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Information Technology Planning

Author: Michael Hites, Chief Information Officer, Southern Methodist University, SCUP–50 Conference Co-Chair

IT is critical to learning, teaching, and research in colleges and universities. It underpins every higher education business and operational process. It is also often disruptive. IT changes—rapidly, persistently, dramatically. Each change promises more power and more capabilities … in exchange for more resources.

How can colleges and universities make sure IT delivers on these promises without exhausting resources? With IT planning.

What is it?

IT planning guides the use of resources for IT systems and services used throughout the higher education institution.

IT planning has three components: IT governance, IT leadership development, and IT strategic planning. IT governance defines the processes, components, structures, and participants for making decisions regarding the use of IT. IT leadership development defines who will lead and drive IT strategies to a successful conclusion. It also prepares and develops the current and next generation of IT leaders across the institution (not just in the IT department).

Some IT strategic plans are departmental plans focused on IT as a unit. But since IT is embedded in different departments of the institution, and IT is central to the operating success of the institution, it is best if there is a single IT strategic plan for the entire college or university. This institution-wide plan documents the highest-level goals, objectives, and (if necessary) specific initiatives to achieve the goals.

IT plans have thematic goals followed by objectives and tactics. Some of the areas addressed:

  • Research support
  • Security
  • Usability/accessibility
  • Data warehousing
  • Classroom technology
  • Administrative process improvement

Why do it?

There are three typical goals of an IT plan:

  1. Align the IT projects and services to the college’s or university’s strategic plan
  2. Foster institution-wide participation in IT improvements to support teaching, learning, administration, and outreach
  3. Outline the information technology objectives in a single, concise document

Who does it?

Usually the IT plan is initiated from the institution’s executives and central IT office. Someone is assigned to build the strategic plan, manage the prioritization process, start and finish projects, and ensure that the customers get what they need.

Who leads the process? Usually, the chief information officer (CIO), but it depends on size of the institution and the reporting lines for IT. Regardless of who leads the planning process, IT planning needs support and approval from the highest leadership level to:

  1. Ensure institution-wide support for the plan
  2. Allocate resources needed to implement the plan
  3. Align the plan with the academic plan, facilities plan, and any other high-level plans at the institution

Depending on the size of your institution, you may need only one committee to do the planning work, or you might need a steering committee with subcommittees focused on functions (research, administrative applications, etc.) or constituents (faculty, students, etc.). Don’t create a new committee if you don’t need to; it’s best to use the IT governance structure or IT committees you already have in place. Also consider how related but not specifically IT groups (governance, project management, etc.) need to be involved in the planning work.

Key stakeholders who need to give input to the plan:

  • Students
  • Faculty
  • All components of administration

A stakeholder analysis and the scope of your strategic plan will help you pinpoint exactly who needs to give input into the IT strategic plan.

When to do it?

Technology changes rapidly. An IT plan is for a maximum of three to five years and needs to be evaluated on an annual basis.

There are a number of events that might trigger a new IT plan, including:

  • A new institution-wide strategic plan
  • A new IT leader
  • Accreditation-related events
  • Reorganization

It is important to note that IT projects should follow other important elements of planning, for example business process improvement, records and information management, and customer relationship management. This lets the institution analyze its problems before it decides it needs to start a project. If you do not know what you are trying to improve, then buying software or initiating an IT project is not the recipe for success.

No matter the horizon for an IT plan, IT planning is a continuous process, not a point-in-time event. This requires annual reviews of the plan, periodic prioritization, and quarterly or monthly checks to ensure initiatives are aligned to the strategic plan. IT governance, with the help of portfolio or project management offices, is key to maintaining momentum.

How to do it?

Both IT strategic planning and IT governance should only be as complex as needed.

Roughly, IT strategic planning:

  • Identifies committees to lead the work
  • Sets a schedule and communicates the purpose and process
  • Seeks and uses input from stakeholders with surveys and by meeting with campus groups, like the faculty senate, student leadership, and administrative groups
  • Considers broader trends outside the institution
  • Prioritizes IT goals and outlines initiatives/projects to reach those goals
  • Aligns goals with the institution’s strategic plan
  • Identifies resources needed to complete initiatives/projects
  • Outlines a structure for implementing and reviewing the plan, creating a continual IT planning process

The maturity of your institution’s strategic planning process informs the scope of your IT strategic plan. For example, if your institution’s strategic plan is specific with statements like, “improve classroom technology for instruction and distance education,” then your IT plan becomes more operational than strategic. On the other hand, if an overall strategic plan is vague or nonexistent, your IT plan becomes more strategic.

Successful institutions continually review IT planning and IT governance so they align with the campus strategic plans and business needs. This helps ensure that project selection supports strategic plans, communication to stakeholders is efficient, decision-making is as lightweight as possible, and prioritization is done by the most informed people at the institution.

Why integrated?

Every aspect of our universities and colleges uses information technology. From automating business processes and services to supporting the scholarly activity of students and faculty, IT is a requirement in higher education. At its most basic, IT is integral to the operations of every department. When integrated across the institution and planned strategically, IT exponentially accelerates teaching, learning, and research.

If you don’t use integrated planning to synchronize the IT plan with the rest of the plans, you run the risk of diverging interests (for example, multiple standards for technology classrooms), purchase of redundant (and expensive) software, resources being diverted from faculty support, and IT services that are generally unsatisfactory to the institution.

SCUP 2019 Annual Conference

July 14-16, 2019

Washington State Convention Center
Seattle, WA

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