Strategic Planning for Information Technology: Steering the Ship or Being Driven?

By Eduardo J. Padr–n
Miami Dade College

Planning for technology advancements in any industry is a monumental challenge today and a particularly demanding one in higher education. As a learning enterprise we are concerned with both process and outcomes, and our ear must be to the ground well beyond the campus environment. Historically, no industry—or set of industries, which is a more apt description—has grown more prolifically or diversified more explosively than this all-encompassing labyrinth we call "technology."

In such an atmosphere, effective planning is absolutely crucial. The operative word, however, is “effective.” How d'es an educational institution, at the confluence of individual learning, a volatile marketplace, and a veritable revolution in communications plan effectively?

At MDC we have established a set of guidelines by which to steer the good ship technology. They are basic, common sense principles that are closely allied with the fundamental values of the institution. I’d like to share them here:

  1. Prioritize students: MDC’s mission statement instructs to “place students at the center of decision-making.” Literally hundreds of technology needs are tendered to the yearly budget proposal and not all are fulfilled. As a general rule, we work outward from the core of the teaching and learning process and relevant support.
  2. Adhere to the college’s Strategic Plan: Be consistent. Ensure that such a major outlay of resources as we make for technology is attuned to the long-range priorities of the institution.
  3. Have the debate: Make sure opposing views on investment are aired thoroughly and poll the marketplace through formal requests for information to fuel the debate. Considerations like the anticipated paradigm shift in personal mobility, communications, and computing are certain to have nearly universal impact across the college. Debate is healthy.
  4. Make careful choices: Notions of reversibility, flexibility, and risk assessment should be core constituents in any major investment decisions. The road ahead promises too many curves to do otherwise.
  5. Don’t overplan: It’s wise to know your needs in advance and wiser yet to purchase what you need, when you need it. Understand shelf life whenever possible and capture the ever-volatile market as effectively as possible.

How have we applied these principles at MDC?

Back in 1995, MDC found itself w'efully behind the curve in both classroom and administrative technology. Many years of under funding at the state level had stifled growth and engendered a nearly perpetual crisis response. But a concerted, college-wide effort to reshape the institution for the long haul brought renewed vigor and new priorities, among them a strong emphasis on technology development. Today, MDC is in the first phase of its third five-year strategic technology planning cycle. Over the past 10-plus years, strides have been phenomenal, in great part due to the collaborative approach adopted to meet the challenge.

The College-wide Technology Committee for 2005-2010 (CTC) is comprised of 38 faculty, staff, administrators, and students organized in four subcommittees that have been charged to consider Infrastructure Design and Management, Teaching and Learning, Student Support, and Administrative Tools. These subcommittees have grown to include hundreds of members based on a college-wide invitation to participate in the strategic technology planning process. The subcommittees have divided themselves further into focus groups to study the requirements, priorities, and impact of rapidly changing technologies on the college’s already identified strategic goals. In a very technical realm, we have achieved a users’ grass roots involvement that further ensures the relevance of our future investments.

The CTC and its subcommittees have met regularly to discuss a wide variety of topics such as a digital divide caused by lack of broadband access versus the impact of students who are able to purchase and use-low cost communication devices as personal platforms for computing, telephony, messaging support, and entertainment. The above-referenced paradigm shifts in personal mobility, communications, and computing spurred significant debate as well, with certain impact to equipment refresh plans, classroom and lab designs, employee skills requirements, the deployment of wireless networks, and the need for new and different security measures to protect the open learning environment enjoyed by the college community. This last point is of particular interest for a higher education environment and culture that is in direct conflict with the principles of information security. Among the several concerns is the protection of intellectual property as we also guard academic freedom and dialogue.

After months of deliberation, the CTC has identified strategic priorities and projects that take into consideration the interests, needs, and skill levels of all sectors of the college. The priorities include an integrated and collaborative technology infrastructure for all students and employees; college-wide wireless architecture; synchronized refresh cycle; training and technology support; and an annual review process to ensure compliance with national industry standards and best practices.

All projects under these priorities are submitted for funding to become part of an annual operational plan. As approved, projects are assigned to multidisciplinary project teams that produce detailed implementation plans and are responsible for project completion and presentations during the CTC’s cyclic review.

Like so many other industries that rely on technology, technology is not our business. Yet it has central importance and requires unique care and knowledge to realize its potential as a true support for learning. How effectively we plan will dictate how well we navigate toward this still-emerging horizon of new technology.rmidable rm challenge.

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