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IT's Balancing Act

IT must keep services reliable, even while adopting cutting-edge innovations.

Ellen D. Wagner, executive director of the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), will give a keynote, "Making It Real: The Adoption of IT Innovation in Higher Education," at Campus Technology 2011 just prior to the CT 2011 Innovators Awards. As a preview, CT asked her a few questions.

Campus Technology: Is there a leading edge of IT innovation that higher education institutions can follow?

Wagner: The nature of innovation is that it is always ahead of the curve, usually by as many as two standard deviations. So, by its very nature, you are not going to see mass adoption of any variety of innovative technology. Enterprise IT folks can't afford to put all their energies on the leading edge of innovation. There's a lot of trial and error for getting innovations to work in your own organization; it can be expensive and really not worthwhile unless the pilots are tested, results measured, and outcomes evaluated. More to the point, enterprise IT cannot exist without stable, reliable, tested infrastructure at its base.

CT: But are there technology innovations that institutions should consider adopting now?

Wagner: Yes, of course. None of us can afford to wait until we know all the answers about emerging tools and technologies before we put them to work. If you are a potential technology adopter, you owe it to yourself to stay on top of what's happening so you can learn to recognize what, from the panoply of technology innovation in higher education, might be the very shining light your institution needs to keep moving ahead.

CT: What is the role of IT leadership in the adoption of innovation?

Wagner: IT leaders play an interesting role. On one hand they are supposed to keep the castle secure--and there is a lot of really nasty stuff, such as viruses, malware, and phishing, out there these days. On the other hand, these leaders are expected to respond to emerging trends, even break new ground. And IT professionals are also expected to provide institutions with certain economies of scale, so their organizations can remain operational within today's constrained budgets. They can't afford to go chasing after every single thing that sounds like a great idea. So, if they don't have some way of reviewing emerging new media, they run one of two risks: First, they may find themselves becoming irrelevant; second, if they can't systematically evaluate the value and impact of specific innovations on their institutional operations, they may put their own and their institutions' reputations at risk.

CT: How can IT leaders make a difference?

Wagner: You know, there has never been a time when IT has mattered more. There has never been a time when having a reliable, secure, safe, and consistent framework for doing work matters more. But we've got to make sure that we balance all that with the need to determine what's coming next. How do we plan ahead? We all know how long it takes to change budgets: The Campus Computing Project's data show how approximately 87 percent of institutional IT budgets are spoken for before the next year even comes. We don't have a very big window of opportunity, so IT must help the institution be smart about setting priorities regarding the adoption of technology innovation.

Editor's note: You can hear Ellen Wagner's keynote at Campus Technology's annual summer conference, held this year in Boston, July 25-28.

About the Author

Mary Grush is Editor and Conference Program Director, Campus Technology.

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