Improving admin user experience key for IT modernization, say university CIOs

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Building a better user experience for administrators is a key focus of IT modernization efforts at Michigan State University and Virginia Tech, the institutions’ chief information officers shared during Scoop News Group’s IT Modernization Summit on Thursday.

Improving the user experience for students, faculty, and staff, is something that CIOs are always thinking about, but the pandemic highlighted the vital importance of streamlining administrative systems so that they are smarter and easier for staff to use on and off campus, said Scott Midkiff, CIO at Virginia Tech.

The failure of many paper-based and outdated administrative processes to function as more employees started working remotely during COVID-19 has been a big wake-up call for many IT leaders, he said.

“We need to provide a better experience for our administrative staff and folks that have to make the finances, HR, and other functions of the university work,” Midkiff said. But making that happen isn’t straightforward. “It’s a big challenge because we have legacy systems with lots of customizations and integrations. We’re early on our path of figuring out how we move forward with reducing those customizations and still achieving the functionality that people really need,” said Midkiff.

Melissa Woo, CIO at Michigan State University, said that providing a “top-notch” user experience for administrators, as well as the wider university community, is something that her team is also working on as part of broader efforts to move forward from “old school technology.”

“How people feel before, during and after an experience, how our services and products interact with us — these things are so incredibly important,” Woo said.

Cyber threats, and the potential for data loss, are also top of mind for Midkiff and Woo. At MSU, IT staff are working to revamp identity and access management so that “the right people get access to the right things in the right way,” she said. Midkiff said enabling university staff to work safely and securely from home is a big data compliance and regulatory challenge.

“We need to step up our game for endpoint protection,” he said. “… Cyber threats never end, and we have to find ways to keep our head above water in that area. But as we do, we need to make sure that we’re doing that in a way that is cost-effective, that we’re good stewards of funds, and we’re letting our students and employees get work done right and not just locking them down to a point where it’s not productive. We have to maintain the open environment of a research university.”

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