipate the additional and ongoing cost
of software, printers, cables, monitors, surge protectors, and user training
until the bills were on their desks and the typewriters already in the dumpsters.
Once the initial and ongoing monetary investment in technology is figured,
leaders must ensure the IT service will support academic processes, administrative
processes, and communications—each division representing a complex piece of
a larger strategic puzzle. Is the technology service reducing cost per student
ratios, and is it reliably delivering results that meet the strategic goals
of the college?
Condition III: Technology must serve the ultimate user: the institution.
Spreading technology around campus will not automatically yield operational
efficiency or strategic value. Upon its installation, a computer will not serve
any purpose beyond that of its immediate user. Without a strategy guiding their
purchase, implementation, and use, computers can become toys, or vehicles for
empire building or day trading, or they may simply collect dust for lack of
defined uses and savvy users.
An article in Business Officer, the official publication of the National
Association of College and University Business Officials (
asserts that senior leaders must be involved with the president in developing
IT strategies because of their capacity to allocate resources, determine policy,
and approve procedures. Without task force input—without discussion and agreement
on IT purchases, implementation dates, upgrade forecasts, and monitoring strategies—the
president will be the author of an uncoordinated technical strategy that will
fall short of institutional goals.
Condition IV: Technology should integrate not duplicate. High-tech
gadgets and streamlined procedures are in demand by students who require immediate
results and fingertip control. Leaders must support and guide IT departments
in the complex task of blending various stitches of information into a seamless,
instantaneous bond between student and schedule. IT departments must keep pace
with student expectations by implementing technologies that bypass, not replicate,
existing service capabilities.
Online registration is one example of how streamlining can go wrong. If course
descriptions, class assignments, degree audits, and registration processes are
not integrated, students cannot quickly develop optimum schedules. The result:
students leafing through course catalogs, calling counselors to confirm degree
requirements, plugging selections into computers, paying at the financial aid
office—they may as well be standing in registration lines.
Condition V: Technology should improve flexibility and reduce complexity.
You can think of a high-tech system as your best friend: It is there when you
need it, ever responsive to your personal needs. Or you can see it as an insidious,
unfathomable, unreliable distraction that fails when you need it most. Neither
perspective is always true, but the latter in even small doses could ruin the
credibility of a tech system and undermine large time and money investments.
Presidents, like students, parents, alumni, staff, faculty, and administrators,
have experienced the frustration of making demands on a computer ill-equipped
to respond quickly, accurately, or at all. Increasing the flexibility of systems
and minimizing complexity for users make for tedious work for the IT professional:
In building a user-friendly system, he must forsake basic design for a comprehensive
system that anticipates various, sometimes contradictory, uses by variously
able users. Regardless of the difficulty of the task, the president must set
the invaluable expertise of the IT professional to designing a system for users
that by its efficient nature at the user level will meet the needs and enhance
the productivity of the institution.
Condition VI: Efficient and effective use of technology requires changes
to structure, processes, policies, and delivery of services. William
F. Massy, president of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group and professor
emeritus at Stanford University
, in a presentation to the National
Commission on the Cost of Higher Education (www2.nea.org/he/cost.html),
said that colleges and universities would not see changes in the unit cost of
IT until they make a ³paradigm shift² in the way they deliver services.Massy
challenges presidents to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their
IT systems and bolster the strength and productivity of their institutions in
an increasingly technology-savvy market of for-profit and not-for-profit competitors.
The paradigm shift in operations, delivery systems, or both (a massive undertaking)
offers presidents a chance to turn traditionally structured institutions into
interactive learning webs wherein each student´student, student´faculty, faculty´administration
link yields greater knowledge within and outside the classroom. Outside the
one-way teacherÆstudent information flow, the institution swells with expertise
gained when members of the college community inform one another. As espoused
by Michael H. Zack (whose research and publications have focused on the use
of information and knowledge to increase organization performance effectiveness)
and others, the paradigm shift from traditional to knowledge-based enhances
the "economy, innovation, and competitive positioning" of the institution
and depends largely on efforts of a motivated president with support from the
board, senior administrators, faculty, staff, students, and even alumni.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
-- Arthur C. Clarke.
Information technology offers too many exciting and relatively inexpensive
opportunities for higher education to ignore: Strategically designed IT helps
students and faculty maximize academic advisement, schedule classes, plan lessons,
view and present lectures in the classroom or online. Strategically designed
IT streamlines delivery of services so that students can make efficient use
of their time and money. Strategically designed IT simplifies operations so
that administrators and faculty can cost-effectively monitor and provide for
students as they pass from admissions to graduation to alumni status. As the
wheels of progress turn ever faster, presidents have access to near magical
technologies at reasonable cost. IT represents a major expense stream that can,
if managed correctly, yield significant improvements in productivity. Competition
for students will challenge colleges and universities to deliver faster, more
flexible, and broader services to students without driving net revenues into
the red. Sensitivity to changes in the way competitors, students, faculty, administrators,
and the public use technology will help proactive presidents choose and fund
(and IT professionals refine and test) systems that will promote the best interplay
among technology, operations, services, revenue, expenses, and strategy—for
the ease of users and the good of the institution. Dr.
Dr. Michael K. Townsley is the author of The Small College
Guide to Financial Health (NACUBO, 2002) and is former President of Pennsylvania
Institute of Technology. He is a consultant for Stevens Strategy (www.stevensstrategy.com),
specializing in the development of strategy for colleges, universities and schools.