Education CIO Planning: What To Do Now and Later

The coronavirus pandemic has universities and other institutes of learning back on their heels.

Colleges and universities aren’t alone – the entire business world is reeling from this sudden change that is both quick and profound. So if you’re an administrator, what are you focused on during this time?

In a sense, you can separate many of the seasoned CIO’s concerns into two or more categories – you can construct a timeline and look at what needs to be done now, to address the specific situation we’re facing today, and what can be done in the future, to make an institution more hardened against a wide range of emergencies and contingency scenarios.

Within this guide, we’re also going to look at three critical core components of planning – people, processes, and tools. Refining approaches to each of these three ideas will help a school move forward with confidence.


What To Do Now

Administrators and other stakeholders are putting their heads together to try to address short-term planning right away.

When it comes to people, there are going to be certain short-term training processes that are critically important. This may be particularly true for older employees who have always struggled with the nuts and bolts of modern technologies, from Internet browsers to shared drives.


Engage With Your Key Team Members and Community

Many administrators also mention the role of faculty in these key ‘people’ considerations. Faculty are the core of the institution, but they are also somewhat independent of centralized control. They’re used to designing their syllabus and course components their own way – and so that sets up some specific challenges for centralized planning.

One key implementation goal is to have the right point people in place for every component of your planning process. That means that in addition to having a CIO who knows his or her stuff in terms of IT, you may have specific individuals as ‘keyholders’ for different planning aspects. One easy example is compliance with any national standards or federal rules on data – for instance, if your institution handles any type of health or medical data, the HIPAA act is going to be involved in some way, shape, or form.

Why delegate? Because one person, no matter how good he or she is, is not going to provide an ideal reaction alone. Having a team that is strong and moving forward together will put a school in a better place in planning.

With that in mind, there’s a place for extended training to go over every possible contingency, but that belongs more in the long term category. Here in the short term, we’re looking at making sure that staff has access to the immediate technologies they’re using to deliver learning to students and correctly navigate other core processes, which brings us to the next component: the process component.


Reforming Your Core Processes

When looking at foundational processes in the short term, there are some things that administrators can do to develop a good rapid response. One of the key goals and objectives is what some people may call ‘mastering the learn-teach-work model’.

For better or worse, face-to-face training and education have been largely replaced by remote processes. It’s important to remember that a remote process is not necessarily inferior – it’s just different. With that in mind, if the campus can transition well to remote work, it can really support students well.

“Instructional designers and online faculty are professionals stepping up in a moment that highlights the expertise they bring, knowing that it is their time, energy and talent that can make all the difference for their students,” writes Doug Lederman at Inside Higher Ed, from the vantage point of March 18, talking about these types of agility. “If we allow these professionals to leverage their expertise, we can pull off something that is quite incredible — enabling students to continue their education such that this pandemic does not derail their future plans, in the same way, it’s limiting their present.”

For example, understanding the curriculum and how it is digitally delivered can help faculty and administrators sort through opportunities. Are the files searchable? Are directives clear and easy to see? If so, students may be able to really engage with remote content in a more powerful way, and the school may come out looking pretty good when it comes to teaching remotely.

Then there are the short-term budget concerns that can help craft a path forward. There are some opportunities for reworking processes.

Think about the specter of downtime that plagues the IT technician at normal times. When a campus is being used 24 hours a day, all semester, by on-site students, it’s extremely hard to do routine maintenance. Now is the perfect time to do some of this maintenance and upgrade work… while the campus is empty.

By structuring processes in ways that complement our limitations, we move the ball forward, not only in efficiency, but in budget health and enhancing CAPEX and OPEX implementation. Campuses are more than ever dependent on IT – that creates specific challenges and create specific opportunities.

This leads us to the tools that will help planners to manage our coronavirus transitions.


Improving Your Tool Kit

One of the best examples of this principle can be described as the “Zoom problem.”

In the immediate wake of coronavirus closures, schools and businesses and many other kinds of institutional users jumped on the Zoom platform, sending ZM stock soaring. That was all great until news of Zoom-bombing and security vulnerabilities arose, and people started to wonder if Zoom was really the end-all-be-all platform for distance learning and other processes.

