Building a Resilient Framework for Higher Education Campus Infrastructure
Utilizing Educause Top 10 for 2024 as a Guide to Improve Operational Resilience
Higher education faces mounting pressures that test institutional resilience. Decline in enrollment coupled with rising costs necessitate critical evaluation of resource allocation and operations.
This article explores how optimizing efficiency while supporting staff is essential to overcoming current challenges. By taking a data-driven approach, fostering agility, transforming IT management, and rallying collaborative efforts, institutions can infuse resilience into all facets of the organization.
This begins with reimagining processes, technology, and culture to do more with less. But ultimately, unlocking the potential of teams and engaging stakeholders at all levels will catalyze lasting change. Leadership plays a pivotal role in sparking this institutional transformation through vision, transparency, and empowerment. Here is my summary of Educause Top 10 for 2024 and what it means to higher education institutions.
|The Enrollment Crisis: Harnessing data to empower decision-makers.
|Cybersecurity as a Core Competency: Balancing cost and risk.
|Administrative Cost Reduction: Streamlining processes, data, and technologies.
|Diving Deep into Data: Leveraging analytics for actionable insights to improve learning and student success.
|Driving to Better Decisions: Improving data quality and governance.
|Financial Keys to the Future: Using technology and data to help make tough choices.
|Meeting Students Where They Are: Providing universal access to institutional services.
|Hiring Resilience: Recruiting and retaining IT talent under adverse circumstances.
|Balancing Budgets: Taking control of IT cost and vendor management.
|Adapting to the Future: Cultivating institutional agility.
Double Click on Operational Resilience
In the rest of this article, we will focus our analysis on the topic of operational resilience.
One of my observations regarding Educause’s Top 10 for 2024 is the significant amount of financial resources that universities and colleges dedicate to salaries and employee benefits.
The data in Tables 1 and 2 below reveals concerning trends in higher education resource allocation over the past 20 years. In recent years, human capital investments have grown disproportionately compared to improvements in operational efficiency.
Table 1 - https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=75
This widening gap indicates our efficiency initiatives have not kept pace with rising expenses. To foster institutional resilience moving forward, we must reassess these priorities. By optimizing operational efficiency, we can free resources to refocus on our mission: educating the next generation.
Cybersecurity as a Core Competency: Balancing cost and risk.
These are two quotes I gathered during the keynote session at the Educause conference:
“It's on the list again because cyber threats are getting worse, there are more of them and they're harder to detect and we have a lot more data and it's located all over the place. So, we need to find the sweet spot where we're focusing enough on the highest risks. But we're not investing beyond our means.”
How do we find that sweet spot at which we adequately focus on the highest risks while avoiding excessive investment?
Our primary resources consist of our people and technology. When we combine these two, we can create processes that enable us to strike the right balance between operational efficiency and financial prudence. It's crucial to consider how both people and technology will influence our processes to be resilient, efficient, agile, and appropriately secure.
As the landscape of security challenges continues to expand and become more complex, there is a natural tendency to acquire additional technology, which in turn necessitates the development of new and complex processes, often requiring more personnel. Are we reducing our security risks proportionally to our investment in people and technology?
This trajectory is counterproductive, and it is clear that we are heading in the wrong direction.
To swiftly change course, we must establish a fresh decision-making framework. This framework should be centered on removing overlapping and complex legacy networking elements that increase both security risks and day-to-day management overhead.
By taking a fresh approach, we can build dynamic, highly secure networks that also enable operational efficiency. Here is a list of items we should answer.
- Have we thoroughly explored the potential within our existing tools set to substantially reduce risk, even if these solutions may not offer absolute perfection (bearing in mind that achieving absolute perfection in the realm of security is an impossible pursuit)? Engineers often aim for perfect solutions in every scenario, but as leaders, our role is to strike a balance between perfection, cost-effectiveness, and the human effort.
- What is the impact of new tools on the workload of our employees? As we introduce and integrate new tools into our operational framework, it is imperative to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the effect of these tools on our operational workflows, established processes, and workload. While the motivation for adopting new tools often stems from their potential to mitigate specific risks, we must broaden our assessment to encompass holistic operational consequences. It must include reviewing our current tool set in order to eliminate redundant tools.
- Is it acceptable in some instances to aim for a performance rating of "B” or “C", rather than always aiming for a perfect "A"? Take, for instance, an operating system equipped with a robust security stack that delivers worthy results in averting security risks and vulnerabilities. In this scenario, is it wise to invest in a tool that is marginally better, while placing a heavier burden on the IT team in terms of workload?
- Where must we get an “A”? A few years ago, during a discussion with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of a prominent institution, the CFO posed a thought-provoking question: “Is there a specific domain within the realm of security where striving for an absolute "A" grade is a must?” Regrettably, I was unable to identify such a domain or provide a compelling justification for its existence.
- What is the impact on our cyber insurance? Rising insurance costs underscore the importance of minimizing cyber risk exposure through proactive security. Robust preventative measures represent the most strategic opportunity to reduce our risk. First, we should invest in shoring up vulnerabilities, tightening access, securing endpoints, and enhancing monitoring - the foundations for a resilient cyber posture. With robust security infrastructure we significantly lower risk, while likely limiting significant increases to cyber security premiums. In evaluating new security expenditures, we should weigh direct risk reduction over insurance cost avoidance. The most prudent investments will pay dividends through avoided incidents long-term.
