photo by esharkdesign.com

There are many articles on the web that predicted the convergence of consumer technologies and the enterprise, often referred to as consumerization of IT. This is a trend that was offered by Gartner as early as 2005 and as this blog post suggests, consumerization of IT was born when IBM PC was announced in 1981. Higher education, including student affairs, is faced with the reality of having to adapt to the new demands of technologically dominated world.  This new reality are driven by 1) student population and younger workforce  who grew up in the age of internet and with the expectation of open access to internet resources, 2) increasing budget cuts and external mandates leading to re-organizations and reliance on technology for automation,  3) more technology choices provided to the workforce via consumer technologies/services like social media, cloud and mobile computing  4) faster pace of changing  technologies  and adoption of these technologies by business units with or without IT involvement. The pace by which student affairs business units embrace technology, specifically consumer technologies, in my career, is comparable only to when I started working as a web developer for student affairs in 1996 when these same business units started realizing the value of the web. Below are some personal observations from the last couple of years  as a technology service provider in central student affairs IT.

  • Increasing reliance of student affairs departments on vendor-hosted products (software as a service – SAAS)
    • Business units have more choices now to address their technology needs and because of lack of technical resources in the organization, they may choose vendor solutions for quicker and easier implementations.
    • IT organizations are no longer just service providers but now must adopt the role of technology consultants, partnering with business units in a different capacity to ensure  service arrangements with vendors comply with electronic communication policies and legal requirements and in some cases guide them through the contracts/requisition process.
    • Policies and procedures regarding data sharing with third-party/hosted solutions must be reviewed to reflect the need for university data, which could include confidential student and financial data, to be stored on external campus servers.
  • Increasing role of consumer technologies (social media, mobile web/devices, cloud, web conference)
    • End-users are using consumer technologies to conduct business (e.g. communicating with customers), introducing a new model of work where they are no longer confined at their office desktops and between 8 am to 5 pm and using technologies not provided by their organization’s IT. Google+, announced last week, provides functionality such as video chatting tool (Hang out), group text messaging platform(Huddles)  in addition to GMail that moves closer to the idea of a unified communication platform that in the recent past could only have been provided to the users via IT as an enterprise solution. How to integrate these technologies into the enterprise system so they are secure and supportable is a challenge. It includes technology solutions (mobile device management, firewall, etc), governance structure/processes, and training to educate the entire organization of the security responsibilities and responsible use.
    • Training IT staff on the use of consumer technologies and encouraging them to use these technologies will be critical so they may understand the implications as well as to be able to understand end-user perspectives and trends.
  • Tension between innovation and “keeping the lights on” and maintaining legacy applications
    • While consumer technologies are given a great deal of attention with regards to use in student affairs for communication/marketing/building communities, the need to keep networks, servers and desktops available and secure remain a high priority requiring time and effort often not recognized by business units/end-users.
  • Legal and security policies/guidelines compliance
    • While it may be easier now for business units to implement technology solutions, legal and security policies/guidelines must still be a major consideration. The consequences of failing to comply with legal policies and campus guidelines could result not only in public relations damage but serious financial punishment to the individual breaking that policy (even inadvertent) and to the institution.

The challenge is how central student affairs IT organizations stay relevant and adapt our roles in the organization to continue enabling/helping business units perform their jobs while anticipating and planning for the needs of the division in the near future.  The value of IT as a strategic investment will no doubt continue to be a topic of discussion similar to the article by Nicholas G. Carr’s “IT Doesn’t Matter” published in May 2003.  Some may argue the demands for IT service within organizations will diminish as a result of alternative services available to business units, but I think IT organizations will still provide value, but in different capacities.

Are the issues I mentioned in the article familiar to you and your organization? How should student affairs organizations prepare our workforce, particularly when it comes to technologies, so we can be prepared for the future?