It is both an exciting and challenging time to be involved with technology in higher education. The pace of innovation increases unabated and technology has become both a driving factor of success and a recruitment and retention tool for students and faculty. Administrative computing encompasses the full range of systems, from large enterprise systems to special niche packages, but all require stable infrastructure, security and integration with each other. Research computing has huge data storage and processing demands and collaboration by researchers is opening new research opportunities. Social networking has changed how students learn and instructors share their knowledge. This creative use of technology in teaching has brought about significant pedagogical change.
Our Strategic Plan is designed to meet our objectives while also remaining flexible and adaptable in the face of technology evolution. An excellent resource for the technology issues facing the University, and higher education in general, is the Educause “Top-Ten IT Issues, 2012.” Educause is a higher education-specific technology non-profit association of which UI is a member. Outstanding infrastructure, vigilant security experts, available Internet bandwidth and people to help make technology usable and integrated will continue to be core to UI’s success for a long time to come, but there are certain challenging topics that are now relevant to technology at UI and will only become more important in the future:
- Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) – An increasing number of consumer devices, like mobile phones and tablets, are being used as aids in teaching, learning and administrative functions as well as the a primary means to communicate with different University constituencies. The University of Idaho is going to have to catch up, and then get ahead of the curve, in supporting these devices and in deploying software that allows these devices to accomplish different tasks like registering for classes, paying bills, posting to course sites, donating to UI and many others. The capabilities of these types of devices, and their use in daily life, will only continue to increase and we must embrace this change.
- Cloud computing – Historically technology was implemented on campus, housed in the data center, and supported by UI technical experts. Data centers and equipment are expensive, require large support teams, and require the constant updating of the software that runs on them. There are cloud-based options for email, administrative and academic software, data storage, and many other technology-based solutions now available. The implementation of these services is gaining traction industry-wide and at the University of Idaho. These options allow for lower barriers of entry but still hold significant challenges in the areas of security, compliance, integration with other systems, records management and the current high cost of the Internet bandwidth required to utilize them. The maturation of the cloud services market will reduce these challenges and the cost of services in the cloud will continue to fall, making them more and more desirable. The University of Idaho must position itself with the necessary skills, internal infrastructure and available bandwidth to take advantage of these services.
- Security – Hackers continue to develop better tools in attempts to steal information and to compromise our systems in order to use our computing power for nefarious purposes. The growth of cloud computing expands the problem. Now we have to ensure data transmission to the cloud remains secure. Security of University data is of the utmost importance from both reputational and financial standpoints yet the University does not have a formal process for evaluating, mitigating and responding to current and future security issues. The complexity of security requires a distinct focus from trained employees in order to minimize potential problems.
- Compliance – The sheer volume and rapid change cycles of local, state, federal and industry group regulations is astounding. The University of Idaho must ensure satisfactory compliance with FERPA, HIPPA, PCI, DMCA, e-discovery and many others at a time when the legislation has not kept pace with technology advancements like cloud computing. The University must leverage industry organizations to keep abreast of important legislation or industry changes, develop a comprehensive plan for addressing compliance and where important, provide input to decision makers on the technology and cost implications of compliance.
- Large research data sets and high performance computing – Research in many disciplines is creating huge data stores that correspondingly need significant computing power to analyze. In order to keep costs under control but be able to attract the best researchers, the University of Idaho will need to come together internally and with outside collaborators to provide the required resources. This collaborative approach across the University is also needed to understand and meet the specific requirements from funding agencies analyzed to ensure that they can be met in a cost-effective way as failure to meet the requirements will impact future grant opportunities.
- Leading collaboration – There are a number of critical issues where technology can play a positive role but where ownership of the issues is distributed or unclear. Examples of these issues include business intelligence systems, reporting requirements, process improvement, overall web strategy and many others. In many cases, because technology is involved, people look to ITS to lead the discovery process and drive institutional decisions even when the functionality of these systems should be driven by the needs of the people who use the technology rather than the people who implement it. ITS can, and should, participate in these discussions with their unique institutional perspective. If the need exists, they can and should take a leadership role by coordinating the right people to explore solutions. If it is later determined that a unit other than ITS should lead the way, ITS should be willing to step back and provide technical expertise and allow others to lead.
- Expectations – Prospective students and faculty have ever-increasing expectations of the technology that will be made available to them. They expect the same ease of use in their electronic interactions with the University of Idaho that they have with their banks, online shopping vendors, and their social networking products of choice. In order to provide institution-wide services of this caliber, which is possible, it will be necessary to have an institutional view of staffing and funding for technology support, improved ways to solicit input on new services and a cohesive team of people across UI, regardless of their organizational position, to provide both support and innovation.
The exciting goals in the University of Idaho’s “Leading Idaho” strategic plan come on the heels of what many higher education institutions face: reduced staffing and funding. This provides a challenge to become more effective while also not expecting significant new resources to provide the required new services. The opportunities for how technology can advance education are staggering and we have truly only begun to scratch the surface. Over time, the University will need to continuously adapt its skills, people, funding and structure to understand upcoming technology challenges and align itself for success. This constant change, in technology and the culture of its use, requires that change be not only accepted but embraced, that people stay open to new challenges and opportunities and that UI continue to have a defined set of goals and the resources to achieve them.