by Brendan McGowan

Higher ed CIOs list their top tech priorities

Mar 10, 20156 mins
Business IntelligenceCIOCMO

College and university technology leaders get high marks for C-suite relations (particularly with the CMO), succession planning and cloud-based activities.

higher education
Credit: Thinkstock

They may face different dynamics in terms of applications, user base and technology demands, but IT leaders in the education sector share the same technology goals and objectives as their business brethren.

Most of the higher education IT leaders taking part in a CIO Executive Council (CEC) survey [the CEC is owned by IDG Communications, which also owns] snapshot (92 percent) reported a strong commitment to business intelligence and analytics applications, with up to 25 on-staff developers in some cases supporting activities. Ninety percent of respondents report having created BI applications for recruitment and admissions; 80 percent for student retention; and 60 percent for both progression and graduation, respectively. Some of the most prevalent BI tools include Blackboard Analytics, Cognos, and Tableau.

Education IT leaders also make a strong effort to collaborate with their C-Suite peers, especially the CMOs. Most respondents report a positive ‘tightly coupled’ relationship with the marketing chief and accountability to business colleagues. “We have a very collaborative relationship with our marketing dept. and partner on projects as needed,” noted one participant in the survey. Another pointed out that “we work very closely with our external relations and marketing folks.”

Only one respondent in the quick survey admitted that IT-CMO relations and interaction with the business side was ‘challenging’.

The CEC’s Higher Education Technology Benchmark Survey – 2014 included responses from 14 colleges and universities across the U.S. and was designed to capture sentiment exclusively among the Council’s higher education technology leaders. As such, it is not intended as a “state of the state” of the entire higher education technology field. Rather, it is purely a data snapshot of CEC members and their technology focus areas. Twelve of the respondents were CIOs of the entire campus, while one was the CIO of a constituent school and three others a vice president or vice chancellor.

Survey Respondents overwhelmingly came from public institutions (64 percent) and were wholly non-profit. Fifty percent were from doctorate-granting universities, with the remainder split between master’s colleges and universities (29 percent); baccalaureate colleges (7 percent); associates colleges (7 percent) and unclassified (7 percent) institutions. The number of enrolled students at each institution varied widely, although 43 percent of respondents registered between 10,001 and 20,000 students. The number of dedicated IT employees at each college or university also varied, although nearly half (42 percent) did report having between 50 and 200 employees in the department.

Some key findings from the survey (by category):

Operational and Technology Strategy

  • Roughly a third of respondents (35 percent) reported having more than 10 developers on staff, and 50 percent reported having between three and five developers supporting custom Web implementations, applications, and customer-facing solutions. Most (43 percent) reported an average vacancy rate of between three and five percent;
  • Two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents indicated that they have a succession planning strategy, and roughly the same percentage (71 percent) reported having a formal IT governance strategy;
  • Exactly half of respondents reported having an “about right” amount of custom work, with 42 percent reporting they were doing more than they wanted;
  • Eighty-three percent of respondents operate under a high availability standard, and two-thirds (67 percent) reported that IT provides SLAs for its services.
  • The top financial systems used by respondents include PeopleSoft (36 percent); Banner (36 percent) and Ellucian (18 percent). Student system vendors are split between Banner (70 percent) and PeopleSoft (30 percent). The most prevalent pureplay CRM systems for fundraising was Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge. The top CRM vendor for student recruitment was Hobsons.
  • When it comes to performance measurements, 78 percent embrace internal KPIs and ITIL, respectively; and 56 percent use dashboards.

Technology Budgets

  • Six out of 10 (58 percent) reported a technology budget of $5.1M-15M, while 42 percent reported a budget of $30M or more;
  • While the vast majority of these budgets were allocated between central, academic and administrative IT, respondents provided a range of answers (ranging from 0 percent to 15 percent) for the percentage of technology budget allocated to shadow or departmental IT;
  • Only one-third (33 percent) expected their IT budget to go up on 2015. When asked which percentage of IT budget was allocated to capital expenditure/CAPEX (as opposed to operational expenditure/OPEX) the most common response (45) was between ten and fifteen percent;
  • Forty-five percent of respondents reported a technology cost per student of $0 to $1,000. The most common response for the percentage of total percentage of total percentage of IT budget (58 percent) was between zero and four percent.

Data Centers

  • The vast majority (58 percent) of respondents reported having two data centers, while 50 percent had an on premise strategy, and 50 percent reported a hybrid model;
  • None of the respondents reported using an external service provider for data center managed services, and 100 percent reported buying their own hardware in the data center environment;
  • Nine out of ten (92 percent) support and maintain their hardware (updates, maintenance) in the data center environment.

Cloud and Cloud Services

  • Two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents embraced hybrid cloud, but the number of self-report hosted cloud applications varied significantly, from five to 75;
  • Most respondents reports having between 20-40 applications;
  • About half the respondents spent less than $1M on the cloud in the past year, while one-third (33 percent) spend between $1.1M and $2M;
  • A full 80 percent of respondents use Microsoft Office 365.

Other topics of interest that were pinpointed in the survey include:

Help Desk

More than half (56 percent) of respondents have from one to ten help desk staff, and almost all respondents embrace a traditional on-site help desk ticketing model with multiple inputs (phone, Web, and chat). Customer satisfaction measurements are primarily gauged through surveys, with each ticket in some cases.


Ninety-two percent of respondents have a university mobile application, such as a directory or eCommerce application. Most (55 percent) bought a mobile application platform, with 36 percent developing in-house. No respondents reported requiring students to buy either a tablet or laptop.


Two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents indicated that they have a succession planning strategy, and roughly the same percentage (71 percent) reported having a formal IT governance strategy.

E-Learning and Collaboration Platforms

Eighty-four percent of respondents offer classes on an e-learning platform, with the most common vendors being Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and Canvas by Instructure.

Popular collaboration platforms include Blackboard Collaborate (60 percent); Google+ Hangouts (50 percent); Microsoft Lync (40 percent); and Yammer (40 percent).


University email is split between Gmail (50 percent) and Microsoft Exchange Server (42 percent) – with only 8 percent opting for IBM Notes.