Our Increasingly Valuable (and Expensive) Campus IT Professionals

How much of their time and energy should campus IT leaders devote to their people?

March 15, 2017

The best higher ed technology leaders love technology. They are curious, passionate, and enthusiastic about the potential of technology to drive change.  

Technology, however, is the easy part of a job in higher ed technology leadership. The hard part is people.

The fact that campus technology units are actually just groups of people is a fact so obvious it is easy to overlook. Something like 80 percent of the costs of running an academic IT unit are in people costs.  

As operational technology functions have moved from services that the IT department provides, to services that the IT unit consumes, the importance of the local IT experts (the people) has only increased.  

It seems like only yesterday when the majority of the campus IT staff were largely invisible to the rest of campus, working behind the scenes to keep the servers and their local applications running. Today, many campus applications - such as e-mail and the LMS - are consumed as services from the cloud. Tomorrow, they all will be.

The campus IT professional is now likely to be a collaborator, an educator, and a partner with faculty on the core education and research missions of the university.  

Creating the cultural conditions for the productive, effective, and creative work of campus IT professionals is more important than ever. The people who work in campus IT are the most valuable (and most expensive) part of the campus IT equation.  

Leaders who understand and serve the needs of the campus IT professionals are effective campus leaders.

Asking IT leaders to focus on the people who work in higher ed IT is a tough ask.  There are just so many competing demands. If it is true that the best higher ed IT leaders spend at least half their time on the people in their unit - in mentoring and listening and recruiting and retaining - than that only leaves half the time to do everything else.  

Saying that it is important to spend lots of time walking around and listening to your IT staff does not reduce the amount of time required to walk around and have conversations with faculty, students, alumni, and other campus leaders.  There are only so many hours in a day, meaning that the days of campus IT leaders are getting longer.  

What should campus IT leaders be doing to model and create a culture for effective faculty / IT collaboration?

How can campus IT leaders create the conditions that enable the development of relationships and an alignment of values and mission between faculty and the people who work in technology?

Do you buy my argument that campus IT leaders should be spending half their time thinking about, talking with, and listening to their staff?

How can an effective IT leader possibly keep up with all the latest technology development, spend enough time with faculty and their colleagues in campus leadership, while also finding the time and energy to devote to their IT team?


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