As I See It: #3 on Funding, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced recently at the Educause conference in Orlando. This entry is my third in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #3: Developing IT funding models that sustain core service, support innovation and facilitate growth
For me, this is the big one. The super big one.

Remember when the easiest part of budgeting technology was the operational part? You knew you were going to get to keep your staff. The previous year’s operational needs were mostly carried over with slight adjustment for expected annual increases. You must pay utilities, so no cuts to telephony, wiring, and licensing agreements. The big battle oftentimes took place in the ‘capital’ world. If you had a communicated desktop refresh plan, those dollars were less difficult to attain, but the ‘big projects’ were the kicker. The inevitable hassle of selling the SAN investment could often be lessened by simply using the phrase ‘disaster recovery’ in the ask. But remember when innovative meant capital? Trying to drive innovation via large-scale, one-time investments almost always required a heavy rotation of presentations to executive leadership, flanked by consultants, asking for the moon and being content when handed a tiny star. It was something. Remember when that was as tough as it got?

Suddenly (aka #suddenlynotsuddenly) we wake up and the entire need has flip-flopped, but the model is as stoic as a rock.

Suddenly we might need less capital. (Notice I simply said less.)

We thought it was tough to fighting for a large chunk of capital. Try fighting for increased operational.

  • Technology speed outpaces the speed of modeling.
  • We want to build less, and cloud more. Operational.
  • We want to have hosted so less maintenance. Operational.
  • I want my VDI in the cloud becomes less to own/maintain and 24/7 support. Operational.
  • Universities need to focus on efficiencies. 9 times out of 10 the smartest choice is the hosted solution. Operational.
  • Small hosted modules are more agile and responsive than large blocks of in-house software require in-house supported hardware. Operational. 
  • We need more bandwidth. Operational.
  • We need more wireless coverage for our students on campus. Operational.
  • We need more storage for streaming video. In fact, we need a comprehensive storage solution and we don’t want to build it on campus. Operational.
  • Our business school wants to be able to communicate via video on a significant basis. It’s part of their curriculum. Operational.

Basically, our (our meaning every higher education institution’s ) current funding model supports clunky, labor-intensive, and archaic (meaning outdated 5 minutes ago) process. Our current funding models support a world where innovation equals capital. But innovation these days equals ‘hosted’, ‘cloud’, ‘annual services’, ’24/7 maintenance’ and ‘collaborative solutions’.

In finance where budgeting and predictive analytics means, almost literally, the world, how can we be predictive at this pace of technology change? How can we budget when needs and requests continue to comprehensively change? We stick with the model, we stand still technology-wise because you can’t fake innovation.

And all the while we still need capital dollars. The ‘computer refreshes’ of yesterday are the ‘storage needs’ and ‘infrastructure refreshes’ of today.

I’m not sure who’s going to solve this riddle, but someone (or many someones) need to band together and identify needs first, then culminate a smart approach to address this. Is ‘financial innovation’ a phrase? If not, it needs to be pretty quick. Higher education has often been viewed in the past as a bit behind ‘the corporate world’. We’ve made some significant headway while corporations have been tied up in legal red-tape over the cloud technologies and security breaches. Once they get that mess untangled, they’ll be moving full-steam ahead and I’m thinking their funding models might be a little more agile than higher ed’s. As a competitive person, I want US to get ahead of this. First. And with a quickness.

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