Paying for technology can be challenging, but it’s worth the investment.
In an age when higher education institutions should be thinking of the best ways to use new technology, IT professionals instead have to worry about finding money to pay for them.
Funding was ranked as the top IT strategic issue in the EDUCAUSE 2007 Current Issues Survey of campus technology leaders. Of course, those results are little surprise to anybody who works in a higher education IT department. Paying for new technology and staff is always among the biggest challenges in education. But it seems as if funding is more on people’s minds these days because technology is regarded as especially useful and crucial on campuses and resources continue to be limited.
Tech wish lists include security, course management systems, smart classrooms, communication systems and disaster recovery. Now IT isn’t just about storing data and maintaining financial records at universities; it’s increasingly about educating, keeping students safe and helping professors do their jobs more efficiently.
There are several approaches to getting the money you need to fund IT projects. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Think Like the Boss: University of Central Florida President John Hitt advises against getting too geeky when seeking funding. In a keynote at the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA) conference in August, Hitt said presidents don’t need to know about specific technologies. They need to know how those technologies can help the institution meet its business goals.
“The focus should be not on technology itself but on the goals of the institution and how IT can align with those goals,” Hitt said. “Make sure technical directives are visibly linked with the institutions’ goals and visions.”
That advice comes from the leader of an institution that was founded as a technical school, and started a technology incubator in 1999.
Offer Relevant Hot Technologies: In the wake of natural and man-made disasters in recent years, many university IT and public safety departments were able to get funding earlier this year for mass notification systems. The institutions often publicly announced these projects, gaining goodwill in the process.
Collaborate: The Google Book Search Project and other multicampus collaborations can help stretch a budget. In the Google project, Google pays for nearly 30 universities to digitize their books. This helps the institutions’ libraries preserve their materials and makes them available to a wider audience. Other schools are sharing fiber rings that connect to networks such as the National LambdaRail and Internet2 to facilitate research.
Be a Smart Planner: Last year when the University of New Mexico Hospital started a construction project on the building that housed the university’s PBX, UNM’s IT services group knew a $10 million relocation project was out of the question. The ITS team went for a $400,000 price tag to protect the existing site during construction. In mid-project, it became evident that the aging PBX might not hold up to the rigors of construction. The university Board of Regents allocated $5 million in bond money to complete the project. The unforeseen expense still kept the total bill below the price of a brand new system.
New Mexico State University CIO Michael Hites says university IT departments would benefit from a benchmark tool to determine if they are adequately funded. He would like to see somebody come up with data to show how much is enough.
“It’s really tough to figure out how to equate your institution to somebody else’s,” Hites says. “I’d like to see a benchmark that says, ‘All universities should be spending x percent of their budgets on IT, and half of that’s on people and half on equipment.’ I haven’t found that type of data yet.”