Exploding service demands for more connections, greater speed, rapid distribution of information resources and increasing availability of new technologies are continually challenging to the information technology (IT) administrator. Also, funding is still a central issue in matching information resources with financial resources and human capital. The second annual Educause survey, (found online at www.educause.edu/issues/survey2001/) conducted in February 2001, found that administrative challenges had escalated, especially in the area of campus networks. These challenges are:
- Emerging networking technologies;
- Security management; and
- Ubiquitous computing/universal access
A number of trends can be noted which are changing the roles and responsibilities of IT personnel. These include:
Growth in Collaborative Efforts and Partnerships
Industry business and government efforts to encourage the use of technology in educational institutions have increased. Many examples exist. The Alabama State Public School System is using an internal service called Teachers-Teachers.com (http://teachers-teachers.com) to search for and recruit new teachers. School systems search a database of teachers’ resumes to review certification, degrees and teaching experiences. In Minnesota, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $5.2 million for hardware and software, which includes providing about 450 computers to 209 public libraries in the state. Additionally, the foundation will provide 11 computer-training laboratories to be located throughout the state for staff development and public use. The North Dakota Information Technology Department is implementing a statewide broadband network to connect more than 200 school districts. In order to keep the government’s e-rating funding, all participating schools and libraries are required to implement URL filtering technologies on all Internet-connected computers by Oct. 28, 2001. Colleges are forming consortiums to save money on IT services, and to provide better services to students and the entire academic community. The six colleges that comprise the colleges of the Fenway Consortium are planning to build a shared network. The need for sharing information is growing. The T.L.T. Group formed by Steve Gilbert is performing excellent services to universities by providing mechanisms, such as Web sites, listserves, workshops, meetings and conferences for sharing and collaborations.
Availability of New Technologies
Manufacturers are distributing new and improved technologies for education on a continuing basis. However, educational institutions often lack the funding and manpower to develop and implement new technologies. A number of campuses have introduced wireless technology. Tulane University has connected 80 buildings and a number of common outdoor areas across three campuses to a wireless LAN, using approximately 100 access points. Wireless technology is still considered to be slower than traditional wired LANs; although in business, 52 percent of solution providers say they support, use or service wireless technology for customers, in contrast with last year’s usage at 32 percent. It is still believed wireless LAN technology has obstacles to overcome, including security risks and performance.
Increased Interest in Outsourcing
The outsourcing marketplace is maturing, especially for application services. Flexibility, speed and cost savings are seen as primary advantages. Businesses are engaged in off-loading tedious functions to focus on "core" responsibilities and in-house competencies; especially now, since U.S. companies plan for 770,000 layoffs this year, more than triple the approximately 225,000 cuts during the same period in 2000. CFO Magazine’s October 2001 issue stated that a majority of companies already engage in some form of outsourcing. Their figures show:
- 68.3% currently use outsourcing;
- 2.0% plan to use outsourcing in one to two years; and
- 29.7% have no plans for outsourcing.
The following was listed for their rationale:
Focus on core competencies 67.3%
Save money 61.1%
Top vendor domain expertise 55.5%
Focus on strategic growth 37.4%
Maintain/reduce head count 34.6%
Redirect capital budget 22.7%
Reduce assets on books 7.6%
What was being outsourced is also interesting:
Travel services 46.3%
Employee benefits 43.9%
Tax advice/processing 37.6%
Insurance administration 37.1%
Cash management 16.6%
Internal audit 16.1%
Human resources 14.1%
Sources: CFO Magazine and AMR Research
Educational institutions seem to be following the same trends.
It is also becoming more difficult to attract and keep qualified personnel. Because of this, educational institutions have initiated a number of incentives. These include work-at-home privileges, free tuition or financial assistance for key personnel, encouraging attendance at professional meetings and involving staff in decision-making.
Understanding the need for redundancy and back-up plans have been accelerated, especially since the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Evaluation of security systems and preservation of data have become critical. Allocation of budget resources for more complete documentation is increasing. Contingency plans are more frequently discussed with employees and tested on a regular basis. Electronic Commerce World’s October 2001 issue (Page 18) lists the following steps to assure security plans are in order:
- Dust off the disaster recovery plan - activate a disaster recovery drill.
- Revisit off-site storage - be sure it can be integrated into present operations effectively.
- Distribute operations and data - be assured two of everything exists and that traffic can really be rerouted.
- Re-evaluate business relationships with vendors - determine what assistance from providers will be forthcoming.
Resources for technology use to better serve the needs of the educational community, industry and society are increasing. Technology has been incorporated into the overall administration of most schools and colleges, providing more efficient data gathering and better services to students, faculty and staff. Improvements in communication systems are resulting in faster transactions and better utilization. Technologies using wireless communication; networked multimedia systems; as well as data, voice and video delivery modes are beginning to make an impact on traditional educational installations. However, consistent on-going funding and support are essential. Strong leadership stating well-defined goals and responsibilities is still basic. People hold the key in making all of this work.
This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.