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Star Power

What will it take to lead your institution confidently into the New Digital Age? The ability to make a business case.

In recent days, CT has had multiple discussions with Internet2 guru Ken Klingenstein (director, Internet2 Middleware and Security): notably, in our C-Level View newsletter (April 25) and in our June Visionary column. Always forthright and fascinating, Klingenstein makes no bones about the many issues IT pros will grapple with as US campuses move into an increasingly connected, globalized, digital environment. One of his recent statements, however, touched on the critical career skills they will need.

He said (my italics):
Another new challenge is the need to make a business case. When we started out years ago, we didn’t need business plans. We need them now…. For example, in the federated identity space that we’re working in, campuses want to understand what the benefits are, on a cost basis. We’ve gotten traction in federated identity largely by exhibiting the reduction in help desk calls and the reduction in user support costs in general—the things that translate in an economic fashion. Even if that’s not why we’re doing it, we need to be able to explain the economic benefits of what we’re doing, in order to gain support.
What does this mean to you, the campus IT professional? It means that in order to move your institution (and your career) forward, you will need to acquire a business skill you probably never thought you would need, and you’ll need to acquire it quickly, and then master it.

There are challenges, however: How do you obtain business case expertise? How do you obtain it quickly? Then, how do you acquire this skill in the context of campus technology? The truth is that no matter how diligently you approach its attainment, you may still come up short if you are not able to “fit” your new skill to the universe in which you operate, and its idiosyncrasies.

One of the best ways to acquire this competence is through a mentor in the campus IT community who excels at constructing business arguments. Another option: Seek out print and online “crash courses” in making the business case for specific technology adoption. These can yield powerful data, even case study material, that can effectively support proposed expenditure with the potential for solid ROI. And don’t overlook tech vendors; they are usually only too willing to provide business case material for the adoption of their own or similar products (but consider their info with a neutral eye).

Finally, attending conferences and seminars focused on career-building skills for campus IT professionals is an excellent way to pick up this acumen quickly, especially if the sessions are intensive or “fast-track,” and particularly if peer and presenter networking opportunities abound. If all else fails, seek out corporate business-skill workshops, or read Making Technology Investments Profitable: ROI Roadmap to Better Business Cases, by Jack M. Keen and Bonnie Digrius (Wiley, 2002). Whichever way you go, it’s time to move your IT leadership and business skills into high gear: The New Digital Age is here, and you’ll want to be its next campus IT star.

Editor’s note: Keynoter Ken Klingenstein and numerous presenters will be focusing on making today’s business case for IT investment, at Campus Technology 2007, July 30-Aug. 2. To register, click here.

About the Author

Katherine Grayson is is a Los Angeles based freelance writer covering technology, education, and business issues.

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