Impact on IT organizations driven by pandemic related changes

Ed Pierson, Interim VP, Texas A&M University

Ed Pierson, Interim VP, Texas A&M University

The role of IT within higher education has seen incremental change for most of the past 30 years.  As faculty transitioned from chalk boards and overhead projectors to PowerPoint and laptops, IT served a supporting role. That role changed as campuses began to look at active learning, explore distance and remote education, and respond to student requests for more learning options and alignment with preferred learning modes.

In March 2020, higher education, like most organizations, began to experience 15 years of change in 15 months. Having to move from an on-premise, in-room experience to a fully remote experience, caused a huge change in the role IT now plays—an integrated role versus merely being another tool.

Historically, IT has been defined by the greatest IT movie ever made: “Groundhog Day.”We fixed the same problems over and over each day, dealt with the same customers day after day, and waited for funding to make transformational progress that never showed up.

The changes of the past two years give IT organizations an opportunity to drive true change into our universities. This change is aligned with the opportunity represented by a tipping point in the technology industry: the capability of cloud services by AWS, Microsoft and Google, and the migration of many applications from on-premise to cloud, has given IT a tool to drive huge change in the higher education environment.

The pandemic allowed IT to prove that services and support could be provided remotely in a centralized manner and that it was time for a shift in the use of technology in both classrooms and research labs. The rate of change is also accelerating the shift in networking from wired to wireless. The coming changes implemented through 5G and 6Gwill impact networking and security and provide innovative opportunities in research. Virtual desktops and increasing nation-state espionage and cyber-attacks are driving rapid changes in our cybersecurity programs. Change is everywhere, and it’s happening fast.

“The capability of cloud operations from AWS, Microsoft and Google and the migration of many applications from on-premise to cloud, has given IT a tool to drive huge change into the higher education environment.”

All that change also has impacted both the structure and focus of higher ed IT. Organizations must radically enhance their focus on customer service and expedite the ability to implement new technology. To some degree, the IT groups have been dependent on providing in-person support to overcome a lack of consolidated tools and coordinated efforts. The new demands of campus members in cloud, networking, and distance education have forced us to change our approach to service-oriented support and be more proactive in how we deliver technology.  As more decentralized universities reconsider how to deliver IT services in today’s ever-changing environment, the benefits of centralization and consolidation become more apparent.

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