One thing that many people overlooked was that institutions were discarding platforms they already had in place, in order to jump to something new, or they were doing videoconferencing in a piecemeal way, which raises all kinds of licensing and logistics concerns (and obvious inefficiencies).

So the fundamental rule here is to unify videoconferencing. That means if you already have Mircosoft Teams or Slack in place, make that your dedicated method and consolidate it, instead of letting things drift. Don’t allow individual user initiatives to fragment your videoconferencing platform into different walled gardens and environments that will require a lot of wrangling later.

There are many other issues like this that administrators consult on by talking proactively to vendors and asking for the support and assistance that they need. Vendors can provide key transparency, help to troubleshoot systems, and even speak on what’s best and most efficient for the school, and all of that planning goes directly into your pocket when it comes to short-term tools assessment and optimization. Of course, it’s important not to let the vendor set the agenda, but when institutional clients keep their ears open, they often learn useful things.


What To Plan For

Now let’s talk about a bit down the road, maybe 12 weeks or so out, when many of the short-term plans are in place.

Here, administrators have a bit more room to breeze. They can think about long-term contingency planning and how to optimize the current environment to meet future needs.

For example, enrollment may increase. Specifically, the remote learning paradigm might facilitate quick enrollment gains. The school may be able to ramp up enrollment, correct cut collect a lot more tuition, and really thrive in the brave new world that comes after 2020. That said, administrators would be remiss not to plan for the opposite as well, for the possibility (more likely for many schools) that enrollment will dwindle.

“By summer, officials largely have a concrete picture of their enrollments, and thus their budgets, after calculating the number of pledged students who they believe will back out before the academic year begins,” writes Jeremy Bauer-Wolf at Education Dive, of the usual admissions process pre-COVID. “The coronavirus has upended virtually every one of these admissions standards. As it took hold in the U.S over the past month, splendorous events were scrapped. Campus tours went virtual. Though the May 1 commitment date was already diminishing in relevance for admissions officers, many institutions formally abandoned it in favor of a June 1 deadline (and beyond)…”


Long-Term Planning for People-Centric Development

When looking at the people component of long-term planning, advanced training is the goal. Planners will be moving from that quick boot camp that they instituted post-coronavirus to more advanced and detailed training that will ensure that every staff user is up to date on every part of the university’s architecture. With time in more abundance, these training modules can be delivered in many different ways, according to what works for individual faculty or staff.


Look at Processes Long-Term

In terms of processes, administrators can also work to refine agile response to future emergencies with an incremental approach. There should be a disaster recovery budget in place, and planners can look for savings opportunities. They can continue talking to vendors. They can work the advanced training into operational scenario planning for students, faculty, safety personnel, and IT teams.


Long-Term Tool Assessment

In terms of tools, administrators can start to evaluate what worked in the short term, and how to work all of that into a much more detailed budget.

Here’s another point where savings can become apparent – for instance, instead of laying off a large number of people, the school may find in relatively short order that growth necessitates more staff, maybe in a different department, and retaining existing employees gives both people and schools a lot more hope for the future.


Re-Thinking Facilities

To these three long-term categories, it might be appropriate to add a fourth: facilities. If learning is being done mostly remotely, what are the pressing questions when it comes to facilities?

First, there are the missed opportunities that come from mandatory social distancing: students will not be able to use gyms or choreograph themselves on stage for the foreseeable future. Then, also, many schools have relationships with healthcare providers in their communities, and dorms, gyms, and cafeterias may now be field hospitals. If that agreement extends beyond the end of the semester, that’s going to require a whole new set of planning considerations that are much more tangible and immediate.

This is just some of the key work that’s going on in schools across the country, and across campuses that have to struggle with an enormous amount of change both now and in the months to come.


Takeaways to Build Upon

  • – Align decisions with strategic plans/mission as available
  • – Seek collaborations and shared service opportunities to deepen and extend capabilities throughout your entire organization.
  • – Leverage organizational, regional, and national buying power for cost-effective solutions that can be widely used. For example Educause and Internet 2 Resources.
  • – Consider how initiatives impact across your organization and create a process to determine what should be adjusted, as well as what needs to be integrated with like services in order to work well and meet data analytics strategies.
  • – Create a cycle of ongoing communication and transparency with annual roadmaps followed by annual reports on progress
  • – Leverage your Technology Partners, Solution Providers, more than ever. No one can do this alone.