Security, administrative or enterprise resource planning (ERP) information systems, and funding are the three most critical information technology (IT) challenges in higher education for the sixth year in a row, according to the 2008 Current Issues Survey from Educause, a higher-education IT organization.

"These three issues collectively continue to be the critical touchstones for IT in higher education. When any one of them falters, whether through major data-integrity breaches, system implementation glitches, or budget cuts, an institution’s or system’s strategic health is threatened," the report says.  Since 2003, these three issues have ranked in various order among the top three IT challenges for colleges and universities. 

There should be little surprise that security takes the top place among IT issues for colleges and universities, the report says, owing to the growing number of available services and critical data that need to be protected.

That–coupled with reported data breaches and other security incidents at colleges and universities, such as lost flash drives with sensitive student information and stolen laptops–makes security a front-and-center issue.

"In addition, the changing nature of the threats continues to challenge IT organizations," according to the report.

Critical security-related IT questions include: Is the institution aware of the federal, state, and local laws that govern the data for which it is responsible and that might dictate the appropriate and necessary responses to any breach? Does the institution have privacy and security policies that encompass all of its IT resources, and not just the central systems? Are the policies enforced consistently across the enterprise, reviewed regularly, measured for effectiveness, audited for compliance, and updated to reflect changing needs? Do the procedures reflect the goals of these policies?

Although ERP systems are not new, higher-education institutions spend the most resources on them, the report says, and despite the arrival of new technologies and concepts, this issue has risen in strategic importance from third place last year to second place in this year’s survey of campus IT officials.

"In addition to large initial implementation costs, IT leaders typically find that staff development, user training, business process modifications, regulatory compliance, and a very limited pool of talent are acute challenges and drains on resources. Annual maintenance, licensing, and consulting services are also getting more expensive," the report notes.

Key questions pertaining to ERP systems implementation include: What stakeholder dependencies and expectations must be factored into making sure the institution has the right system? How do the concepts of "empowering strong leadership" and "fostering appropriate governance" relate to ERP system oversight? Does the organization have a formal and effective staff-development program to meet the demands of ERP management?

Funding for IT has always grabbed the first or second position in the survey, with this year being the exception. The report cites a survey on IT spending from University Business in which 51 percent of responding campus officials described an increase in their IT budgets from the previous year. 

IT leaders are constantly facing growing expectations for new and existing IT services that exceed budget capacity, as well as maintenance costs that take up larger percentages of IT budgets.

"Increasingly, campuses are recognizing the need to involve the CIO in the institution’s highest level of planning and governance. IT leaders are devoting more time to campus communications, multi-year planning, and the presentation of IT opportunities in the context of the institution’s mission," the report says. "These changes are having a positive impact on funding IT through better-architected results, informed decision-making, and improved expectation management."

Although IT organizations have historically focused their funding efforts on operational priorities (such as rates, lines of business, and metrics), it is becoming increasingly important to balance this focus with strategic and organizational perspectives, according to the report.

Educause President Emeritus Brian Hawkins recently offered this comment: "Both operating and capital costs must be clearly understood, and more important, the functions that these expenditures support and how these lead to institutional goals need to be carefully and clearly communicated." IT leaders, he said, "need to have a dream…that the president and the provost and the financial officer and all the other sectors of the campus community share."

Rounding out the list of campus IT concerns are, in order from four through 10: infrastructure; identity and access management; disaster recovery and business continuity; governance, organization, and leadership; change management; eLearning and distributed teaching and learning; and staffing and HR management and training.

The PowerPoint slides of the 2008 survey data are available at Educause’s web site.

Link:

Educause Top 10 IT Issues of 2008

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Safeguarding School Data resource center. It seems like you can’t go a whole week lately without hearing about some major data security breach that has made national headlines. For businesses, these data leaks are bad enough—but for schools, they can be especially costly, as network security breaches can put schools in violation of several federal laws intended to protect students’ privacy. Go to: Safeguarding School Data