As I See It: #5 on the Business Value of IT, 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 fifth in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues. (Halfway mark – hurray!)

Issue #5: Demonstrating the business value of IT and how IT can help the institution achieve its goals

Well this is an easy one, right? Technology departments have made the not-too-far leap from utilitarian to omnipresent within the past decade, most notably within the past few years. We’ve always had that slant, but as innovative leaders enter the playing field and the focus on data and process as it pertains to efficiency increases, our integrative and immersive nature has naturally bubbled to the surface.

  • Back office operations piling up? Improve your workflows.
  • Need more project collaboration? Document management.
  • Too much focus on administrative, too little on strategy? Automate.
  • Not getting the reports you need to justify expendtiures? Analytics. 
  • More mobile, less wired? Infrastructure, bandwidth, wireless.

There are endless similar examples with the bottom line being – technology.

I’m going to break this down; where we were (past) and where we need to be (at the latest, today) and where we’re going (tomorrow).

IT 1.0: Historically, no one liked IT. Interacting with the IT department ranked up there with dental work. We were the nerds in the back rooms, scurrying in the walls and raised floors, wiring and perspiring. When we were invited to meetings, we didn’t quite consider our audience in our communication style. There were acronyms, undecipherable tech-speak and way more detail than anyone at the table needed to be privy to. We kept things running, kept systems patched and updated, you likely only saw us or heard from us when something was down or you purchased new equipment. And that was fine. In fact, chances are it was fine from both sides.

Like any good technology, as a team we recognized our strengths and our weaknesses and pushed forward in the next version to improve both.

IT 2.0: So we evolved. IT still keeps everything running. Granted we’re also pushing services/systems to the cloud with even higher up-times. More is seamless, integrated, multifunctional, intuitive. Despite the persistently fast pace of technology change, our IT department/personal presence is actually the largest improvement over the past few years. Decades of mistrust and awkward conversations took their toll pushing us to break down walls and strive for business relationships within our own institutions/companies. We discovered technology improvement could only work if we actively participated in the planning as well as the implementation through results-gathering. We knew the power of technology but recognized pretty quickly (and by quickly I mean over 2 decades) that the only thing that scared people more than technology was the needed change to implement technology. We have been forced to build trust, collaborate and – guess what? Suddenly IT is oftentimes the frontrunner in collaboration. Suddenly, we are immersive and without walls/boundaries and that has unleashed a certain power and presence that matches the scope of technology – immersive, omnipresent. Who knew?

Build trust – check. Build relationships – check. Eliminate the fear from technology – check. Add value – check.

IT 3.0: So what’s next? Sounds trite but more of the same. The shocked face and surprised satisfaction after a particularly pleasing and helpful IT interaction will only continue. We recognize our value and the majority of us (dare I say ‘all’) are all about service and adding measurable value. The future IT will be more present, more engaged and more part of the plan. Every plan. IT within the next several years will have infiltrated all facets of any business environment because we do add value. The key is in the delivery. Through effective marketing and thoughtful, consistent communication in conjunction with a helpful but strong presence, technology IS business in the near and foreseeable future.

So how can we demonstrate the business value of IT? Find a time-intensive process or task and simplify it. Find a cumbersome procedure and cut it down by 80%. These acts are often easily accommodated by technology already owned and deployed. It’s simply about identifying the process and bringing teams together to discuses the end goal. Technology facilitates better process.

As an aside, here is a book I highly recommend: Written by Richard Hunter and George Westerman, it translates the current environment really well and offers a thoroughly doable path to selling technology value to even the most technically-weak-at-heart.

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