by Laurianne McLaughlin

Giving Small Colleges Access to IT Innovation

Oct 15, 20062 mins

Almost every CIO grapples with the question of how much to outsource. John Bielec, CIO of Drexel University, helps CIOs answer that question—and in doing so, drives new revenue for the school. Drexel now serves as an IT outsourcer (for example, delivering course management software and SAP academic software) to approximately 50 colleges in the United States and United Kingdom.

The program gives small colleges (typically those with 2,000 students or fewer) access to the IT resources, processes and services of a larger university—including Drexel’s data center and access to the 2GB Internet2 research network. For four of the colleges, Drexel’s Office of Information Resources and Technology runs the whole IT show, from course registration to payroll.

“Our arrangement is flexible,” Bielec says. “The university presidents have access to me by cell phone. I’m their CIO in many ways.”

The idea emerged in the late ’90s, when Drexel took over the largest private medical school in the United States and ported its own systems to the acquired organization using an ASP model. This gave Drexel’s president, Constantine Papadakis, the idea to outsource Drexel’s IT expertise and drive new income, Bielec says.

Drexel has tapped into a growing need. Of the 3,500 U.S. colleges and universities, half have 2,000 or fewer students. These schools need to deliver an increasing variety of technologies to keep attracting students, but they can’t afford constant investment in new systems.

Meanwhile, Drexel, with more than 15,000 undergraduates, uses the outsourcing fees to keep its IT costs steady. Income from external partners has increased 400 percent since fiscal year 2003, Bielec says. The effort now funds 27 percent of Drexel’s central IT costs.