UCISA has just published their annual research into member concerns. There are several differnt categories of concerns which are worth reading at:
What I’ve done below is to take the consolidated Top 12 issues and associated commentary. It makes interesting reading:
Based on the results from the voting from four different perspectives the following represents the Top Twelve concerns of the UCISA community. This ranking takes into account the combined scores, the average rankings and the comments and views expressed by the membership during the compilation of the survey.
Overall top twelve
||Ongoing funding and sustainable resourcing of IT
||Delivering services under severe financial constraint
||Providing a quality, resilient service
||IT Strategy and planning
||Business systems to support the institution
||Organisational change and process improvement
||IT/IS service quality
||Benchmarking, costing and value for money
||Mobile computing, anytime, anywhere computing, home working
||Cloud, managed services and alternative service delivery models
||Use of technology in teaching
||Governance of IT
Full text of the Top Twelve concerns
Ongoing funding and sustainable resourcing of IT
Concern number: 1
The challenges for IT/IS Departments to secure an appropriate level of funding to deliver the services required by their institution have been exacerbated by the current economic environment. IT/IS Directors are faced with increasing demands on and expectations of the services and infrastructure for which they are responsible. A number of institutions have already made cuts to service department budgets and further cuts are expected. Any capital funding that is available will have to demonstrate a return on the investment made and will not be supported by an increase in recurrent funding. IT will have to be more accountable for its cost, focus on process efficiencies, seek economies through standardisation, look for collaboration/outsourcing opportunities, ensure return on investment and improve its communication and influencing skills across the institution. IT Management needs to ensure that it has the necessary skills and experience to respond to this changing environment to ensure ongoing investment to renew and refresh the institution’s IT infrastructure and to maintain and grow services.
Delivering services under severe financial constraint
Concern number: 3
The demand for IT services continues to increase as the use of core systems matures and develops and new opportunities arise (for example mobile computing). At the same time supplier maintenance and licensing costs continue to rise and are difficult to control, the infrastructure is aging, and the task of upgrading (for example to Windows 7) is becoming unmanageable using existing methods. As students increasingly act as customers their expectations of service delivery will rise, which IT will be challenged to achieve against a backdrop of reduced funding.
So far many of us have been asked to do more with less; this has in turn led to some ICT departments undertaking restructuring. Some restructuring has been implemented at an institutional level with some members reporting a move towards corporate services being managed centrally and delivered locally. At what point does doing more with less become unsustainable and services have to be cut? Which services or which staff should go? Are we entering into an era of mergers? How do we respond effectively to the impact of the national funding situation at a local level whilst supporting an institution which is seeking to improve quality?
Providing a quality, resilient service
Concern number: 9
IT systems have now become so critical to the running of the university that service availability is of paramount importance. Downtime equates to loss of income with staff and students being unable to progress their work. Achieving robust, reliable and resilient applications and IT infrastructure is of crucial importance.
Modern systems can incorporate many high availability features such as redundant hardware components, clustering etc. and basic machine availability is now very high. The need to apply regular critical patch sets can compromise the gains in up-time of such systems, particularly as applying the patches often requires systems to be removed from service. IT/IS departments need to design and configure their systems so that patching time does not become a significant cause of service unavailability.
IT/IS departments should consider adopting appropriate technologies and architectures for their applications, IT infrastructure and operating processes to ensure that system availability meets their institution’s requirements.
System resilience and availability must be considered at the outset of IT projects and project budgets should include the funding necessary to provide this.
Given the criticality of IT infrastructure and services to our institutions, how do we manage and deliver the services while protecting service levels and quality? How do we ensure that the infrastructure in particular is capable of supporting our needs over the long term and under the pressures from the funding situation?
IT Strategy and planning
Concern number: 7
The IT/IS Strategy needs to be aligned to the institution’s strategic aims and its plans for achieving those objectives. However this continues to be a major challenge within institutions. Institutional strategies still tend to be developed in isolation or, during periods of major turnover of senior institutional staff, are unclear or absent. Strategic opportunities such as CRM and data integration are agreed in principle but lack senior sponsorship. Active projects lack senior management drive with the risk that significant opportunities to improve efficiency and effectiveness will be lost.
Senior IT/IS staff should be included in the development of the institution’s strategic objectives and plans. The importance of a well-articulated and practiced planning process is critical. This planning process should ensure that the vision of how IT/IS might help transform an institution is considered and, where accepted, embedded in the institution’s strategic plan. The plan should be formally adopted and approved and inform the senior decision makers in the institution about the medium and long-term value of IT/IS (see Governance).
