Provision Alone ≠ Value

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. 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).
  7. 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?

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Social Media Analytics

A conversation I had last week with the CEO of a social media start-up, along with an article from the February 4, 2011 issue of the Chronicle for Higher Education titled, “Can New Online Rankings Really Measure Colleges’ Brand Strength? Unlikely, Experts Say” by Kathryn Masterson has me thinking about social media analytics.  The article poses some interesting questions that colleges and universities are beginning to ask:

  • “Colleges and marketers are just starting to try to understand how to measure the success of their social-media efforts, says Mr. [Michael] Stoner.  Many are counting “touches” – the number of Twitter followers, the hits to a web site, the number of friends or comments on a Facebook page.  The more difficult question, he says, is what do these measurements mean?  Do tweets, blog posts, and Facebook “likes” translate into someone choosing your college, recommending it to a friend, attending an alumni event, or making a donation?”
  • “Are more people now seeing that the university is creating the next generation of leaders, that Stanford faculty are experts in their field, and that the university is making a difference in solving world problems?  Do alumni feel connected to the community?”

The few university and college integrated social media communications plans I’ve seen make little or no mention of using analytics, or even a shared dashboard technology platform, both of which could be used in an attempt to help answer portions of these questions. 

However, rankings of college and university online influence are beginning to be publicized.  This might change the scope of social media strategies going forward along with how information and technology are used by institutions that seek to improve rankings.  Klout’s Twitter analysis report on most influential colleges on Twitter and Global Language Monitor’s “TrendTopper MediaBuzz” college rankings were each mentioned in Kathryn Masterson’s Chronicle of Higher Education article.  Both attempt to provide relative indicators of brand equity and online influence based on rankings of higher education institutions using different criteria derived from social media sources.

There are other tools  available to measure online influence as well, some of which are nicely outlined at onefortyHootSuite is one example of a social media dashboard that has grown in popularity and is likely to be found in use at many campuses.  SAS Social Media Analytics is a somewhat different offering that appears to be more geared toward enterprise-wide applications and seems to go beyond monitoring of activity.  But there is little evidence that any of these offerings are being applied as an enterprise-wide platform within higher education institutions for the coordinated use of social media across (or often even within) academic programs, constituent relations, student services, public announcements, etc.  The sprawling use of social media continues without much overall strategy beyond enacting policies for appropriate use, awareness campaigns and “how to” type of training. 

Has any higher education institution made it a priority to implement an enterprise-wide platform to provide integrated views of aggregated information that identify who was reached through a given use of social media, the context within which groups or individuals were engaged through such use, and what sort of response the outreach may have triggered?