As well as keynote speakers yesterday at the Leadership Summit, we had a number of breakout sessions where we discussed particular challenges facing the HE sector at the moment. Although it wasn't specifically an IT event, there was a Technology challenge, which I went along to. As technology is now pervasive, fast-changing and not in the control of HE, how do we ensure that HEIs put technology to maximum strategic advantage.
We discussed three areas - how do you know when and for what to be at the "bleeding" edge? When do you jump on the bandwagon, and how do you respond strategically to growing pressure from staff and students to adopt the latest greatest technology (or fad!). Several strategies were outlined - from being a pioneer (being at the bleeding edge) to being a follower (using tried and tested technologies). Of course, which you pick might depend on what service you're talking about - is it high risk, strategic, mission critical? If so you might adopt an follower approach. If it's low risk and more niche, then a pioneer approach might be more appropriate.
The second area under discussion was whether the future of IT on campus actually lies off campus - moving to the Cloud. What might we be able to do differently if we used the cloud and is access is more important than control.
Thirdly was the issue of leadership. There's different levels of "digital comfort" in the HE community, and most of the decision makers are outside of their digital comfort zone. How should senior managers make sure they're equipped to take important, strategic decisions about technology, and where should the CIO sit in the organisation to contribute to these decisions.
A very good discussion, and it was particularly interesting as the room was divided between IT people and other senior managers from HE. Our discussion linked the three challenges above and decided that for some core, commodity services you should move them into the cloud, to free up staff to do more interesting value added work. You really do then need senior managers who understand the issues and who are prepared and able to work in partnership with the IT department. In deciding on a strategy about technology adoption or outsourcing the key factor is risk. Understanding the risks, managing the risks and taking risks. The leadership structure needs to be built on partnership with the CIO playing a key role.