New Top 10 list reflects changing complexion of IT issues facing higher education leaders in 2017


This article has been updated to include comments from a panel discussion surrounding the release of the top 10 list.

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Information security topped EDUCAUSE’s annual list of top 10 IT issues facing higher education technology leaders for the second year in a row, but the latest survey, released today, also points to three new emerging concerns including the need to fully embrace next-generation enterprise IT.

The new Top 10 list of higher ed IT issues for 2017 reflects several familiar IT themes, according to Susan Grajek, EDUCAUSE vice president for data, research and analytics. Among them is the need to support student success and data-informed decision making, which ranked second and third respectively on this year’s list.

Also on the 2017 list is the importance of developing models for sustainable IT funding, a perennial concern that has been on the top 10 list every year since 2001 when it EDUCAUSE first began tracking IT issues, Grajek said in an interview with EdScoop.

But three recent developments have risen to greater prominence as higher education IT leaders look ahead to 2017, Grajek said.

One is the need to reposition or at least reinforce the role of IT leadership as a strategic partner with institutional leadership. Another is the need to prioritize IT investments and resources in context with the growing demands for IT in the face of limited resources. And the third revolves around the growing urgency to deal with the rapid evolution of cloud-based and IT services.

Here is the overall list of Top 10 IT issues for higher education institutions released by EDUCAUSE today:

1. Information security: Developing a holistic, agile approach to reducing institutional exposure to information security thetas.

2. Student success and completion: Effectively applying data and predictive analytics to improve student success and completion

3. Data-informed decision making: Ensuring that business intelligence, reporting and analytics are relevant, convenient and used by administrators, faculty and students

4. Strategic leadership: Repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as a strategic partner with institutional leadership

5. Sustainable funding: Developing IT funding models that sustain core services, support innovation and facilitate growth

6. Data management and governance: Improving the management of institutional data through data standards, integration, protection and governance

7. Higher education affordability: Prioritizing IT investments and resources in the context of increasing demand and limited resource

8. Sustainable staffing: Ensuring adequate staffing capacity and staff retention as budgets shrink or remain flat and as external completion grows

9. Next-gen enterprise IT: Developing and implanting enterprise IT applications, architectures and sourcing strategies to achieve agility, scalability, cost-effectiveness and effective analytics

10. Digital transformation of learning: Collaborating with faculty and academic leadership to apply technology to teaching and learning in ways that reflect innovations in pedagogy and the institutional mission

“The list shows that IT is more relevant than ever in higher education,” said Rebecca Frost Davis, director of instructional and emerging technology at St. Edwards University, during a panel discussion at the EDUCAUSE conference where the results were released.

Gerard Au, California State University, San Bernardino, said one of the new challenges reflected on the list is managing the emerging array of IT resources needed to operate colleges and universities.

“This is not just about your infrastructure or ERP but how they integrate together. We won’t be building a data center like we did in the past,” he said, noting how colleges and universities are increasingly turning to cloud-based IT services. “The challenge becomes, how do we manage all these resources?”

Another challenge reflected in the list is the need for different skills to manage those resources, said Marden Paul, director of planning, governance, assessment and communications for the University of Toronto.

Perhaps the most important beyond technical knowledge? “It’s a skill to read the contracts,” Paul said. A typical 60 page contract can have 50 embedded links pertaining to a variety of related systems and terms of services, he said, requiring an institutional knowledge of what those links are referring to and how they relate to the overall contract.

Last Friday’s massive distributed denial of services attack that interrupted U.S. internet service also provides a glimpse of how important it will be to manage and maintain an increasing interdependent set of IT systems, Au added.

And it raises the question, “How do we deal with these situations and how are we going to handle parts of our IT enterprise not working?”

The EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT Issues list is based on a survey of approximately 300 of the IT organization’s members who ranked a list of 20 major IT issues developed through a series of interviews with two dozen CIOs and senior IT leaders. The full results will be released by EDUCAUSE in January, Grajek said.