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Education and technology: Are you making the right investments?

November 28, 2017 Article 4 min read
An IT assessment takes a deep dive into your people, processes, and technology and can positively impact teaching, learning, and research. Here's why you should have one and how to find the right partner.

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Stop us when this sounds familiar:

  • You’ve received funding for new technology and need to know how best to support it going forward.
  • New leadership has requested a comprehensive overview of technology assets, capabilities, and needs.
  • Stakeholders have concerns about reliability, such as periodic system outages and lost data, or worries about ransomware attacks that frequently target educational organizations.
  • Your IT operations have proven less resilient than anticipated after a natural disaster or other catastrophic event.
  • Your IT spend doesn't seem to justify current performance levels.

These challenges are common. Districts, universities, and colleges need to evaluate the extent to which current systems are meeting their needs and protecting data, how future IT investments will be funded, and whether IT support levels are adequate to meet demands. It’s time to take a deep dive into people, processes, and technology to articulate future goals, priorities, and investments with the administrative structures and real-world tactics that will move your institution forward. The best way to do that? An IT assessment.

Create a roadmap and answer critical questions

An IT assessment — typically sponsored by finance or cabinet, with the involvement of the IT department — helps you answer a range of key questions, such as:

  • Are our student and financial data secure?
  • Is my IT keeping pace with the changes in technology — from operational, instructional, and research perspectives?
  • What’s the state of our IT environment compared with peer organizations? Are we leading, on par, or lagging?
  • Is our IT support sized and allocated appropriately for the types of services being delivered today?
  • Are we, as a district or institution, making the right types of investments in IT to securely and efficiently meet stakeholder needs?
  • How and where should we be investing our IT dollars if limited operational funding is our only source of funds?
  • Are we following best practices from a cybersecurity and IT infrastructure management perspective?
  • In the event of a major system outage (manmade or natural disaster, cybersecurity incident, etc.), how quickly would we be up and running again?

An IT assessment allows you to take a deep dive into the three pillars of your IT environment: people, processes, and technology. It looks at governance, decision-making, budgeting, and staffing (people). It looks at service delivery and support, application deployment, security tools and policies, and business continuity and disaster recovery plans (processes).

An IT assessment provides an actionable roadmap that enables new synergies and efficiencies, improved return on technology investments, and optimal functioning.

And, it looks at the technology itself — your infrastructure and data center, your cloud strategy, your cybersecurity posture, your hardware and software life cycle planning, in addition to other areas. The goal is to establish a baseline, identify possible gaps, and give you a clear path forward to align the IT environment with the objectives and expectations of stakeholders. Done right, it provides an actionable roadmap that enables new synergies and efficiencies, improved return on technology investments, and optimal functioning so that IT supports your mission.

Your IT must support connectivity for a range of devices used for multiple purposes, which might vary from hour to hour, if not minute to minute.

Identify the right partner

When seeking the best partner to perform an IT assessment for your district or institution, look for these three key differentiators:

  • Combined expertise - The service provider you select should bring strong and combined expertise. You'll want a team conducting your assessment that possesses a rare blend of technology bench strength, deep education operational knowledge, and cybersecurity know-how.
  • Experience - Seek a partner with a breadth of experience that spans a range of industries in addition to education. This is an important differentiator to keep in mind as you make your selection. Why not benefit from exposure to technology and cybersecurity best practices in other high-risk industries, including healthcare, government, and banking and finance?
  • Independent - Look for a partner who is vendor-independent. Systems integrators and other vendors may offer IT assessments, but their recommendations may be limited to technology solutions within their own product and service portfolios. As a result, those solutions may not necessarily be the best fit for your needs and goals.
  • Once you select your IT assessment partner, the assessment itself typically takes between two and four months. Expect that your internal resources will need to spend some time and effort along the way, but the investment should be minimal. For all its impactful benefits, an IT assessment won't hog resources or disrupt your daily operations.

Map the way forward

Once completed, assessment findings are shared with leadership — often, cabinet or a subset of executive leadership. You'll receive an in-depth report, including the detailed roadmap and a clear, prioritized course of action.

Because your assessment is customized to your particular needs and concerns, the findings are directly and immediately relevant. For example, based on the recommendations from an IT assessment, one educational client was able to implement a more agile technology support structure. The new support structure enabled additional capabilities and freed up resources to focus more on innovation and enhanced service delivery to better support the organization's instructional processes.

Given the rapid pace of change in technology development and the dynamism of educational organizations, an IT assessment should become a routine part of strategic and operational planning. It's hardly a "once and done" activity; we recommend organizations conduct assessments every three to five years.

Regular IT assessments offer school districts the opportunity to take a step back, examine people, processes, and technology , and ask a wide range of important questions. No educational organization is too large or too small. After all, who wouldn't benefit from the peace of mind knowing that your technology investments are fully aligned with your goals?

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