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IT Security Tops Educause Issues List 4 Years Running

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In the coming year, IT organizations in colleges and universities expect to be grappling with "data-enabling" their institutions, funding, and setting up their units as institutional leaders and change agents. That's what IT leaders told Educause in its latest survey to determine the top 10 IT issues for higher education. During a well-attended session during the latest Educause Annual Conference, Susan Grajek, Educause vice president for communities and research, shared the results.

The trends are developed through a multi-phase process. A group of higher ed IT leaders works with Educause researchers to propose a list of issues that appear on their own radar. Then a popular vote is taken among the wider Educause membership to determine the 10 most compelling issues.

This year's list of top IT issues, in ranked order:

  • Information security strategy: Developing a risk-based security strategy that detects, responds to, and stops security threats and challenges (in position one last year);
  • Student success: Becoming a "trusted partner" with other institutional units to drive and achieve student success initiatives (in position two last year);
  • Privacy: Safeguarding institutional constituents' privacy rights and staying on top of protection of all types of restricted data (new to the list);
  • The student-centered institution: Understanding and advancing technology's role in optimizing the student experience through the lifecycle from applicants to alumni (new to the list in position five last year);
  • Digital integrations: Ensuring system interoperability, scalability and extensibility, along with data integrity, security, standards and governance, across the many applications and platforms in use (new to the list in a tied position eight last year);
  • The data-enabled institution: Following a service-based approach to data and analytics work, as part of reskilling, retooling and reshaping the campus culture to be adept at data-enabled decision-making (in position four last year);
  • Sustainable funding: Developing funding approaches that can maintain quality and accommodate new needs and the growing use of IT services in an era of shrinking budgets (not on the list last year);
  • Data management and governance: Implementing effective data-governance practices and organizational structures (tied for position eight last year);
  • Becoming the integrative CIO: Structuring the role of IT leadership as a strategic partner of leadership in achieving institutional missions (new to the list this year); and
  • Helping with higher education affordability: Aligning IT's priorities and resources with institutional priorities and resources to achieve a sustainable future (in position six last year).

The No. 1 Issue: Developing an IT Security Strategy

As Grajek noted in her remarks, information security is the "number one issue for the fourth year in a row." In the issues survey, performed during September 2018, Educause asked respondents about the extent to which they incorporated two security-oriented approaches into their IT strategy. The first was risk management, which 15 percent of survey participants said was a "major influence" in their strategies and service delivery. Another 38 percent stated that they were tracking risk management but that it had "no influence yet." Fourteen percent reported that tracking the "growing complexity of security threats" was a major influence, while another 68 percent said, yes, they were tracking it, but, no, it wasn't an influence yet.

A new issue has surfaced this year, related to security: Privacy, at No. 3, has never been on the top 10 issues list.

Both information security and privacy, as well as digital integrations, the data-enabled institution and data management and government all fall under the category of the "data-enabled institution." As Grajek explained, "If you were look at an overall theme for the top 10 IT issues for 2019, it really is the data journey that you all are making at your campuses." That journey "is getting more complex," she noted, because it covers not just the "nuts and bolts of technical integrations and getting data to talk with one another" but also data management and governance — "how we agree on what the right data are, where the data services are coming from and how to use the data."

The concept of the "data enabled institution" is a "journey" that will unfold over the next decade or two, predicted Grajek, "not of three to five years, but 10 to 20 years."

Use of data and analytics for student success

Use of data and analytics for student success. Source: Results from a national landscape analysis performed by NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, the Association for Institutional Research and Educause.

Recently, Educause participated in a research study in collaboration with NASPA, a professional association of student affairs administrators, and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to understand how data and analytics were being used for student success in colleges and universities. The results showed institutions were furthest along in the use of their student information system data:

  • 31 percent of respondents told the researchers that such data was systematically collected, integrated and used;
  • 42 percent reported that data was systematically collected and integrated;
  • 25 percent stated that data was collected but not integrated; and
  • 2 percent said the institution didn't collect "usable data."

However, for institutional business data, systems-level data and other student data, "we aren't very far along," said Grajek.

Funding Resurfaces

After a year's hiatus, funding has reappeared on this year's IT issues list, in the form of funding sustainability and higher ed affordability. As Grajek noted, "We're seeing IT funding getting incorporated into — and in many cases inseparable from — institutional funding." As that integration occurs, she added, an important question becomes how to set priorities. "How does IT work with the institution to set priorities that are sustainable and affordable for the institution — and meaningful?"

Grajek shared a couple of data points related to the topic of funding. The first, from a 2017 Core Data Service survey Educause did in 2017, found that just over half of institutions (53 percent) have largely or fully prioritized IT investment in accordance with institutional goals. The rest, she pointed out, "have a ways to go."

The same survey found that 80 percent of central IT spending was used to run existing operations, leaving just 10 percent for "growth" activities and 8 percent for transformation and innovation.

IT as the Institutional Leader and Change Agent

This category contains three of this year's IT issues: student success, the student-centered institution and the "integrative CIO." That last item has never been seen on the list. According to Grajek, the panel "had some conversations" about whether "innovative" would be a better descriptor. Because the CIO's role is "very strategic" and doesn't just involve innovation, explained Grajek, the panel chose integrative. "It really does involve that trusted adviser, that integrator of IT with institutional strategy."

A 2018 Educause workforce survey done earlier this year examined the CIO's involvement in institutional strategy. While more than half of respondents reported that they're often or almost always involved in discussions about the IT implications of institution decisions with other senior campus leaders (67 percent), about institutional administration directions (63 percent) or about institutional strategic directions (57 percent), fewer than half (36 percent) said the same about discussions related to shaping or influencing institutional academic directions.

The slides from the "Educause 2019 Top 10 IT Issues" presentation are openly available on the organization's website.

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