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Simplify, Sustain, Innovate: Themes for Top 10 IT Issues of 2020

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Security and privacy topped this year's IT issues for higher education — yet again. Concerns about developing a risk-based security strategy that can stand up to the current and coming crop of computer threats was job number one for campus IT leaders in the latest Educause IT trends survey, shared with attendees at last week's annual Educause conference. The topic of privacy — particularly, staying on top of privacy rights and protecting restricted data — came in number two on the list, up from the third position in 2019.

Each year this nonprofit community of IT leaders and professionals queries a group of campus IT and non-IT leaders, including CIOs, representatives from administration and faculty, to understand what their primary issues are. Then Educause members vote on the compilation to determine how to rank the issues.

Besides information security and privacy, four other issues made a repeat appearance from last year's list:

  • Sustainable funding, coming up with funding approaches that can "maintain quality" while both addressing greater demand for IT services and new IT needs even as funding gets tighter (listed at number three this year, up from number seven last year);
  • Digital integrations, specifically mixing and matching applications and platforms in the areas of "interoperability, scalability and extensibility" along with "data integrity, security, standards and governance" (ranked fourth this year versus fifth in 2019);
  • Affordability of higher ed, and more particularly aligning IT work with institutional priorities (ranked in eighth place this year compared to number 10 last year); and
  • The "integrative" CIO, becoming somebody with a place at the C-table (number 10 this year and number nine last year).

This year, four new (or newly positioned) issues surfaced in the ranking:

  • The use of artificial intelligence for student retention and completion (number five), "to provide personalized, timely support";
  • Student-centric higher ed (number six), which has replaced "student success" and the "student-centered institution" for describing the creation of an "ecosystem" for supporting the complete student lifecycle;
  • Improved enrollment (number seven), through the potent use of "technology, data and analytics," with the intent of creating "an inclusive and financially sustainable enrollment strategy" capable of serving "more and new learners" through personalization efforts; and
  • Administrative simplification (number nine), the application of design, process improvement and system re-engineering efforts for eliminating or reducing needless work and improving user experiences.

Educause Top 10 IT Issues for 2020

  1. Information security strategy
  2. Privacy
  3. Sustainable funding
  4. Digital integrations
  5. Student retention and completion
  6. Student-centric higher education
  7. Improved enrollment
  8. Higher education affordability
  9. Administrative simplification
  10. The integrative CIO

Susan Grajek, vice president for Educause's Communities and Research division, told attendees that the top issues shake out into three broad themes: simplify (such as with digital integrations and administrative simplification), sustain (including security, privacy, funding and affordability) and innovate (with student retention, student-centric higher ed and improvement of enrollment).

"The challenges facing higher education are unprecedented in scope and complexity. We can no longer operate in growth mode," she said in a statement. "Institutions know they need to innovate to achieve a competitive advantage in today's complex marketplace, and almost none of today's innovation can happen without data and technology. The 2020 IT Issues reveal where the integrative CIO must simplify, sustain and innovate as higher education drives to digital transformation."

In January the organization expects to publish its "Educause Review Special Report," which will provide a deeper dive into the topics on this year's top IT issues list.

The presentation given by Grajek during the conference is openly available on the Educause website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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