Decentralizing IT Support – A Sustainable Model for Higher Ed?

Decentralizing IT Support– A Sustainable Model for Higher EdOn today’s college campuses, it’s not only at track and field events that batons are being passed.

In various administrative offices, handoffs of a different kind are also occurring – and with rising frequency. There, it’s central IT handing the baton of line of business (LOB) system administration and support to department-specific IT staff or directly to functional area business leaders. For most schools, faced with reduced funding for IT, this trend toward decentralized LOB application support isn’t merely a preference. It’s a necessity. But, is this model sustainable?

At the recent EDUCAUSE Enterprise and Information Technology Conference in Chicago, panelists and roundtable participants repeatedly remarked upon the current stage in the evolution of IT roles and responsibilities. As many noted, schools are finding newer, more agile ways to deploy, maintain and grow their core enterprise applications. One obvious sign of this evolution is the rapidly accelerating adoption of software and services offered in the cloud. Another is this increasingly distributed approach to supporting critical business applications and systems.

But what’s most interesting to me is that this evolution is making higher ed IT staff and management look at their solutions in a different light. Specifically, they’re learning that decentralization can only be sustained when the post-handoff effect is one where maintaining, tweaking or scaling the system is a matter of configuration, not of massive customization or of heavy duty programming. By enabling shared ownership, this ease-of-administration fosters an infectious enthusiasm for collaboration – critical for the widespread adoption and long-term health of an enterprise platform.

This reminder ties into the overarching theme of the conference: the potential for those involved in IT to provide even more business value to the institution. Wouldn’t it be great if your school’s software application specialists – whether those folks are in central IT or out in the departments – could spend less time on basic support? What if they could instead morph into hybrid roles?

Imagine it becoming commonplace for these folks to be primarily consulted, not as IT support personnel, but rather as business analysts, collaboration strategists, risk managers and efficiency gurus. Their contributions would be less about merely keeping the systems running, and more about leveraging those systems by adapting and expanding them to address high-level strategic needs and business drivers.

Getting there – particularly as the baton of application support responsibility continues to be passed – requires ease of system administration. With configurable (i.e., not heavily customized or scripted) enterprise systems in place, your institution has a much better chance of ensuring that, for all involved at both ends of the exchange, the action of handing off also means “freeing up.”


Tom von Gunden

Tom von Gunden directs Hyland’s market research, strategy and advisory initiatives in higher education. Tom holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and spent more than a dozen years... read more about: Tom von Gunden

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