- How to enhance our security while reducing operational complexity? Do we need to reassess our enterprise architecture, firewall policies, and other components to find opportunities to streamline operations while enhancing protection? Here are a few areas to explore:
- Reducing complex and redundant network segments.
- Consolidating firewalls and policies to minimize complexity.
- Leveraging automation, Software Defined Networking (SDN), and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) to implement security via flexible software.
- Centrally orchestrating policies across endpoints instead of setting rules locally
- Exploring AI-driven network analytics for context-aware security and operations.
- Moving to zero-trust models for identity-based security without network dependence.
Driving to Better Decisions: Improving data quality and governance.
Declining enrollment poses a serious financial risk, potentially impacting our ability and capacity to operate campus facilities. To strengthen institutional resilience, we must optimize usage of resources.
Enhanced data visibility would empower our community to align resources and assets with needs. A system indicating building occupancy and network usage could inform decisions regarding building occupancy consolidation. Students and faculty could help shape an agile, sustainable infrastructure via this democratic dataset.
Additionally, underutilized spaces present new revenue opportunities through external partnerships. But first, we must modernize the value proposition through strategic upgrades. A robust, secure network and IT infrastructure would transform spaces into tech-ready collaboration hubs. This would attract partners from both public and private spheres, while providing the potential for new funding stream.
By pursuing both optimization and monetization pathways, we can inject resilience into operations. The key is transparent data coupled with strategic investments to repurpose and reinvent campus assets. This dual approach allows us to lower costs while increasing community input and financial sustainability.
Hiring Resilience: Recruiting and retaining IT talent under adverse circumstances.
Some data from Educause Core Data Services (CDS) for 2021-2022 states that “Personnel costs are the largest expense for university IT. This is likely because IT staff are highly skilled and in high demand.” The table below captures the breakdown of these expenses.
|Hardware and software
|Maintenance and support
The ‘Great Resignation’ spotlights a pivotal moment for IT management. To attract and retain top talent, we must transform day-to-day work into engaging growth opportunities. Automating repetitive tasks opens the door to more strategic projects that maximize staff potential.
Teams crave challenges in which they can demonstrate their expertise and add value. Let’s prove that their skills are vital for institutional success by providing stretch assignments that empower people to drive innovation and positive change and making professional development a priority by investing in skills, training, and coaching.
Our IT professionals are eager to help with transforming our organizations, but they need support. By optimizing their daily experience at work, we can empower them to drive meaningful change and modernize the employee experience. To attract and retain top talent, we need to:
- Automate repetitive tasks to allow more strategic, rewarding work.
- Commit to work/life balance through flexible policies that minimize after-hours requests.
- Support professional growth with training and opportunities to learn in-demand skills.
- Foster an inspiring culture focused on innovation and making a difference.
- Encourage autonomy and trust teams to work in ways that fit their lives.
- Provide competitive compensation.
- Provide a supportive and collaborative workplace.
In a culture that values their contributions, our people can transform our organizations while advancing their careers. Let’s collaborate to build IT departments in which IT professionals love to work and can reach their full potential.
Adapting to the Future: Cultivating institutional agility.
“Institutional agility involves identifying different future scenarios and creating adaptive and flexible processes, governance structures and work technology.”
Declining enrollment presents an urgent call to align expenses with actual revenue. To build organizational resilience, we must collaborate to optimize operations from the ground up.
First, we must engage stakeholders campus-wide to identify cost-saving and revenue opportunities, tap local insights to find waste and inefficiencies at the department level, and crowdsource ideas to reimagine everything from facilities usage to vendor contracts. Transparency and inclusion will drive innovation.
Next, we will leverage technology and data to inform dynamic contingency planning, track enrollment trends in real-time to project budgets, and use analytics to model cost-cutting scenarios and find flexibility.
With current plans in hand, we can implement incremental changes with agility, renegotiate vendor contracts to link pricing to enrollment metrics. We should explore consolidating building usage quarter-by-quarter and phase in utility optimization and maintenance deferments as needed.
The key is institution-wide participation coupled with data-driven contingency plans we can execute on demand. By spreading the responsibility across campus, we distribute both the work and the wins. The turbulence ahead will test our resilience. But by joining forces and finding opportunity in adversity, we can become an organization prepared for any tomorrow.
The time to adapt is now.
Let’s create a new initiative which will thoroughly review processes, drive technology advancement, and maximize resources. With targeted improvements in operations, we can build the resilient foundation needed to create operational excellence.
Here are Nile, we are looking forward to working with IT leaders across higher education institutions to help them prioritize and drive forward initiatives based on Educause Top 10 for 2024.
Higher education must cultivate resilience in the face of mounting financial pressures and declining enrollment. Optimizing efficiency through data-driven resource allocation, consolidation, and automation is crucial. An agile mindset and culture focused on community, transparency, and innovation ultimately drive meaningful change.
Reimagining workflows, technology systems, and management approaches can unlock efficiency, engage talent, and empower teams with the tools and trust to transform organizations.
By taking a proactive, collaborative approach, institutions can build the adaptive capacities needed to deliver quality, affordable education under any circumstance. This requires rallying stakeholders at all levels and embracing change as an opportunity to shape a stronger, more responsive organization prepared for the future.
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