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Trendspotter: This Time Is Different

IT leaders must meet today's unique challenges with a new focus on technology engagement.

In a recent interview with CT, Timothy Chester, Pepperdine University's (CA) vice provost and CIO--and a Campus Technology 2011 Innovator award recipient--explained why IT organizations must take an entirely new approach in these challenging times.

Campus Technology: In speaking about IT leadership, you’ve said, "This time is different." Why?

Timothy Chester: The way we respond to the challenges we face as IT leaders has to change, because our circumstances are unique. The effects of the financial crisis will probably linger for many years. I don't believe the generous budgets that we enjoyed over the past 10 years will come back anytime soon.

And now, the cloud and social networks have decentered institutions in ways that suggest that they are less important than in the past. Notably, there is a big question about whether students can 'do it themselves'--whether they can piece together the equivalent of a college education, and therefore make a traditional degree less important than it used to be.

For IT organizations there has been a decentering as well, because faculty, students, and staff no longer depend on IT for services the way they did five or 10 years ago. They can get all of these services from the cloud in a much easier, more efficient fashion.

As a result of all these factors, we have to think about approaching problems and opportunities in different ways. We no longer have the resources or degree of control that we enjoyed in the past.

CT: If IT organizations need to change, what might those changes look like?

TC: Most of the problems we face as IT leaders tend to be engagement problems rather than technology problems. We really add value as an IT organization when the use of technology intersects with a business need or desired outcome--whether it's a research need for a faculty member, an instructional outcome for a teacher, or a CFO's need to reduce costs.

We seem to add less value today through pure engineering efforts than we did 10 years ago. I stressed recently to my staff that, while good, reliable technology is a necessary condition for success, it's no longer sufficient for success. What tends to ensure success is the way we engage people in the use of technology. That requires a fundamentally different skill set from what has traditionally been emphasized in IT.

CT: To what extent is technology changing higher education?

TC: We all understand intuitively that technology is changing higher education, but the direction or pace of that change is not always clear. That's because we have generally used technology to replicate the traditional classroom model of learning, which has also been decentered by the cloud and social networks.

Once we move away from the traditional notion of a credit hour and the classroom lecture, and really concentrate on how students learn through collaboration--and learning outcomes supplant the credit hour as the building block of a college degree--technology will become incredibly meaningful. The combination of technology and a focus on learning outcomes is changing higher education for the better.

CT: Is this a good time to be an IT leader in higher education?

TC: Absolutely. Never before has IT mattered so much to higher education. But I think we have to change and focus on engagement around the use of technology as the most important thing we do.

Editor's note: Timothy Chester will give the keynote, "This Time Is Different: How IT Organizations Can and Must Change to Survive and Thrive in the New Normal," on September 29 at the Campus Technology Forum conference in Long Beach, CA.

About the Author

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

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