IT/IS Departments need to work to support their institution in the achievement of its strategic objectives by the appropriate and timely delivery of supporting technology, systems and services. Where IT/IS provision is highly devolved it may be more difficult to bring together a coherent institutional IT strategy and plan.
It is important to include some strategic consideration of sourcing within the IT/IS Strategy. Should services be provided though in-house effort, might they be provided by a contracted external supplier or might they be provided in cooperation with like-minded organisations through a shared services model?
Strategic plans need to be flexible and responsive to the sometimes sudden changes in institutional strategy.
Developing strategies and plans that support the institution and provide a flexible and agile framework in which to operate is going to be key over the next few years. Are the planning processes in institutions mature enough to deliver? How will the success be evaluated? Are there the mechanisms in place to review the service portfolio and get agreement on services that can be withdrawn?
Business systems to support the institution
Ranking: Equal 5th
Concern number: 21
Whether an HEI is using an ERP system or an integrated set of applications from potentially different manufacturers, projects related to these business support systems demand large and sustainable investment and commitment by institutional and IT/IS leadership, both throughout and after implementation. Some of the questions that need to be addressed when considering or implementing the core systems include the following:
- What are the mission-critical factors driving your institution’s position on business support systems? What service and process improvements are expected for successful implementation? Are there viable alternatives, such as enhancing existing systems?
- If a decision has been made to implement a new system, could you develop one in-house, or should you buy off-the-shelf? Given the complexity and maintenance challenges of integrated administrative systems, does building in-house remain a viable option, even for large IT/IS departments? If you are purchasing a commercial product, would you customise? If you are considering a software package of integrated systems, will the functionality of the package expand to accommodate integration of course management systems, portals, smart cards, and so forth?
- Is your institutional leadership committed to the decision and implementation? Will the decision survive changes in leadership and management? Will the implementation team include participation by stakeholders from both technical and functional areas? How will their expectations be managed? Do you have a solid implementation plan? Does it include a communication plan to keep all constituencies informed and committed?
- Have you resolved data-ownership issues? Have you considered converting and/or archiving years of legacy data? Will you need a data warehousing system too?
- Does the new system fit your institution’s technical strategy at the back-end and network levels? Does the system align with preferred data-handling strategies, such as authentication, security, and privacy?
- Will your institution adapt its business processes to the best or effective practices configured in the solution you implement to minimise or avoid customisation? Are the new functional and system requirements realistic? Will your institutional leadership support needed business process changes?
- Is your institution ready for the upgrades and changes that have happened during your implementation? Do you have sustainable resources to improve the system and keep up the users’ productivity in the new environment?
Organisations need to consider how to make use of facilities within these systems to address cross-functional issues such as information management reporting and KPI dashboards, CRM, workflow, self-service facilities and interfaces.
As organisations increase their focus on systematic approaches to excellence in performance, effective deployment of core business support systems will continue to be a strategic priority.
Organisational change and process improvement
Ranking: Equal 5th
Concern number: 25
In some universities and colleges, organisational structure and lines of accountability are undergoing major change. It is important that this is done in an ordered way and that IT/IS is fully integrated into these changes. There are important questions such as what kind of organisational structure and culture is now appropriate in the HE/FE context, how different is this from current structures (if at all) and how do we address and deliver any change required?
In addition, it is recognised that many processes within universities and colleges are not efficient. Adoption of Lean and similar approaches has led to significant improvements in efficiency in many institutions, cost savings and increased customer satisfaction. IT/IS departments continue to play a key role in process improvement in their institutions.
Many universities have a federated feel with distributed domains of control, often with their own sources of income. This, and the often siloed nature of a university support organisation, makes gaining agreement on efficient joined up processes difficult. But this is necessary if we are to meet the challenges of the future and meet the expectations of our customers
IT/IS departments have to provide and support continual process improvement to the university with IT fully aligned to the overall business strategy. In the same vein, IT strategy and planning has a key role in delivering that change, driving out process improvements and delivering efficiencies through technology, including the reuse of data and maximising the use of existing software in more creative ways.
IT/IS service quality
Concern number: 15
Many of the leading IT service providers base their service delivery on the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and achieving certification for the corresponding international and national standards (such as ISO 20000). ITIL and ISO 20000 provide a professional framework for the delivery of IT services and are increasingly being used as vehicles to improve service delivery to the high standards expected.
