​How higher ed IT and business leaders are learning to work together


These days, higher ed is all about teamwork, as technology permeates every corner of campuses, blurs department lines and slowly breaks down silos. That was just one of the top takeaways from the recent Enterprise IT Summit, a three-day event in Phoenix for higher ed leaders held earlier this month.

A collaboration between EDUCAUSE and NACUBO, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, the annual event brought together CIOs, CBOs, and other leaders, who attended sessions and spoke in informal groups about the need to foster better communication between departments.

“You can’t meet your goals without leadership from across the institution coming together,” says Betsy Reinitz, the director of EDUCAUSE’s Enterprise IT Program. “We went into the event thinking this was important, and people did want to talk about it.”

While the topic dominated conversation during this year’s event, it’s been steadily gaining traction. Since the first Enterprise IT Summit four years ago, the topic has remained an underlying theme, as job duties expand and technology brings IT and other departments closer together.

Reinitz recently spoke with EdScoop and shared a glimpse of the biggest conversations, challenges, and expectations facing today’s business and IT departments.

Among some of thrtakeaways she said were particularly notable this year:

Data means collaboration

While it wasn’t a stated theme, conversations at the event came back to the topic of analytics for both data-informed and data-driven decision-making. “It’s a place where it’s so definite that one part of an institution can’t do that work on its own,” Reinitz says.

“You have to have IT for the systems and understanding data integration and governance. You need the business team for driving business decisions. Academic affairs help find out how it plays out with the mission and the academic research.”

“That was one of the most striking things: How it all came back around to analytics.”

Failure is part of the process

To keep up with the breakneck pace of change happening all over campuses, schools and leadership teams must be innovative — something that can be hard for traditional environments.

“Higher ed can be so traditional and complacent and I think most people are aware that we can’t do that anymore,” Reinitz says. “Innovation in higher ed is hard because of that. There was a lot of talk about how do we get there.”

Change isn’t always possible right away, and schools may not get it right the first time. “As people were leaving the event, that was one takeaway that was at the forefront — trying to make failure OK and turn it into an opportunity for change,” Reinitz says. “That’s a hard thing.”

Value isn’t just what something costs

“Nobody used the term ROI or talked about specifics, but there was a lot of talk about value and to communicate about it,” Reinitz says. One challenge attendees were eager to overcome was how to understand the other’s point of view. Business leaders have a pragmatic approach to looking at expenditures, while IT often sees them not in terms of cost but what it brings to the education mission.

The conversation is around services, not technology

IT leaders didn’t go into many deep dives around technology-centric issues they’re facing internally. Instead, they kept the conversation general. “We’re in a space right now of talking about services and not talking about the systems and technology,” Reinitz says. “It’s part of that communication piece.”

“You don’t talk about the particular way the server is run or this particular software application — people don’t care. They want to know what the service is and if it’s going to work for them. It also helps IT focus on how you can provide the best service possible.”

Relationships still matter

Managing relationships is more important than ever as departments increasingly rely on one another for support. “The time you put into those relationships will pay off in ways you can’t even know when you’re building them,” Reinitz says. “It’s about respecting, listening, and understanding each other’s needs.”

The organizations that are most successful at it are ones where every department has a clear understanding of their institution’s mission and what their role in that looks like. “Relationship management begins with the chancellor or president and it trickles down to the whole organization,” Reinitz says.