Nov 10 2020

EDUCAUSE 2020: 4 Tips to Make Cost Optimization Part of Your IT Pandemic Plan

Higher education teams adapt new strategies to scale remote learning up and down as needed.

It’s never been more critical for IT departments to make the most of small budgets. Even as COVID-19 pushes enrollment dollars toward decline, the funding needed to ensure an effective move to hybrid and remote learning is increasing.

“One of the things we encounter is that we have to apply a new type of thinking,” said CDW executive technology strategist Matthew Beaverson. “We’re faced with shrinking budgets and doing more with less. We’re working with lower head counts than we had previously.”

Cost optimization is not unfamiliar territory for anyone in charge of a departmental budget spreadsheet. However, as Beaverson points out, because economic indicators don’t support an immediate recovery, campus IT leaders may well need to shave dollars where they can for the foreseeable future.

How? In an Oct. 27 virtual presentation to attendees at the online EDUCAUSE 2020 conference, Beaverson outlined three primary ways to approach these changes. One, he said, is through process, “which is essentially inward-looking at IT and how we provide quality and performance for IT delivery.”

Next, he continued, “We can look at service and how we provide services to internal customers.”

Finally, he concluded, “We can align with the organization as it requires optimization via speed, agility and innovation. For higher education, that’s meant responding to remote learning and providing systems to support that at a scale we’ve never previously envisioned.”

Beaverson outlined four distinct focus areas for achieving these goals.

1. Cut Costs with Virtualization and Other Cost-Effective Strategies

First, think virtualization. “The focus here is to conserve cash,” Beaverson said. There are a variety of ways to achieve this, including:

  • Virtualizing IT environments
  • Extending hardware lifecycles
  • Renegotiating services contracts
  • Reviewing and updating cloud usage

However, Beaverson warned against slashing costs for a short-term benefit that could have a long-term impact. “Weigh the risk. You don’t want to reduce service levels to an unacceptable point,” he said.

2. Leverage Process Work and Automation to Optimize Operations

There are two main approaches, said Beaverson: process improvement and automation. This is an opportunity to collaborate outside of IT and pull people in from other areas of campus who may have more experience implementing process improvements.

Automation, on the other hand, “falls squarely within IT, and there’s many ways to automate,” such as the ServiceNow platform, Beaverson said. For example, human resources workflows (like onboarding employees) could work well with automation.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Colleges leverage digital transformation for student success.

3. Take a Big-Picture Approach to Rationalize Portfolios

What’s particularly important in looking at portfolios, Beaverson said, is gaining an understanding of the true savings.

“We encourage customers to do a rapid assessment to understand what the opportunity is,” he said. “You may be able to reduce your application portfolio, but if you have already paid for the licenses … you may just have minimal costs saved. You may decide the investment to get to that smaller savings is not worth it.”

4. Innovate, Transform and Grow in Key Campus Areas

Strategies in this area are all about providing additional value within 18 months or so. Given the pandemic, some of this may have already occurred on your campus through initiatives around remote learning. However, there might be other types of digital transformation initiatives that make sensible investments.

Don’t forget to also consider customer-facing touchpoints, such as your learning management systems, content development and collaboration capabilities, particularly given the current pandemic-related circumstances under which most colleges are operating. “If you have not refreshed your strategy and addressed all three of these, we’d certainly encourage you to do so,” Beaverson said.

It’s important to note that while 2020 has turned scenario-planning on its head, it’s not a reason to throw that important tool out the window. Beaverson pointed to two probable scenarios that colleges can realistically consider now: one that brings students back to campus in large numbers and one that requires remote learning well into the future.

“If we can develop these types of scenarios given certain probable outcomes and futures,” Beaverson said, “we’re in a much better position to understand where we invest, how we invest, how we scale up and how we scale down.”

Read more of our EDUCAUSE 2020 coverage here.

Getty Images/Eva Almqvist