IT/IS departments within the HE sector need to consider how to develop their delivery services within the ITIL framework. There is a need to build a credible level of professionalism and consistent service levels. There need to be recognised qualifications and career pathways for all IT/IS-related staff within the organisation.
Developing staff and services to achieve these standards presents a substantial challenge: it takes time and effort to bring about such changes; in some cases, the existing culture may be unsupportive.
Benchmarking, costing and value for money
Ranking: Equal 8th
Concern number: 2
The pressure on budgets brings a greater demand for IT/IS Directors to demonstrate that they are providing value for money. In order to do this they need to establish the costs associated with services, to be able to benchmark them against externally provided services, and to justify investment in new infrastructure against the potential for shared services or hosted provision of services, systems and infrastructure etc. IT Directors need to be sure that they are confident in the financial figures and know how to use them. Are there good bodies of data to allow benchmarking between institutions and/or comparison with other sectors?
Are there sound methods of costing available? How do you demonstrate value for money?
Mobile computing, anytime, anywhere computing, home working
Ranking: Equal 8th
Concern number: 13
The increase in the use of mobile devices, be they smart phones, laptops or iPads brings significant support issues. How do we deal with the variety of devices and permit connection to the institutional network? Wireless networks in institutions need to be pervasive and cope with huge increases in connections. Appropriate security policies need to be in place as mobile data is much less secure.
The rise of the iPad and other appliance devices looks inevitable at this stage, and the very existence of general purpose computers (desktop or portable) is looking less secure. The dramatic drop in price means that more and more staff and students are willing to invest their own money in personal IT which they will wish to interface to our systems – and for it to work wherever they are. At the same time, the conventional model of client computing will wane and lose the economies of scale it has enjoyed as more people move towards appliances. New device formats bring the challenge of providing generic and useful services in a diverse environment.
The challenges of occasionally working at home and home working (where the worker is based at home for the majority of their working day) need to be addressed. There are also particular health and safety matters that need to be considered for home workers.
IT/IS departments need to develop policies to manage anytime, anywhere, using anything computing which address these issues. IT/IS departments need to support their institutions in developing their policies for occasional working at home, and home based workers.
Cloud, managed services and alternative service delivery models
Ranking: Equal 10th
Concern number: 17
Outsourcing and cloud computing can provide an opportunity to reduce operating costs and release staff to new tasks. However, these models also presents a range of issues (perhaps most noticeably when operating environments are provided as a service, but applications for business and infrastructure remain in house).
Such services need to be underpinned by mature service management processes from both the provider and the institution. Is your institution ready? Does your institution have the staff skills required to manage an application in the Cloud? What are your institution’s commitments to the vendor and what is your exit strategy?
Use of technology in teaching
Ranking: Equal 10th
Concern number: 34
Virtual learning environments are now embedded in higher and further education institutions to support learning. They are now being supplemented by a range of other services available at low or no cost to the user such as YouTube, iTunesU etc. The growth in the use of mobile devices also offers opportunities for introducing new teaching methods, particularly in the field. There are a number of issues under this topic:
- How do you encourage academic staff to adopt new technologies?
- Should the institution exert a level of control over the use of external services in order to protect its intellectual property?
- What policies should be in place regarding the use of social media by an institution’s staff in general and regarding the interaction with students in particular?
- How can lecture capture be managed in cost effective way?
Governance of IT
Concern number: 4
How should institutions achieve a workable decision making structure around investment in developing enterprise wide IT systems? Should IT departments be providing leadership and, if so, what options for structures for IT Governance can we agree with our colleagues for this purpose? How do we resolve competition for IT support between core academic areas and revenue generating activities such as summer schools, executive degrees etc? How do we make sure that the business cases for new university franchises overseas take cognisance of the IT support and development costs required?
IT/IS Governance encompasses giving the strategic direction, developing and owning the organisation’s IT/IS Strategy, negotiating an investment plan for IT/IS, appropriate monitoring of and support for the IT/IS department, definition of governance standards and reviewing organisational structures and reporting lines to ensure that IT/IS has the correct level of direction and empowerment to be able to perform effectively. Proper governance ensures that IT/IS is accountable to the organisation for the services and levels of service it provides. IT/IS Governance is a key factor in providing accountability; it allows the organisation to assess its IT/IS department’s performance and helps the IT/IS management team to deliver focussed service improvement programmes.