IT Trends

Educause: Information Security Leads Top IT Concerns

CIOs and other IT leaders in higher education are more concerned about information security than any other issue that arises for them, according to Educause's latest review of top IT issues, issued earlier today. Each year the higher ed technology association produces a "top 10" list to examine what areas on campus are proving the most intransient or important to manage.

"In the digital age, threats come from all angles," said Susan Grajek, vice president of data, research and analytics at Educause in a prepared statement. "Because of this, information security is the highest-rated issue this year, as institutions seek to protect technology and data."

Number two on the list was the optimizing of educational technology and third was student success technologies.

Educause 2016 Top 10 IT Issues

  1. Information security
  2. Optimizing educational technology
  3. Student success technologies
  4. IT workforce hiring and retention
  5. Institutional data management
  6. IT funding models
  7. BI and analytics
  8. Enterprise application integrations
  9. IT organizational development
  10. E-learning and online education

The list was developed through a multipart process. Once a year, members of a special panel select a slate of topics they believe will be the most strategic IT-related issues facing higher education institutions. Those are voted on and prioritized by members. (This year 338 people responded.) The issues with the highest scores make up the top-10 list.

Each of the 10 issues fits into to one of three themes: "divestment," "reinvestment" and "differentiation."

Divestment

In the divestment category are institutional data management and enterprise application integrations, areas from which Educause believes institutions need to move away in order to make room for practices "that better fit the new world."

Divesting is not about [eliminating] financial systems or e-mail or something like that," Grajek told Campus Technology. "It's really about divesting ourselves in higher education of the way we have been managing IT, the way we've been managing our data and some of the decisions that we've been making about IT." The divestment process is intended to "make room for the IT organization, the IT talent and institutional decision-makers to really focus on technology as a differentiator."

For example, within larger institutions where decision-making and authority tends to be distributed, control over institutional data also is scattered. That's "fine when you want to localize and optimize local decision-making and local authority," said Grajek. But with analytics, it's very often about trying to take a higher level view." If a student is taking a course in two different departments, each with its own data stores, "getting a unified, sensible picture of that student's experience and being able to deliver that back in useful bits and pieces to that student is going to be very hard. So that's where divesting ourselves of these kinds of local ownerships of data so that we can centralize and move to institutional data management [is important]," she added.

In the area of enterprise integrations, the issue is to deal with simplifying management of IT infrastructure, probably by moving it out from under departmental authority and decision-making and into the cloud, alongside new practices in data governance and management that can "address multiple objectives."

Reinvestment

Educause plugged four IT issues into the reinvestment category: information security; IT workforce hiring and retention; IT funding models; and IT organizational development.

Funding models in particular need to focus on IT as an investment instead of a cost, the report noted. Moving more operations to the cloud affects the funding model, Grajek said. "Generally, CIOs will tell you that it's a lot easier to get capital funds than it to get an increase in operating funds. An increase of operating funds is kind of a forever thing, whereas an influx of capital funding can be a one-time infusion," which is easier, she added, for the institution "to feel comfortable committing to." Enterprise applications fit that funding approach well, she pointed out. "We tend to have steady state for a few years, then we do a major architecture upgrade or major change in an application. And we need a big infusion of capital investment to do that."

With cloud computing, however, the funding is "a lot more steady state," she said. "Rather than these blips of capital investment, more of the funding is coming out of the operational budget." Making the case for that change is "hard."

Differentiation

Four IT issues fit the differentiation theme: optimizing educational technology; student success technologies; business intelligence and analytics; and e-learning and online education. Here's where alignment between the overall institutional strategy and the value delivered by IT needs to be apparent. Achieving that will require getting better at "storytelling," in order to help differentiate the school from its counterparts, as the report suggested.

Those stories will be used in recruiting and retaining students, faculty, alumni and donors, added Grejak. "Really, for the first time we're able to imagine how IT can contribute directly to what makes an institution unique. People can see and touch and feel the difference that it can make in teaching and learning in ways that were just never quite so concrete and compelling. It's all about aligning IT and the way in which you use IT to add value to the institution's narrative about what makes it special."

Grejak said that the report and its related materials, such as an interactive "issues" tool that highlights trends going back to 2000, could be used by IT leaders in several ways. "For some CIOs it can just be a gut check. Others would use this in their strategic planning as they think about what they are going to focus on in the next year, as a way to make sure they have all of their bases covered. If I were a CIO, I'd also use it to make a case for something to my institutional leadership."

The "Top 10 IT Issues" report is available on the Educause site here.

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