Maintaining What You've Got + the Ability to Innovate = Not Easy

Whether you call it the ability to "innovate" or "flexibility," maintaining it is important to everyone in higher education IT. Unfortunately, if IT budgets stall out and don't increase, there is an inevitable shrinkage in the ability to innovate (or to be flexible)--because the maintenance function of our jobs is constantly there and d'esn't shrink as fast as funding might.

So, we try to save money on existing programs. We try to eliminate existing programs. (Very hard to do when others are invested in them.) We seek out grants to gain flexibility and engage in innovation. We lobby our bosses for smaller decreases and more increases. We tax our students with fees for IT; sometimes they ask or demand to be taxed with fees for IT. We worry about keeping things running and also about being "out there" in terms of institutional prestige.

A recent report from ECAR, the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, titled "Information Technology Funding in Higher Education" has just been published. ECAR's been doing a great job of conducting and reporting on relevant research and I especially like the way that although they work on a subscription model where institutions either subscribe to full reports or purchase them, ECAR--no doubt due to the influence of Richard Katz, the EDUCAUSE vice president responsible for ECAR--ensures that it also publishes very informative summaries, called "Key Findings." The Key Findings are not mere inducements to purchase--instead, they are useful documents in and of themselves. I highly recommend that you read this latest Key Findings document.

This ECAR report is based on a substantial literature review, a quantitative survey of EDUCAUSE members *and* a quantitative survey of NACUBO members (National Association of College and University Business Officers--its members are CBOs/CFOs; chief business officers/chief financial officers), as well as qualitative interviews with appropriate individuals and some in-depth case studies.

One interesting finding from a comparison of the CIOs and the CBOs is that CBOs believe that their institution is actively managing all IT spending, even if such spending d'es not come from a fully-centralized budget. CIOs think otherwise.

More importantly, it appears that CBOs--when compared to CIOs from the same institution, as was the case above--are far more convinced than are CIOs that "the base IT budget increases sufficiently to maintain new technology. As the report notes, this is a difference of opinion that is significant in real life, not just statistically interesting.

Other findings include the discovery that larger institutions, when trying to contain costs, are more likely than are smaller ones to conflate duplicate IT groups on campus. On the other hand, smaller institutions are more likely to use outsourcing to contain costs.

Probably the most important finding, something that needs to be repeated and repeated until we all have it internalized, is that before implementing any new technologies, campuses must have accurate estimates of the ongoing costs of maintaining those new technologies. In other words, just like the green building people are now looking at the complete life cycle costs of designing, building, occupying, and maintaining buildings--IT staffers need to look at full life cycle costs of the implementation of new technologies, including training and process reorientation costs.

So, find those dollars, cut those costs, keep things running, and be sure that you have the funds to do something new and exciting once in a while!

About the Author

About the author: Terry Calhoun is Director of Communications and Publications for the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). You can contact him through CT's IT Trends forum by clicking here. View more articles by Terry Calhoun.

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