This week I had the opportunity to participate in an innovative workshop sponsored by Center for Digital Education and Brocade.  The sponsors invited CIOs from a variety of higher education campuses across the country of varying sizes and affiliations, as well as education and industry experts from key vendors including EMC, McAfee, Google and Microsoft.

With the design premise of “building strategies for higher education network evolution for campus networks,” the day-long workshop goal was to discuss, share and contemplate current challenges in the HED marketplace and propose solutions for overcoming those challenges and advancing campus IT to the ideal state.  The most interesting aspect of the day for me was that during all the discussions – most of which were centered primarily around core IT issues, the group always came back around re-centered on a handful of key priorities:

  1. Student achievement is the ultimate goal and driver for any IT investment
  2. Campus IT must consistently re-evaluate services and direction, outsourcing commodity or non-essential functions and investing in areas that drive the #1 priority above
  3. Standards, openness and mobility (as it relates to IT, vendors and networking) will increasingly drive their ability to be successful in the cloud era

The challenges identified are likely ones IT leaders in this industry are well aware of.  They ranged from grappling with accommodation and support of the increasing array of devices and browsers bombarding their networks to accommodating increasingly complex and demanding LMS and SIS systems and processes.  Brocade took time to provide detailed insight on networking advances and futures that help the modernization and optimization of virtual machine management and transportability while the Center for Digital Education provided some statistical insight on higher education computing trends, referencing statistics from Casey Green’s long-running Campus Computing Project and associated survey data.

When we got to the later part of the day to discuss solutions and ideals, the attendees clearly identified attributes of a future state that not only took into account the natural progression to cloud computing, but more importantly, the ideals of true education-oriented and mission critical IT: adaptive, agile, results-driven, effective delivery of relevant services to support and enhance student outcomes.  While that mission sounds great, the need to share and develop prescriptive guidance on how to evolve IT process and operations, even if strategically oriented, is still required.  If higher education IT leadership collectives like this one can capture, assimilate and share nuggets of learning as we march down the path towards that mission, we stand a good chance of helping everyone along the way.