“IT is complicated,” said Jane Livingston, CIO of Notre Dame and panelist at Educause 2023. “We run small cities at universities and colleges … So the technology that underpins all of that is crucial.”
Higher education institutions have long embraced the transformative potential of technology in education. However, post-pandemic, academic institutions are caught between a rock and a hard place. While universities have acquired a formidable arsenal of digital tools, the gap between IT and other academic and administrative branches remains surprisingly wide.
This rift caught the attention of IT executives from leading universities - Darren Lacey, CISO at The Johns Hopkins University and Jane Livingston, VP and CIO at the University of Notre Dame. At a recent EDUCAUSE session called Launching IT Governance: Three Disparate Universities Share the Journey to Effective IT Governance, these experts unpacked their experiences bridging this divide by gaining leadership support and implementing strategic IT governance.
Moderated by Cole Clark, Managing Director of Higher Education at Deloitte, here are three key takeaways from their discussion:
One of the primary focuses of the session was the significant shift in the role of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in universities. Historically viewed as operational heads ensuring smooth IT processes, today's CIOs are emerging as strategic partners instrumental in furthering institutional missions.
This evolution means that CIOs now play an integral role in driving innovation and fostering internal collaborations.
Paul Clark particularly emphasized that modern CIOs need to broaden the conversation, engaging a wider range of stakeholders in transformational discussions. The journey from being mere orchestrators to pivotal change enablers signifies the importance and centrality of IT in the current academic landscape.
With the swift pace of technological advancement, universities often find themselves grappling with legacy systems, which are not just outdated but may also pose security risks. Jane Livingston from the University of Notre Dame highlighted the challenge of modernizing these systems in the ever-evolving tech environment, sharing an anecdote about a previous college that suffered a cybersecurity breach. The institution decided to prevent future attacks by implementing MFA; the catch was, the faculty were exempt from using this solution. (This fact was obviously met with rolling laughter from the Educause panel goers.)
“You can't protect the university on an island,” said Notre Dame’s Livingston. “Monitoring policy, practices and standards can put in place the right framework for effective cybersecurity, but faculty, students, staff, and leadership behavior will actually protect the organization.”
As institutions continue to digitalize, ensuring cybersecurity will be paramount, not just for IT departments, but for the entire academic community.
Post-pandemic trends indicate a growing inclination towards centralized governance, aiming to enhance efficiency and streamline resource allocation.
However, with the proliferation of data and advanced tech tools, many departments within universities have started creating customized, and contextual IT solutions. This "Independent Retirement Philosophy," as termed in the session, often leads to a fragmented IT landscape.
The University of Notre Dame’s model was highlighted as a potential solution – chairs from various IT committees also sit on the central IT Executive Committee, ensuring seamless integration and alignment. Yet, striking the right balance between a centralized system and granting departments autonomy remains a challenge that institutions must navigate diligently.
It's clear that the path to effective IT governance is paved with challenges. Yet, as universities continue to adapt and innovate, the role of IT, and especially that of the CIO, will be instrumental in shaping the academic landscape of the future.
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