Information, technology and related support services employed by most higher education institutions are provisioned in a variety of ways. Resources from centralized, decentralized, outsourced and self-provisioned sources are all used in combination. They also overlap and change in relative proportion over time. The diagram below illustrates one way to view these relationships:
The reality is that adopting a centralized, decentralized, outsourced and self-provisioned approach is rarely an all or nothing decision in the larger scheme of things. But perennial debates about the comparative merits of each persist as if it were. The options continue to often be framed as polarizing choices rather than optimal parts of a blended solution.
Value is not simply generated from how information, technology and related services are provisioned. That’s why the provisional context at most institutions is not comparable to a utility like electricity or water. There is far more to it than that. One perspective on this was provided by President of California State University Northridge, Jolene Koester, in the EDUCAUSEreview May/June 2011 article she authored titled “Information Technology and Tomorrow’s University: A President’s Confessions and Advice”:
“For some time in my presidential role, I was comforted by the comparison of information technology to a utility. Many of my colleagues in higher education told me that I simply needed to ensure that information technology, like electricity and water, was reliably available and functional for our faculty, staff, and students. This seemed quite possible to achieve. However, over the past several years, it has become clear to me that the role of information technology in my university is far more strategic, far more ubiquitous, far more integrated into multiple business practices, and far more integral to the core university functions of teaching and learning. I no longer regard as valid the comparison of information technology to a utility. And thus, disquiet occurs.”
President Koester’s disquieting reflections characterize the role of information, technology and related services as something that warrants “far more” consideration than an essential provision like a utility.
Ronald Yanosky expressed a similar perspective to President Koeser’s in his article titled “From Users to Choosers: Central IT and the Challenge of Consumer Choice” published in the November/December 2010 issue of EDUCAUSEreview:
“Though the utility metaphor may apply to some aspects of computing, it is a poor fit with others; computing involves processes and information regimes that cannot be reduced to the simplicity and fungibility of, say, electrical power.”
Apparently, the “Nine Core IS Capabilities” framework David F Freeny and Leslie P Willcocks developed from their research, which appeared in their “Core IS Capabilities for Exploiting Information Technology” article published in the Spring 1998 Sloan Management, still has relevance. There is an overlapping dependence on an enduring core set of core functions and collective expertise that are vitally important to the organization – particularly as patterns of provisional context evolve. An updated and modified version of the Freeny and Wilcocks framework might look something like this now, illustrating how core capabilities and competencies of the organization overlay the method of provision:
The following descriptions of the seven core capabilities shown within the provisional context above are derived in large part from the pioneering work of Freeny and Wilcocks as well:
- Consultative Support – The contribution of knowledge and expertise used to guide strategic uses of information, innovative applications of technology, development of organizational capability and evaluation of product and service providers. (This value is added within a centralized, decentralized and outsourced provisional context).
- Information Resource Management – The application of agreed upon standards and obligatory controls for; the efficient capture, creation, use, transmission, retrieval, conversion, protection, and retention of shared information. (This value is added within a centralized, decentralized and outsourced provisional context).
- System Design – The specification of an adaptive enterprise-wide technology infrastructure based on functional capability to support optimal performance as an integrated whole now and in the future. (This value is added within a centralized, decentralized and outsourced provisional context).
- Making Technology Work – The resolution of problems disowned by product and service providers and the modification of prescribed solutions that for some reason are not fully adequate. (This value is added within a centralized and decentralized provisional context).
- Supplier Management – The administration of contractual agreements to most efficiently satisfy demand, prevent cost overruns, ensure mutual compliance, and maximize the value of the relationship. (This value is added within a centralized and outsourced provisional context).
- Service Management – The assimilation of selective best practices for; improving processes, developing software, providing customized training, delivering ongoing end-user support, ensuring adequate system performance, and coordinating changes. (This value is added within a centralized and outsourced provisional context).
- Chooser Support – The promotion of compatible choices based on open standards and the personal responsibilities associated with the independent procurement and use of computational devices, software and online services that are not provisioned by the institution. (This value is added within a self-provisioned context).
The seven core capabilities and competencies add value to the provision, regardless of the source, and they continue to distinguish the management of information and technology services as something far more strategic, ubiquitous, integrated and integral than an essential utility like water or electricity.
So what should the institution stop doing given the continual shifting of provisional context and the constant need to generate value from information and technology resources? What should the institution start doing? What should the institution continue doing? What should be done differently?