IT In Higher Ed: We’re Ahead of the Game in One Way

Stephanie Overby’s excellent September 9 article in Infoworld entitiled How to Handle Rogue IT is written with an eye to the corporate IT. She talks about the difficulty of a diverse technical environment with more and more participants bringing in their own devices and popping on to the enterprise network. She looks at a “new” situation with “rogue” departments buying equipment of their own choosing and setting it up outside the view of the main IT department.  Heck, that sounds like normal in my world.

Ask anyone in a higher education IT department if this sort of decentralized IT environment is a concern, and they’ll look at you like you’re from another dimension. Decentralization and “rogue” setups are the norm in higher education.  It’s as core to the university setting as academic freedom, papers, and faculty with strong opinions. It’s natural. I would argue that such an environment is the soul of the Internet. Diversity is good in IT just as it is in the human groups. The Internet’s birth, in fact, was all about joining together diverse networks from universities and military centers.

So, while IT shops from shiny Fortune 500 corporations may be scrambling to get their hands (and minds) around this new world, higher ed types know it. We’re ahead of the Fortune 500! Let’s just take a moment to bask in this rare situation.

<a moment. ahhhh.>

The article mentions some strategies for IT shops working with diverse IT environments. My favorite quote: “The New IT Mantra: Yes, We Can”

Her point with this newly needed can-do attitude of IT is that if the main IT department won’t meet the customers’ wishes, then the customers are just going to work around the IT department and do it themselves. And doing it themselves may or not be okay for them,  but it will surely not be implemented with an eye to the enterprise. Ane the IT department is sidelined and later, when the system is old or stops working, IT will be called in to fix it at that point anyway.

So, IT should say “Yes” to helping with small groups and individual projects. I’m happy to report that we’re onto this already as well: The small IT department at Colorado Law, where I work, has had an internal motto for the past 5 years: “CU Law IT, we never say ‘no.’”  This attitude was born from a strong customer service orientation and actually got the IT department a little 1-page spread in the Greentree Gazette a few years ago. (The Greentree Gazette was a magazine on the business of Higher Education, now sadly defunct.)  The large enterprise University of Colorado IT Department, OIT, under the leadership of Larry Levine, now also seems to be saying, “Yes” as much as it can, sometimes I think to the chagrin of the folks inside the department who are more used to the traditional approach of long lead times, careful steps, and detailed implementation plans. In a world where the orientation is “Yes, we can,” the folks in the department will feel scattered, have multiple and expanding points of responsibility.

There’s a lot more to do at Colorado Law and the larger U. of Colorado and a lot more to Overby’s article, but for me, the most important take-away was:

In working with a diverse IT landscape, IT in higher ed rocks.

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