This underused strategy can make higher ed IT departments more efficient

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When we asked higher-education IT leaders recently what their biggest challenge was, 78 percent cited resource constraints. This should come as no surprise to campus IT managers who increasingly are asked to do more with less.

While colleges and universities continue to add new technologies in an effort to improve the student experience and boost academic success rates, a large majority of campus IT departments are not seeing a commensurate increase in IT staff. Implementing and supporting all of these new systems while trying to maintain a high level of service requires IT departments to find new ways of improving efficiency.

Indeed, our survey of IT leaders across 118 institutions of varying size revealed that colleges and universities are focused on a number of initiatives to optimize their use of limited resources and deliver a high level of IT service.

Yet, when we asked whether respondents had a simple way to conduct resource capacity planning, only one in four (23 percent) said yes. This represents a huge opportunity for technology to help make campus IT departments more efficient.

Resource capacity planning allows organizations to determine how and when they can take on additional work, based on how staff time is already allocated. Assessing an organization’s IT capacity involves looking at all current IT tasks being performed and how much time these require, then comparing this to the number of staff hours available. For this to happen effectively, however, colleges and universities first must bring all sources of resource consumption—in other words, both service requests and projects—together under a single view.

At most institutions, IT service requests are managed with one software platform, and projects are managed with another. Bringing IT service management and project portfolio management together within a single, unified platform can improve IT efficiency in many ways — and a majority of campus technology leaders agree: 61 percent of respondents to our survey said they’d like to do this.

When resources are limited, IT employees often wear several hats. Few colleges and universities have the luxury of maintaining separate staff for project work and fulfilling service requests. An IT employee’s primary role might be to work on systems integration projects, for instance — but this same employee might also help with tier three service requests.

If employees have to use separate systems for keeping track of projects and service requests, then it becomes harder to know which tasks are on their plate at any given time. If a new task arises, they might miss it. What’s more, navigating between multiple systems and updating each one individually can be cumbersome. Employees are forced to spend too much time on administrative tasks instead of focusing on their core responsibilities.

Having a single platform benefits IT leaders as well as employees. Managing IT incidents, problems, and projects in one location gives leaders an easy way to see the impact of both project and support tasks on IT resources. This helps leaders plan more effectively, allowing for more efficient delivery of technology services.

When data are spread across multiple systems, it can be challenging to understand the IT division’s capacity to take on new projects or adjust to changing priorities. Unifying IT project and service management within a single platform gives leaders a big-picture view that makes capacity planning simple, accurate, and more effective.

Having a complete picture of the scope of IT work being done helps leaders set reasonable expectations and push back on new project requests as warranted. If an institution’s president or board of directors wants to move forward with a campus priority, but the IT division doesn’t have the resources to handle this project effectively, the CIO has a tool to argue why more resources are needed.

The visibility of this single-pane-of-glass approach helps IT leaders become more agile in how they manage projects and resources. As circumstances change, IT leaders can see the impact that pulling resources from one project and shifting them to another would have on the entire organization, including their ability to fulfill service requests. When resources are managed well, project success rates tend to soar — and IT staff are happier as well, because they are less likely to be overburdened. This leads to less turnover, which saves institutions from the expense of having to hire and train new staff as often.

Combining IT service management and project portfolio management within a single system is a great opportunity to improve IT efficiency. It allows institutions to do more with less, which results in a better experience for the entire campus community.

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