Sunday, May 22, 2016

Strategy in Higher Ed

Every year, Educause comes out with their "Top Ten" list. Educase is an organization for IT professionals in higher education and helping organizations shape their IT strategy is one of their main goals. The Top Ten list comes from member surveys and interviews and aims to articulate the ten most pressing issues that we have to deal with right now in our industry. In the feature article, they've summarized this year's top ten with the catchy, "Divest, Reinvest and Differentiate."

Reading the articles for weeks one and two, I saw a lot of overlap with what Educause is trying to advocate universities do. Universities often look at their IT depts purely as a sunk cost. Most businesses address sunk costs by trying to cut costs as much as possible and boost operational effectiveness. But as Porter's "What Is Strategy?" points out, that is not a strategy. Things move fairly slowly in higher ed, so we need to have a strategy to put in motion efforts that may take a couple years to bear results. There are other issues that can come up in the unique environment of higher ed. We have a very consensus-driven environment where free discussion is absolutely essential to create buy-in. Anything related to the academic mission especially requires a lot of discussion due to the involvement of tenured professors who have a large degree of autonomy and often have strong feelings about the way things should be done. However, we have no lack of "big picture" thinkers. Our problem is often the opposite - we have trouble bringing people down out of the clouds and out into reality. 

Another issue is that we have very low turnover and high staff retention. This is usually a good thing, but in this case it means that participants often don't have any experience at another institution. They may have issues thinking up Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals (BHAGs) because they actually don't really know what's possible. The current state is the way it's always been. One plus is that as a Jesuit institution, we do have a lot of discussions about purpose and mission. However, I don't think we've been very successful in figuring out how that translates into a mission for our IT dept. We're about to start the planning process for our next three year strategic plan and I think the "envisioned future" exercise may really help us figure out some BHAGs to work into our plan. Reviewing the plan that is just wrapping up now, we did accomplish a lot of the things listed, but overall the plan doesn't seem very inspiring - I want to make sure everyone gets excited about the next plan.

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