Digitally Speaking

Chris Gabriel
May 17, 2019

Why Higher Education CIOs have to manage exceptional expectations through adaptable investments.

Imagine being an IT Leader working for a firm that replaced 25% of its workforce every year with new employees who were paying you to come to work and who were of a demographic that demanded the very best in technology services, then being surveyed constantly with the results published to the world about how well you met their expectations.  Not a job you would imagine a queue around the corner for.

Of course, that isn’t the description most Universities publish when looking for a CIO, but, that is the challenge of expectation that comes with this unique role in IT.

It is difficult to think of a more demanding role.

Now factor in that you are helping run a large complex campus that serves tens of thousands of students, hundreds of academics, research environments and in many cases private sector business users doing cutting edge research projects.  An environment that comprises tens if not hundreds of buildings.  A transport hub.  Retailers.  A place of learning, life and entertainment.  Where people expect to be kept safe and secure.  Sounds exciting. Tempted?

Well, what if you had to do all of that for the price of a latte per user per day?

CV in the post is it?

Getting more from less – theory v reality

In an age of growing transparency, Universities are ever more encouraged and regulated to publish a breakdown of how the £9600 per year student fee is spent.  How much on teaching, buildings, admin, research, and, of course IT.  The Office for Students, the sectors new financial regulator, and others, including the Minster of State, are creating a reporting environment that is giving students ever more detailed access to how their fees are spent, linked to the concept of value for money.

In a report published in November 2018 by the Higher Education Policy Institute[1], and one that garnered many negative headlines in national news media[2], this independent policy think tank published analysis of several leading institutions spending habits of their students hard found fees.

Any prospective CIO would likely look at the reality of their budget prospects and run a mile.

Investments in IT services varied across the report, but spending ranged from a low of £520 and averaged at around £580 per share of student annual fees.  Now in percentage terms that’s 5% at the lowest spend with some institutions investing up to 9% in technology services. Sounds generous.

But, if you break that down by the number of days a student spends on campus you have the grand total of around £2.36 per day, per student, to run IT services.  We aren’t even in large latte territory.  CIOs are delivering IT services for the price of a flat white.

When you break the numbers down, the reality of running one of the world’s toughest IT gigs on a budget that expects you to deliver not just world-class services but exceptional experiences that differentiate your institution against your competitors is daunting to say the least.

The CIO wishlist

So, is it any wonder why this year’s UCISA* conference was a hot bed of discussion on topics such as automation, adaptable digital platforms, data driven decision making and the priority of demonstrating that IT investments can benefit every aspect of campus life such as student safety and security?

CIOs came with an appetite to discuss and drive change in how what they and their team do can better impact a range of outcomes; so, what was on their hot list of topics?

  • Automation of major IT platforms to reduce the cost of operations, shifting resources to experiential roles rather than traditional IT service admin.
  • IT platform investments adapting to longer term requirements; using the latest in software defined automation and innovations such API platform development to better integrate investments.
  • Building better strategic platform roadmaps so investments shift from being depreciating assets to ones that demonstrate increasing value over time.
  • Platforms such as the digital network becoming multifunction investments; not just supporting students and their devices, but playing a role in the connected campus, IoT and student safety.
  • Data as a key decision-making tool for the CIO and the right data being made available to all stakeholders across their institution; but not in backward looking reports, for real-time decision making.
  • Governance and control of resources is now key; the rush to the cloud for desktops has been followed by major application workloads, but the CIO is now looking to put controls and governance in place to ensure the cloud doesn’t become a cost or a risk.

Lessons to be learnt

The key to this major feat of investment sleight of hand must be adaptability.  No longer can a network, or data centre, security investment or data source become an asset that stays stagnant to only perform the job it was initially designed for.  Nothing can be left to depreciate – because the network bought this year is serving a new cohort of students next year.  And it is expected to support IoT campus security in three years.  A data centre platform this year must extend to the cloud next year as applications and data can be shifted to the most cost-effective location.

IT operations cannot stand still either; automation that is impacting every industry must be embraced in full to prove that human resources are being used as the truly valuable resources they are in delivering high-value experiences, and software and automation takes the strain of repetition.

And of course, at UCISA whilst the CIO was looking for ‘technology life hacks’ to show that the money they are being trusted with delivers increasing value, they are also looking for partners who are able to shift their focus to more value-driven relationships.

They don’t want partners who just look at how much budget there is to spend on a major tech re-fresh, but a partner who demonstrates that an in investment can deliver accentuated value over time.

The world of the CIO in Higher Education must be one of the most exciting roles in the industry; and by partnering in a different way we can shift the focus on how much money is being spent on IT services – stop the headlines castigating institutions for investing in anything but teaching – and show that the CIO and their partners are focused on turning the money we are entrusted with is continually delivering differentiated experiences for every University stakeholder.

If we can do all of that for the price of a flat white, then the drinks are definitely on us.

 

 

* UCISA is the member-led professional body for digital practitioners within education.

