Challenge 4: Technology: disrupting the business of HE or opportunities?

Question Technology is now pervasive, fast-changing and not in the control of higher education....

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Gráinne Conole
5 February 2010


  • Technology is now pervasive, fast-changing and not in the control of higher education. Those who embrace its potential will have the opportunity to 'beat the competition' - to increase student numbers, to increase research quality and productivity, and to run more effective organisations. How do we ensure that HEIs put technology to maximum strategic advantage?

Facilitated by Maria Lee, Queen's University Belfast
Contributors: Diana Oblinger, EDUCAUSE; Martyn Harrow, Cardiff University; Ajay Burlingham-Bohr, Anglia Ruskin University

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“Falling into the Cloud?”

Some reflections from Challenge 4 - Technology: disrupting the business of HE or opportunities? by Craig Wentworth

Facilitated by Maria Lee, Queen's University Belfast

Contributors: Ajay  Burlingham-Bohr, Anglia Ruskin University; Diana Oblinger, EDUCAUSE; Martyn Harrow, Cardiff University

From the contributors

Ajay outlined technology adoption strategies relating to their maturity, ranging from leading (or even bleeding) edge, through mainstream (current, up-to-date technologies – just behind the leading edge), to follower (tried and tested mature technologies towards the end of their lifecycle) depending on what element of your IT you’re talking about.  Though costs go down as you head towards follower, so to benefits and opportunities of differentiation.  For some institutions a hybrid economy may make sense: eg, follower for corporate, mainstream for VLEs, and leading edge for any niche areas offering significant differentiation from competitors.  Whatever you choose, it needs to be aligned with your organisational strategies, though.


Diana postulated that the future of the campus is “beyond the campus”, where access is more important that ownership.  In this context, the Cloud is just another alternative (co-)sourcing approach “above the campus” rather than attempting to do everything yourself.  She referred to user-owned / supplied devices and use of applications outside the institution’s control as “below the campus”. 


Acknowledging that these are testing technological challenges, in interesting times, Martyn suggested that above all else institutions need good leadership in order to exploit new approaches that best suit their business needs.  These issues are beyond the digital comfort zone of many institutional leaders but we need to find a way through so that they can take sound strategic decisions with an understanding of the implications, risks and opportunities afforded by technology (if not an understanding of the technology itself).


From the floor


There’s a feeling “we’ve have been pushing the digital ball up hill for a while, now it’s rolling down the other side fast and may squash IT Depts and academics!”.  Need to focus on high-quality academic provision but you can’t claim to be a “world class institution” if really you’re not, because dissenting student (and staff!) comments on social networking sites you can’t control will give the game away.  Can’t give students everything they want but mustn’t turn into “IT Dept says no” – require a new paradigm: turn “ten reasons you can’t do xyz” into “ten reasons you how you can”.

As services move to the right (towards follower adoption approach) they become commoditisable and ripe for falling off into the cloud, freeing up resources to focus on adding value further up the stack.  (The frequency of re-tooling affects how often you should review your model of adoption.)  Institutions then become service aggregators, responsible for an end-to-end service of which they don’t necessarily own all component parts.  There are risks here which need to be mitigated – issues of resilience, security (of data), permanence / security (of supply).  Need to choose what to control vs release and decide where you want to be (as a business) on that continuum of risk. 

Institutions that choose to entertain cloudy notions will be responsible for aggregating cloud-based services and integrating with what remains in-house, and these will be the integration pain points (unless we move so far up the stack with the cloud level (“the mist”?) that everything is outsourced, but where would the differentiation then be – in the data, the processes that use the data, or the business decisions made with the data?).

Contract management and SLA negotiation in cloudy times become as important as in-house IT management has traditionally been – do IT Depts have the right skills?  Are there any model contracts, can anyone help in aggregating the demand?

There are ownership decisions about what these things should be, but who takes them – the CIO or VC?  Leadership needs to be joint between SMT and IT Dept so can debate, understand, manage, and take risks; also need to bring non-IT community in to talk with IT community – trust is at the core.   Need to educate SMTs re: approaches and threats of technology by getting them used to it.  VCs don’t need their own Facebook account, but they do need to recognise ICT’s strategic importance (and treat it as any other strategic issue?).  Would this become “Post-[Type-]42” management?

Gráinne Conole
11:44 on 5 March 2010

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