Monday, April 20, 2009

future scenarios for college IT departments

College IT in 2020, the dark scenario

In this case, the same forces that work to undermine the library also undercut the importance and influence of the IT department. Cloud computing, enabled by applications delivered from massive data centers over low cost bandwidth, have allowed applications formerly managed in house to be run from the network.

In 2009, when the department first began its first major cloud initiative with GMail and Google Apps, it seemed like these applications were simply another type of enterprise software that they could control and manage centrally. But the trend has been toward a major decentralization in the management of IT resources.

Because the IT department no longer controls resources essential for networked, multi-user applications, the management of those apps has devolved to the departments. This is partially because there is less technology to manage, but also because the technology has become invisible. It's just an integral part of the work of each part of the enterprise. The business office manages the financial side of the ERP application, while the registrar handles the academic side. The HR department, as part of their mission to promote organizational effectiveness, manages the use of institutional communications software (email, groupware, calendaring, wikis, etc.)

The course management system no longer exists. Various fairly generic communication tools, the descendants of Google Apps, are easy to bring together for shared communication among students/faculty in a course and institutional data can be mashed within them. And there are many more discipline specific apps on the network. Many departments, academic and non, and individual faculty members buy applications on the network.

There remains some demand for academic technology support, but most faculty have personal networks, external and internal where they can get the support that they need that best fits their teaching/research niche. Faculty that are fairly non-technologically intensive in their academic work are able to navigate generic applications effectively--it's an invisible part of doing their work. Those that are at the cutting edge and pushing cyberinfrastructure to the limits need highly focused help that they acquire remotely.

End user technology, including PCs, laptops, handheld devices have also gone decentralized. Over the years, these have become such a personalized device that people prefer to buy and configure their own, and the IT department no longer provisions the campus with desktop PCs in the case of computer labs or for employee desks. Employees are given a pay subsidy to provide their own personal devices.

IT's main role is to maintain the physical network and installed devices on campus, which it does by contracting out much of the work. It also continues to play an important but limited role in systems integration and security, stitching together external applications and supplying them with institutional data.

College IT in 2020, the bright scenario

In this case, we still see many applications move to the network. But there is still a need in the organization for the kind of concentrated expertise in data management, programming, software configuration, systems integration, and security that comes with a centralized information technology unit. Furthermore, there are several important organization-wide applications that benefit from centralized administration and integration. These include communication (email, groupware), ERP, fundraising, and the descendant of the current day CMS. These systems may be in the cloud, but they are 10X more sophisticated than their ancestors of today. Positions devoted to installing patches and tweaking databases of the old ERP system have evolved into new jobs to analyze, manipulate and mash up the data in these new systems

With applications on the network, personal computers have indeed evolved to personal devices and as in the dark scenario, IT has given up buying and installing desktop PCs for staff and student labs alike. The positions formerly supporting desktop installation and troubleshooting have been repurposed to academic technology support. Digital technology has become a huge part of research and teaching, with remote cyberinfrastructure resources serving as virtual laboratories in many disciplines. Students do their academic work in a digitally sophisticated manner that mirrors the way they'll neet to work in 21rst century organizations. Faculty, more overloaded than ever, turn to their local academic technologists to help with course design and research challenges.

The trend that we see at present where higher education is scrambling to apply consumer applications like microblogging, wikis, lightweight video production, mobile apps, etc. has run its course. These technologies are still important, and have become part of the way the organization works. But a new wave of technologies (in 3D visualization, remote sensing, or ???) has emerged. These technologies involve expensive physical devices and favor implementation at the organizational level, and IT has stepped in to support them. On-site personal are needed to install and configure a growing set of devices that we wouldn't recognize today.

IT is recognized as strategically critical to the competitiveness of the institution as progress in research and teaching is highly dependent on its effective use. The IT department is more important than ever.


Justin Counts said...

Hi Mark,
Thanks for the insightful dose of future reality. Being caught up in the torrent of current technological developments can really create a sense of tunnel vision. I, for one, prefer the "bright" scenarios, but as you say it's largely out of our immediate control. Good food for thought.

flash said...

This is a fantastic presentation which captures what technology is all about.

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Research Writer said...

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