The changing face of Higher Education IT

The changing face of Higher Education IT Author: Alex Richardson Published: 30 October 2017

The advent of fees in UK higher education has meant a step change in the sector. Many organisations are taking an ever more commercial approach.  Previously controversial ‘industry-style’ IT methods are becoming the norm. In addition the increase both in total demand for tech, and its sophistication level, has markedly increased. This shift in demand is challenging the shape and structure of H.E. IT functions.

The uniquely fragmented nature of a university’s customer communities also adds an extra layer of complexity. The students of today are digital natives. They arrive into H.E. behaving as ‘education customers’. With this behaviour comes a heightened expectation of the digital user experience. In this digital age, these customers have ever more channels to share their views which can have real impact in the league table and student satisfaction led world. 

Teaching professionals also see opportunities for the use of technology. In both teaching delivery, and in how tech can enable analytics, predict outcomes and prompt interventions. The ability to evidence a direct link between a specific course and future success will have tangible commercial benefits.

The academic research community also provides a breadth of challenge.  What is ostensibly a single group actually has wide-ranging levels of demand. From high performance computing at one end of the spectrum, to the most basic IT needs at the other. How can an IT leader cater for a group like this? A ‘one size fits all’ corporate IT approach is unlikely to be successful. 

The answer seems to be to deliver a blended model. Build a professional, customer-focused IT function at the centre then use ‘bespoke’ solutions at the customer interface. 

These pressures have seen a new type of technology leader enter the sector, often from industry. These IT directors must focus on the outcomes of technology not the inputs. They must engage credibly with stakeholders, whatever their appetite for technology, and must be able to enthuse their own teams to embrace a new future.

Alex Richardson is a Consultant in the IT & Digital Leadership practice, he specialises in  IT & Digital roles in the Higher Education sector.

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