Bowling for Dollars

Millions have gone into the campus ERP initiative, but you’re still fighting for 10K worth of laptops. What’s wrong with this picture?

In the world of campus IT, we talk about funding a lot. What we don’t discuss as openly is the politics of IT funding.

“Isn’t anyone ever going to talk about the struggle we go through to get dollars for academic technology?” I was asked a few months back by a frustrated academic technology exec who flagged me down at the Syllabus2004 conference.

“Money is tight, I know,” I said, trying to sound sympathetic. After all, we are just coming out of two to three years of IT budget slashing, and the prolonged hardship has ground down many a campus technologist growing weary of seeing IT infrastructure and needs fraying around the edges.

“Oh, it’s not that,” she shot back, sounding disgusted. “I’m just so sick and tired of watching millions go into our ERP installation, when I’ve got to beg for every little crumb for the classrooms. When are you going to write about that?”

The time, it seems, has come. In fact, since that conversation in San Francisco last July, I’ve raised the issue wherever I go, and I’m usually met with sighs of recognition or the rolling of eyes. And in fact, in this very issue of Campus Technology, our Stats column highlights the 2004 Campus Computing Survey (www.campuscomputing.net), which clearly details a move away from academic technology expenditure, in favor of other, “more urgent” technology expenditures—security and disaster recovery technologies, for instance (two areas that have begged attention and dollars since 9/11). Still, ERP/enterprise installations continue to grab the lion’s share of IT investment on many campuses, and though the investments (especially in enterprise integration) are essential ones, d'es that mean they should be made at the expense of other, more directly student-focused IT investments? As well, is it—shall we say—legitimate to institute new or additional (sometimes hefty) student technology fees when the IT budget is soaring but it is administrative systems that are benefiting most?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but clearly, answers are sorely needed. I have always been a proponent of the adoption of stronger business-case skills for campus technology pros and IT executives, so that they have the wherewithal to make the necessary arguments for the dollars they need, properly allocated in the areas that need them most. Certainly, possessing such skills will go a long way toward helping the situation. And mastering the game of campus politics couldn’t hurt either. But learning from others who have met the challenge of snagging dollars in the shadow of larger IT projects is the best way I know to change outcomes. So c’mon, readers: Tell us how you’ve claimed the dollars you need for technology in spite of the president’s pet IT project for 2005. We’re waiting to hear from you.

Katherine Grayson, Editor-In-Chief
What have you seen and heard? Send to: kgrayson@101com.com.

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