Jun 19 2017

When It Come to Tech, CIO-Trustee Relationships Are a Two-Way Street

Higher education boards function best when trustees are well-informed about technology initiatives.

As technology assumes greater importance in all facets of higher education, a new dynamic is emerging between IT leaders and administrators, including boards of trustees. At many institutions, CIOs and other senior staff now have more opportunities to contribute to strategic planning and decision-making. This access is a boon for IT, helping to obtain high-level support for IT initiatives and align technology planning with institutional aims.

These days, nearly any major initiative on a college campus has a technological component. Having IT leaders at the table lets them ask the right questions and provide expert guidance. For example, CIOs can help trustees understand the ways in which technology is an investment and not merely an expense. And, as institutions seek to position themselves in higher education’s competitive landscape, CIOs can help them keep pace with technologies that attract students.

Finally, given the rapid pace of technological change, it is imperative that colleges stay alert to what’s on the horizon. Consider the Internet of Things, which promises both great possibilities and new security concerns. CIOs can help trustees anticipate and plan for such developments.

Keeping Trustees Informed on Tech Updates

Some IT leaders, however, encounter challenges alongside this increased access. The reason? Some trustees, while possessing their own areas of expertise, may lack the requisite knowledge to govern the technology agenda. In a KPMG survey of approximately 100 senior IT leaders in a variety of industries, 90 percent said that in the next few years, board members’ skills would need to change “a very large extent” (26 percent), “a large extent” (36 percent) or “a moderate extent” (28 percent) to effectively evaluate and manage technology initiatives.

This is an important finding, because trustees are spending more of their time addressing IT matters. When the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges surveyed more than 2,000 board members to gauge their perceptions of educational technology at their institutions, nearly 58 percent said their time on educational technology had increased.

If that trend continues — a safe assumption — it will be even more important for board members to have the information they need to make wise decisions. Yet that isn’t the case at every institution: Only 19 percent of trustees said they felt fully prepared to make decisions about educational technology that relate to their institution’s strategic or business plans. That statistic leads us to a third finding from the association’s survey. Most trustees said they don’t receive good or excellent information about their institutions’ online learning programs.

Better Data Leads to Better Decisions

About that dynamic between IT leaders and administrators: Communication is a two-way street. Trustees should make a place at the table for IT experts, and those experts should be thoughtful about the information trustees need to make sound decisions.

It’s natural for experts to take their own knowledge for granted, so it’s important to ask, “What would I want to know about this topic if I were new to it?” An IT leader might even set aside time to ask trustees what kinds of technology information would be helpful as they review IT initiatives.

Providing the right information at the right time can help trustees make well-informed decisions that affect technology initiatives. This enhanced knowledge can also be beneficial when IT leaders seek support for specific investments. Such projects have a much better chance of succeeding when stakeholders understand what they are, why they’re important and how they align with institutional goals.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.