IT: Gatekeepers or Visionaries?

by Kristen Abell

Yesterday during the #satech chat, the topic came up of the role of IT folks in implementing new technologies on campuses. One of the things that continues to be a struggle for many of us is the fact that we are woefully behind in the IT world – not just behind other campuses, but behind the business world at large. Some of this is lack of money, some of this is lack of training, and some of this is a comfort with what we’re already doing.

But some of this – and this is where the chat went slightly rogue – is due to our IT departments. While those on the chat seemed to be more of the do first, ask forgiveness later type, they were also open to admitting that plenty of IT folks work more as gatekeepers – trying to prevent anyone from delving too far into a new technology before they’d had a chance to fully investigate it and ensure it’s relevance and appropriateness for the university.

I admit, I can see both sides – it’s nice to be able to support folks who know what they’re doing, but to prevent folks from getting too far into something if they don’t. It’s also necessary to protect the university’s servers, not to mention their reputation and liability. But with the changing pace of technology now, and the increased call for everyone in higher ed to have some tech competency, does that also change the role of the IT professional?

How do you work with IT at your university? Do you have gatekeepers or visionaries? What do you think the role of IT should be on a college campus?

Special thanks to those on the #satech chat yesterday for inspiring this post!

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  • http://joesabado.com Joe Sabado

    Kristen – thanks for the post and the recognition of a dilemma IT folks face everyday. My position as a director of a central student affairs IT  consists of daily compromises, pulling, pushing when it comes to which technologies to adopt, when, and why. There are mandates to be met, legacy apps to maintain, networks to secure and customer needs we need to accommodate.Oh yeah, planning for the future as well:)

    Below are a some posts I’ve written on this topic:

    http://joesabado.com/2010/11/new-job-title-social-media-lifeguard/
    http://joesabado.com/2011/06/it-challenge-providing-end-user-needsprotecting-enterprise/
    http://joesabado.com/2012/05/recognizing-some-cost-of-innovation/

    As far as the changing roles of IT, it’s a necessity for IT orgs to adapt to the new realities of consumer technologies (cloud, social media, mobile), economic constraints, and changing demands of our customers.

    http://joesabado.com/2012/03/failure-to-change/
    http://joesabado.com/2011/11/maintaining-the-core-mission-keeping-up-with-trends/
    http://joesabado.com/2011/07/trends-in-student-affairs-technology-implications-to-it/

    • http://kristendomblogs.com Kristen Abell

      Thanks for commenting and sharing your posts, Joe. I think this is going to be an ongoing conversation, and it’s vital that both sides are brought to the table. I do think there’s going to need to be an increased training and educator role for our IT pros, as technologies continue to develop at a rapid pace, and it’s hard for the average higher ed pro to keep up. Looking forward to reading some more of your thoughts on this!

  • http://twitter.com/AC_AndyCampbell Andy Campbell

    Great conversation starter here Kristen! I’ve worked in IT for years myself – and also been on the other side relying on IT departments. Both in and out of Student Affairs. It gives me a unique perspective.  The role of IT is changing, very fast, right now.  IT has too often been the “Department of No” and I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past.  And I think many of us, myself also included, stopped being visionary long ago and got stuck in resource wars – trying to accumulate staff, funding, equipment, etc. without pushing new barriers.

    Social media, mobile technologies and cloud-based (software as a service platforms) have ripped a hole into those plans for IT professionals. Less is more and cost is minimal with those three – and they are available to non-IT, often without IT needed, easy to integrate and use.  This flies in the face of the resource hoarding of the last 10+ years by IT Pro’s. A less-is-more approach to these social/mobile/cloud services means a funding cut can be justified. But what about older tech like email and file shares on servers – what about staff for tech repair and existing equipment lifecycles? Herein lies the conundrum – and this is why IT largely resisted social/mobile/cloud.  But this change is coming like it or not in IT.  Instead of “Department of No” IT Pro’s need to embrace new technology and integrate it into existing models/systems.  Be a resource.  Learn the new tech fast & first and deliver new ideas to staff as a partner.  In short, its time to be visionary again.

    • http://kristendomblogs.com Kristen Abell

      Andy – thanks for your comment – you were one of the folks that motivated this post :-). 

      I agree that IT needs to be a partner in this, but I think part of that partnership needs to be in training, in teaching folks WHY there might be possible issues or concerns with the fast adoption of software or technologies. The more training that IT does on this, I would imagine the fewer issues they’re going to have on the back-end. 

      But I think it needs to be a 2-way street – those of us in student affairs need to be asking our IT folks the questions in the first place. I know many of us have been burned before by asking, but there is generally a rhyme and reason to the “no’s” from IT, and I think it benefits us to better understand that before we leap without looking. 

      Thanks again for your comments!

      • http://twitter.com/AC_AndyCampbell Andy Campbell

         Thanks Kristen!  I’ve been reading into this topic a lot lately and it has helped reshape some of my own delivery as an IT provider and communication as an IT partner. You said it great – the partnership is key.