Idiocracy and the Dystopia of IT in Higher Ed

There is a noticeable disconnect in Higher Ed IT focus as seen in the EDUCAUSE reports on the Top IT Issues versus college and university President’s IT Priorities.

Higher Ed IT Misalignment

I want to go on the record as disagreeing with the EDUCAUSE 2011 Top-Ten IT Issues list. I also want to assert the list and others like it only serve to perpetuate the idiocracy so rampant in our profession further compounding the dystopia of IT in higher education.

idiocracy (noun): peculiarity of constitution; that temperament, or state of constitution, which is peculiar to a person; idiosyncrasy

dystopia (noun): an imaginary society in which social or technological trends have culminated in a greatly diminished quality of life or degradation of values.

If you don’t agree with me after reading this post then flame away. But before you do, you’d better ask your college president to see what they think of the article first. And, for those CIO’s outside of higher education there are lessons in here for you as well.

Just crack open your May/June EDUCAUSE Review and you see the standard taglines and headlines “Why IT Matters in Higher Education” and “The Challenges for the Higher Education IT Leader” and many other off-target affirmations serving only as intellectual hugs for the consumption of the masses. In this issue you also find the 2011 Top-Ten IT Issues list.

How would addressing this list represent adding value? If this list represents where our profession’s collective heads are at no wonder we are not thought of as being value add or strategic leaders in our organizations. Frankly, every CIO should have people who are focused on these “issues” and the real list for IT’s top-ten is a lot different.

There in lies the problem and our idiocracy. What does this list have to do with being strategic or adding real value?

Higher Ed IT Value Proposition

When I think of what my value proposition is as a CIO, regardless of the organization, I always focus on a traditional perspective on IT value proposition which centers around how to make an impactful contribution in each of the following areas:

  • Organizational strategy
  • Product/service development
  • Revenue production
  • Process automation/improvement
  • Cost reduction and efficiencies
  • Compliance and regulatory performance

Higher Ed IT Priorities

The Current Issues Committee clearly has some top talent and seasoned veterans of IT guiding the development of the list. So how is it we end up here – in our dystopia? Are we just so lazy we default to what is easiest in a survey? Ask CIO’s to rank the same items from last year adjusting for the latest cloud hype or issue du jour? But this approach fails to capture the most salient issue for CIO’s in 2011 – college presents do not find the majority of their IT investments to be very effective in addressing institutional challenges.

If EDUCAUSE wanted to publish the top issues and if you really want a wake up call on how to add value or to be strategic all we have to do is go back and read Presidential Perspectives: The 2011 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Presidents. To understand the true meaning of this report for you as a CIO you have to recognize the trajectory for IT as a function and the role of the CIO is one of disinter-mediation. You should also have some appreciation for the acceleration of this change.

Meaning cloud computing where everything is a service enables people to go around IT (no longer the intermediary) and solve their own needs. So while you are focused on the top-Ten you are slowing moving to the margins of obsolescence as more functional managers buy services direct – without your help.

Here are just a few of the findings to support my assertion. Table 1 represents the high level issues as seen by college presidents and if you have legitimate business-IT alignment should be very close to your list too. No alignment and your list will look more like the one from EDUCAUSE.image of table from report

The report extends the issues in Table 1 with a list of strategies in Table 4 being employed to address the financial pressures. As you read this list you should be looking for the role your organization has in responding to the issues. Is IT a part of growing revenue? Or just cutting its own budget? Do you have plans or projects ready to support these strategies? If not, why not? This is a part of the top IT issues.copy of table from report
Finally allow me to share with you Table 13 and insist you also locate Table 14 yourself. This table alone could serve as the Top IT Issue List for 2011. copy of table from report
This portion of the survey results represents how our bosses view our value which should inspire every CIO to set aside some serious time in the coming days to consider just what you are going to do about it on your campus.

If you don’t really want to raise your contribution above the operational and tactical side of IT, I am sure there will continue to be good work for you for a few more years where you can try your best to be the CIO of No who offers Cloud FUD to slow innovation and hopefully avoid being marginalized until retirement.

But if you really want to add value and be a strategic player in your institution? If you answered yes, then buckle up and get laser focus on the President’s list and shed the wasteful low-value, no-value, initiatives you were working on. Delegate that stuff to staff and hold them accountable for results. But free up your time 2 to 1 so you can begin a move towards value and making a real difference as a facilitator of new outcomes and an enabler for solving the real issues.

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4 Responses to Idiocracy and the Dystopia of IT in Higher Ed

  1. Pingback: CFO’s Leading IT Decision Making | The Higher ED CIO

  2. Pingback: Cheapskate CIO | The Higher ED CIO

  3. Jerry, to your point… it seems to me that there’s a broader role for information and technology services when aligned with strategic imperatives for the institution. As an example, referring to table 13, collaboration between Librarians and Technologists should be a priority (among others) particularly when viewed within the context of what such efforts might do to advance information literacy and technology fluency. See http://laughran.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/collaborate-why-bother/ for my take.

  4. Patrick – I think you are absolutely right. Allow me to go around the barn on this if you have a quick minute…If I were to summarize the take away from this post it is that IT cannot simply look internally to identify its issues – they must be given to them by the customers they provide services to – just like we cannot judge the goodness or badness of our services internally either. The business must drive IT and our business is education.

    To bring this back to your point. The “What” in your example is that the Library and library services are a direct point of delivery to the institutions customers the students and IT’s role is to support the Library as a service provider. The “How” for that process is to work collaboratively always mindful IT is the service provider and the Library is the internal partner in serving the student.

    Love your blog.

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