IT in Higher Education: Some Lessons Learned, Some Homework Still Needed

IT in higher education is an important topic of conversation, as evidenced by October 2017’s research note from Gartner entitled 2018 CIO Agenda: Higher Education Industry Insights. Authored by analyst Jan-Martin Lowendahl, the note is based on a survey of 3,160 CIO respondents in 98 countries. Among those respondents were 247 higher education CIOs.

I believe their survey responses offer some interesting parallels with those of their counterparts at commercial enterprises, as well as some compelling guidance for higher education CIOs and their teams.

IT in Higher Education: What Do CIOs Want?

Gartner asked its respondents, “Thinking about your organization as a whole, what would you say are its top business objectives for the next two years (2017/2018)?” Among higher education CIOs, the top two responses were:

  • Enrollment (33 percent)
  • Student success (22 percent)

I believe enrollment in higher education is analogous to growth of market share for commercial enterprises. And competition for students is likely at least as fierce as competition for customers. It should be no surprise, then, that the priorities of higher education CIOs closely parallel those of the larger respondent base, 26 percent of which cited “growth/market share” as the top business objective.

In addition, I’d argue student success is as critical to growth of enrollment as customer success is to growth of commercial market share. This is a likely reason why higher education CIOs chose “student success” as their second-highest business objective.

What Technologies Matter Most to Higher Education CIOs?

Gartner also asked, “Which technology area do you think is most important to helping your business differentiate and win/is most crucial to achieving your organization’s mission?” Again, the responses show a close parallel between higher education institutions and commercial enterprises. The top technology cited was business intelligence (BI)/analytics, chosen by 23 percent of higher education CIOs and 26 percent of all respondents.

BI and analytics can deliver significant benefits to higher education enrollment growth and student success efforts, just as they aid commercial enterprises in their pursuit of customer growth and success. In the commercial world, compliance with emerging regulations such as the European Union (EU)’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) require consistent, high levels of data accuracy and transparency to prove compliance claims. The steps enterprises must take to meet these requirements can enable those enterprises to use improved data to drive business growth. (See “GDPR Compliance Strategy: Turning Lemons into Lemonade.”)

When it comes to IT in higher education, initiatives such as the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard and the EU-supported AlmaLaurea Interuniversity Consortium are spurring a sharpened focus on BI and analytics among participating institutions.

Security: The Foundation for Digital Transformation

Some 18 percent of Gartner’s higher education CIO respondents chose “cyber/information security” as the technology area likely to see the most new or additional funding in 2018, making it the top choice within that group. This compares with 12 percent of the larger respondent base, which ranked this choice fourth, behind “BI/analytics” (19 percent), “Cloud services/solution” (13 percent), and “Digitalization/digital marketing” (12 percent).

The growth in size, diversity, and effectiveness of cybersecurity attacks has driven commercial and governmental enterprises to focus on improving their cybersecurity for some time now. More recently, hackers are increasingly going after schools, school systems, colleges, and universities. In many cases, they are going after financial and personally identifiable information (PII) about students, faculty, and staff, information which can be sold profitably and used for multiple types of fraud. (See “Schools: Get Schooled About – Or Schooled By – Hackers.”)

Gartner analyst Lowendahl writes that the top ranking of cyber/information security by higher education CIOs is about more than protection of financial data and PII. That ranking also indicates “that increased focus on digital in higher education carries a substantial cost for security that needs to be factored into digital transformation strategies. This is especially true considering the large volume of personal data that is needed to execute on analytics efforts, adaptive learning and a host of personalized approaches to education.”

Current and future BI/analytics initiatives, along with efforts to grow enrollment levels via support of distance learning via multiple online channels, will drive higher education institutions toward transformation into digital organizations. To pursue those transformations successfully, higher education institutions and their CIOs will have to parallel their commercial enterprise counterparts in one more critical way. They must achieve and sustain consistently high levels of cybersecurity, internally and for any and all students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders who connect with them remotely.

Learn More with Ivanti

As they have for hundreds of commercial enterprises, Ivanti solutions can help almost any higher education institution improve its cybersecurity. Ivanti can help your organization with patch management for data center servers and client applications. Ivanti can also help you gain control of your users’ applications and privileges,  and combat malware more effectively. Learn more about IT in higher education via our higher education solutions page, and see how we can help your institution tap more fully into The Power of Unified IT™.