Mar 03 2009

3 Ways to More Effectively Manage IT Through This Challenging Economy

Colleges use the down economy as a chance to rethink IT priorities.

By Lee Copeland


The good news: Over the past few years of strong economic growth, most IT teams have tackled the low-hanging fruit as well as many strategic projects that help colleges and universities run more efficiently. Through the good work of the IT department, most colleges and universities can offer reliable print services, wide-area and high-speed access to the web and unprecedented access to back-end and desktop applications for students, staff and faculty alike.

Yet now, as numerous colleges and universities face layoffs, tuition hikes and shrinking endowment values as a result of the economic crisis, it’s time to re-evaluate which projects are worth the continued consumption of limited staff and budget resources. Sorting out the projects that offer the most strategic return on investment to determine which ones stay and which ones go is a top priority across a host of corporate, educational and government organizations.

James Wolf, director of academic computing at Binghamton University in New York, summed up the challenge precisely: “In the face of shrinking budgets, you have to maximize what you have.”

Here are some ways to manage more effectively through this challenging economy:

Conduct a technology standardization audit. You don’t need a high-priced consultant, but taking a realistic look at how much time is spent maintaining numerous systems is well worth the effort. Colleges that launch one-to-one notebook programs typically standardize on one or several computer models. Standardization serves many purposes: Standard computer components simplify help-desk support, speed troubleshooting and reduce support costs. Having common hardware specifications and software configurations also ensures that students can access all the applications and do everything on their computers that professors require, says Rusty Waterfield, an assistant vice president at Old Dominion University (see “Nothing but Notebooks” on Page 28).

Continue to watch out for effective options on the technology landscape. Whether pressing monetary concerns lurk in the background or at the forefront at your organization, it remains critically important to think beyond this difficult juncture.

At Northwest Missouri State, the college is investing in a new e-textbook program (see “Swapping Textbooks for E-books” on Page 14). The university isn’t awash with budget dollars, but it wanted to continue distinguishing itself from other institutions through its online course offerings, notebook program and, now, digital textbooks.

Before offering an e-textbook program to its 6,500 students, Northwest Missouri State’s IT team partnered with the faculty and ran a pilot that helped the school cut costs and improve student performance.

Add “the ability to execute” to your skills checklist. If you’re lucky enough to add staff to your IT team, invest time in scoping out the technology skills needed based on existing and upcoming project needs, but don’t ignore the execution skills. The ability to execute often makes the difference between programs that meet their intended strategic goals and those that fall short. And if new hires are not an option, getting focused and refocused on strong project management is critical.

Rather than just thinking about how IT can cut costs, show how it can help others reduce expenses by becoming more effective in the delivery of services, says Sam Young, chief technology offi cer at Our Lady of the Lake University (see “Managing From Experience” on Page 38). Apply this concept to tech acquisitions as well as the execution of tech projects, and you’ll start seeing bigger cost savings.

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