[1] https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2018/11/22/new-report-calls-universities-tell-students-fees-go-new-figures-reveal-half-fee-income-goes-teaching-rest-also-benefits-students/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/nov/22/less-than-half of-tuition-fees-spent-on-teaching-at-english-universities

Category: SDN / Mobility

Richard Simmons
June 20, 2017

I have a confession to make, I love to read. Not just an occasional book on holiday or a few minutes on the brief, or often the not so brief, train journey into and out of London but all the time. Right now has never been a better time for those with a love of reading! The rise of digital media means that not only can you consume it pretty much anywhere at any time but more importantly it is making it easier for more people to share their ideas and experience.

Recently I came across a book called “Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations” by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman., which I not only found fascinating to read but has also helped to shape and change the way I view many of the challenges we are facing both in business but also in our personal lives. The premise of the book is that often he would arrange to meet people for breakfast early in the morning, to do interviews or research stories but occasionally these people would be delayed. These moments, rather than being a source of frustration, became time he actually looked forward to as it allowed him to simply sit and think. And looking at the world, he believed we are living through an age of acceleration due to constant technology evolution, globalisation and climate change. He argues that these combined are the cause for much of the challenges we currently face.

The key point about this acceleration is that it is now reaching a level in which society and people are struggling to adapt. Within the technology world we talk about disruption a lot, a new business or technology arrives that can disrupt a sector or market, the competition struggles to adapt and eventually a status quo is resumed. For example Uber has undoubtedly caused a huge disruption in the world of transport, and governments are currently working through how they can better legislate for this new way of operating. The challenge will be that new legislation can take 5-10 years to agree and implement in which time Uber may well have been replaced by autonomous cars.

So what we are experiencing now is not just disruption but a sense of dislocation, the feeling that no matter how fast we try and change it is never enough. In this environment it will be the people, businesses and societies that are able to learn and adapt the fastest which will be most successful . For business we are constantly shown how being more agile in this digital world can drive efficiency, generate new business models and allow us to succeed but I feel often what is lacking is the guidance on how to get there. We have a wealth of different technology which can support a business but what is right for me? What should I invest in first? And how do I make sure that I maximise the value of that investment?

My experience with many of our customers is that they understand the challenges and also the opportunity, but simply do not have the time to think and plan. When they do have time the amount of choice can be overwhelming and actually daunting. In a small way this is the same challenge I face when looking for new books to read, I can go online but with so much to choose from how will I know what I will enjoy? The opportunity that digital media provides with more authors and contents can actually make finding and choosing something that you think is valuable much harder.

In Logicalis, we understand the business challenges that you face and discuss with you the different technology options that could support you, recommending those that can deliver the biggest value in the shortest time frame. Contact us to find out how we can help you keep up to speed with emerging technology and use it to your benefit.

Scott Reynolds
December 5, 2016

In the third of a nine-part series drawing on the Logicalis Global CIO study, Scott Reynolds explains why apps are central to digital transformation.

The statement ‘Every company is a software company’ has been on repeat over the last few years. When it was first uttered it was more of a future-gazing, stake-in-the-ground pronouncement – and its application to today’s world is probably still a bit premature. Not every business is a software business, yet – but our global CIO survey suggests that we’re getting there, with the help of a few shining lights along the way.

In 2013, Forbes noted that Ford sells computers-on-wheels and FedEx boasts a developer skunkworks (a loosely structured group of people who research and develop a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation.) Both are great examples of the happy union between traditional industries and technology industries – and, today, they are not as isolated as you might think. Over 700 CIOs now tell us that 77% of firms are similarly developing apps, either in-house, with the help of third parties or drawing on a combination of internal and external skills.

In fact, not only is the volume of companies getting up close and personal with application development starting to swell, but app development as a strategic activity is also attracting more attention. Rather than being relegated to the fringes, application development is increasingly taking to the centre ground. Today, less than a quarter of apps (23%) are purely promotional. The majority are being used to build new services and revenue (57%) or streamline business processes (63%).

Developing for digital

We tend to associate apps with the Apple app store or the Android marketplace but they’re so much more than website spin-offs for mobile users. Enterprise-grade applications are replacing ‘big tech’. With the goal of putting automation at their core and providing friction less self-service experiences, companies are bringing workloads up to the application level.

In the past, we’ve emphasised the benefits of instituting a Dev-Ops strategy to develop code with fewer defects and support challenges once they’re released into production. My message to the 64% of businesses developing apps in-house would be to take a digital performance readiness approach and embrace agile from the beginning. Allowing updates to be made quickly and regularly, for constant refinement will create ‘killer apps’ with a punch to disrupt for the better.

Apps = Smart software

As the research attests, all sorts of companies are creating their own luck and doing some sort of app wizardry to get ahead.

Book publishers in the business of printing books are transforming themselves into software companies to offer digital content and branded applications. Airline companies are building equipment-tracking apps to provide engineers with a live view of the locations of each piece of airline maintenance equipment and pharmaceutical companies are creating medication temperature monitoring apps, which use sensors to ensure the best possible delivery of medical supplies.

Overall, apps are making firms a lot smarter. Their ability to gather tremendous amounts of data from sensors and other sources, using machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics makes them the brains behind a company’s transformation and the driving force behind our respondents’ digital transformation journey. Channelling James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist, “it’s the apps, stupid”.

Category: SDN / Mobility

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