Higher ed IT chiefs say complexity, lack of system visibility are growing concerns

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Well over half of higher education IT decision-makers in a new national poll say their organizations lack the visibility necessary to pinpoint critical problems across their institutions’ IT systems.

Siloed IT systems, increasing complexity and lingering budget constraints are part of the problem, but the inherent risks and consequences remain a growing concern, according to higher education IT officials in the survey.

The study also suggests that colleges and universities appear to be trailing the progress being made elsewhere in the public sector, including federal and state government agencies, according to executives at Splunk, which underwrote the survey.

Half of education IT professionals in the survey (50 percent) pointed to insufficient IT resources (budget and personnel) as one of the biggest risks to their institutions during the next year.

At the same time, an equal proportion of those professionals believe new IT models — notably cloud computing, DevOps and virtualization — are adding to their organization’s complexity. Four in 10 respondents said the complexity of IT systems and technology was among the top difficulties they faced.

“What’s making it challenging,” said Jennifer Roth, director for higher education at Splunk, “is that 59 percent [of those polled] said they do not have holistic visibility across their systems — and 15 percent were not sure whether they had the necessary to tools to foresee issues on their systems.”

A third of respondents (33 percent) said a lack of integration of IT solutions was among their biggest concerns. Nearly half of those polled (48 percent) say data in different formats and types are also a problem when using data to diagnose IT issues.

The findings are part of a larger public sector IT survey of 600 federal, state and local, and higher education IT decision-makers, conducted in May by Clarus Research Group. A break out of the findings among 234 higher education IT officials in the overall survey pool was provided in advance to EdScoop and is expected to be released in the coming days, according to Ashok Sankar, director of solutions strategy for Splunk’s public sector and higher education business.

Sankar noted that while resource constraints were cited as a top risk by 44 percent of respondents across the public sector, the average was even higher for education IT leaders, at 50 percent. Similarly, a higher percentage of education leaders expressed concern about the lack of IT integration where they work than did public sector IT leaders overall.

Nearly seven in 10 education IT leaders (69 percent) acknowledged that if IT systems suffered a loss of service, technology staffers would likely have to gather information from various systems manually to understand what the issue is.

Sankar and Roth suggested that while federal and state agencies have made strides to consolidate IT systems, the institutional nature of colleges and universities continues to make it harder to break down IT silos and integrate systems in higher education.

Among other findings in the survey:

Eight in 10 education respondents said they expect investment in cloud computing to increase over the next year or two, with half expecting to expand the use of public cloud solutions and 44 expecting to expand their use of private cloud solutions.

Thinking about IT security technologies and services, 74 percent cited real-time monitoring and dashboards as another area of increased investment and focus over the next few years.

Regarding IT intelligence, 43 percent of education respondents said their organization has enough analytical tools but those tools aren’t being fully utilized. However, 36 percent of respondents said they don’t have enough analytical tools but do plan to invest in them in the near future. Only eight percent say they sufficient analytic tools (see chart).

“One thing we found in the study,” added Roth: “There are definitely a lot of institutions starting to use, or expanding their use of, monitoring tools. What they need to be cautious of, as they move forward, is breaking down historic silos and selecting solutions that operate as platforms as opposed to point-of-use tools.”

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