Ungeeked: Implications for IT in Higher Education

At Ungeeked Chicago, Keith Privette talked about the role of the business analyst…I think. Forgive me Keith, but what stood out to me was one thing you said:

If your IT team tells you it will take 12 months or more to complete a project, cancel it. It will fail, because your needs will have changed by the time it’s done.

I know this applies to many industries, but I’d like to think about what it means for higher education. It’s no secret that when it comes to technology, the majority of U.S. campuses are behind what’s happening in the private sector, or even K-12 schools. If we start out behind, and then completion of a project takes a year or more, where does that leave us? Likely, even more behind than when we started.

I don’t work in IT, and I never have. However, I always try to develop relationships with the IT staff at my institution, and I think I have at least rudimentary knowledge of what goes on in that area. Many projects take at least 12 months to complete, sometimes even years. Whether it’s the development of a homegrown system or the acquisition of a paid solution, the process always seems the same at the public institutions I’ve worked at. It drags on and on—sometimes it’s because we need to gather requirements, or an untold number of committees have to approve the project, meaning everyone gets a say in the scope.

Often this situation is painted as an us (administration) vs them (IT) problem. Of course, I think everything would be better if we could just get along. But more than that, I think higher education needs to understand that one of the pillars of our organization, governance, may not be effective when it comes to IT. If a campus department has a problem, and IT has a way to fix it, what’s wrong with just going ahead with the solution? Does the entire campus have to be surveyed to see if they’d like in on the solution too, or could it later be adapted to meet the needs of others?

I’m just musing about possible culture change in higher education IT.  I’m not claiming to have the answers, but I am interested in hearing ideas and opinions about the issue. Do you have thoughts? Leave them in the comments.