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Aligning IT Management with University Priorities

University Business, May 2013

It doesn’t seem so long ago that colleges and universities were largely run as academic entities, unworried about growth and profit, and doing much of their administrative paperwork by hand or with outdated computer programs. Fast forward to 2013, and we believe the polar opposite to be true. Universities are competing for increased revenues, student enrollment, and top academic prospects more now than ever before, and in order to maintain a competitive edge they must take advantage of the latest technology. University IT staff has to be efficient and productive and be integral in supporting all aspects of student and faculty life.

Today’s colleges and universities, which include the entire ecosystem of community colleges, for-profit schools, private colleges with a local or regional focus, name-brand private schools, the so-called “public ivies” (flagship state schools) and four-year state schools, are faced with a dilemma. In order to attract top-notch students and be able to increase tuition revenue, they must concentrate more on what they do best – help students learn – and to do so, they must stay on top of the technologies that facilitate learning and help university IT departments complete projects in timely, cost-efficient ways. More than ever, schools, like any large organization, are grappling with prioritizing expenses against the value received, and IT departments are no exception.

In order to better support schools’ priorities, a number of forward-thinking colleges and universities are taking steps toward integrating IT project management solutions to streamline their IT management processes. The University of Southern Mississippi stands as an example of a school that needed to improve its IT management processes and provide a better way for students and teachers to complete administrative tasks and access in-house applications.

University of Southern Mississippi is a comprehensive doctoral and research-driven university serving more than 17,000 students on its main campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach, and at five teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Proud of its academic tradition of excellence and committed to sustaining a tradition of integrity and quality enhancement, the university’s primary priority is to emerge as the premier research university of the Gulf South.

With its vision, and internal and external needs in mind, the university’s central IT department (called iTech) began to look for a solution that would allow work to be scheduled according to project priority and available resources. This was a formidable IT governance challenge, and iTech understood it needed a solution that could enable the management of project requests, resources, budgets and applications in order to increase efficiencies and keep the school competitive. Southern Miss decided to implement a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solution to help the university meet all its goals.

The PPM solution was true to its promise. With the ability to effectively prioritize iTech’s workload and maintain a comprehensive inventory of projects, and provide visibility into all work being performed by the department, iTech quickly found that it could shift resources fluidly as project demand dictated, ensuring that projects were being initiated by priority. The efficiencies created through the software implementation let iTech design and integrate two projects that serve the student and faculty communities, while significantly reducing infrastructure maintenance costs: CampusHub, a portal for students, faculty and staff to access all its in-house applications through a single sign-on; and Eagle Apps, which provides students access to improved email, calendaring and office applications.

Another example is Ferris State University, Michigan’s fastest-growing university with 15,000 students across its main campus in Big Rapids as well as 18 other locations. The university prides itself on providing learning opportunities for everyone—from four-year students starting out of high school to non-traditional students who need the flexibility of a classroom/online program to accommodate work and life schedules. Ferris State benefited greatly from a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) implementation in 2011.

FSU’s IT department consists of 65 full-time employees, but prior to implementing a PPM system, no one employee was in charge of IT projects, nor was there a single repository for all project information. The requirement for more structure and coordination created a major opportunity for one of the FSU’s primary goals: implementing an e-learning application for the university. Even better, they discovered a means to prioritize, track and report on projects where duplication of efforts were negated and limited resources were deployed in a more optimized fashion.

It was clear that the IT department needed to deploy a PPM system, and once it selected Innotas among six possible solutions, FSU’s requirement and project request processes have improved, reducing the time it takes to gather information. The PPM solution has also helped the IT team become more productive, allowing them to and focus on project execution, by reducing multiple meetings to a single weekly gathering. With improved clarity and visibility in the deployment of both resources and project roll-outs, the IT department has experienced improved satisfaction among the many departments and customers it serves at FSU.

We’ve found that regardless of the size or level of prestige of a college or university, the IT department can be most valuable to the school when it’s given the ability to prioritize and manage projects effectively, allocate resources efficiently and devise leading-edge systems rapidly that benefit students and faculty, all while saving the school money. By allowing schools to do what they do best—facilitate learning—the academic mission can remain the top priority.

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