A Chronicle commenter writes:
disqus1994 • 5 days ago
I have been at several different universities in my career. At each one, tens of millions were invested in technology (thinks like ERPs, BI, etc.). But it’s wasn’t sold to the campuses as that. Rather, it was sold as “business process re-engineering” or “communications overhaul.” Hundreds of people were hired, 100K consultants brought in. But what have been the results?
- I’m still communicating the same way I have since the 90’s: phone, email, and in person.
- I still make decisions the same way I always have: getting data from spreadsheets, writing a report, and sitting down at a table and talking about it with my team. I pull data off our info. system, but the only difference is that instead of off a mainframe it’s off a browser – did that really cost tens of millions to change? It’s certainly not faster and it’s debatable whether it’s better.
- Technology has not improved business process. In fact, it’s almost always got in the way. Besides, nearly everyone I know designs and implements business process and strategy in their own area – why did we pay someone millions to re-engineer something we do anyway?
- Ultimately, technology has not improved our core missions: Research, teaching, and service. The people on the front lines have improved it, not the tech consultants brought on (I once had an IT person, or rather business process expert, tell me he was going to improve our grant writing process and program strategic plan – Really? An IT guy? I don’t tell my ISP how to do their job, so why would I look to a tech company or person to tell me how to do mine?)
Sure, some things have improved. The internet seems faster, and Microsoft office applications seem better. I can now get my phone messages on email. It seems like students can do more online, which I suppose makes it more convenient for them (no more standing in line to register). But convenience is not our core mission – learning is. Besides, I got faster internet at home, installed Microsoft, and got better phone service at home, and did this all on my own. And year after year, all I hear from the IT department is that they need more money, more people, and more time, and because administration buys into the promises, they give it to them. (I don’t know why they keep asking. Budget increases for higher ed IT have vastly outpaced every other area in higher ed). Unless I can be convinced otherwise, I’m beginning to think all of this is scam to enrich technology companies – I just can’t think of another reasonable explanation.
It is too easy to simply dismiss the role and impact of technology in higher education. As the commenter notes, our business is learning and all of the interventions mentioned here – and others – should aim at that core mission. So it is important to determine if learning has in fact improved as a result of these improvements. A few points are in order along these lines:
- The poster might be communicating the same way he did in the 90s, but he is not communicating the same way he did in the 80s. In addition, social networks are just now beginning to be felt at the staff level and provide the opportunity for some changes in the way that higher Ed staff communicate with each other.
- The reference to ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning software) is odd since such systems are the info-tech foundation of all educational institutions. Having said that, the main point here is that such purchases are sometimes ill-advised and do not add value to an enterprise. This is certainly true, and many institutions make such purchases without fixing inefficiencies in the business processes themselves.
- The point about decision-making seems convincing and helpful to me. Leaders and managers should make IT purchases with an eye to whether they will assist decision-making. This again is about management efficiency and business process optimization.
- Sometimes IT staff can show us fresh ways to eliminate busy work, thus allowing us more time to do reflective or conceptual work. So I find the point about the grant writing process to be weak: it is often people who know nothing about the substance of the work that we do who can show us a better process for doing it. We should not be surprised by this given that research itself often works the same way.
- I wouldn’t call the relationship a scam, but there is room for legitimate criticism when consultants are chosen without a robust evaluation process and without a sober analysis of the business processes themselves.
- Much of the above could be addressed if accreditors paid more attention to the external relations of the institutions they regulate. Self-studies should be required to include assessments of all consulting contracts with an eye toward their relationship to the academic mission of the institution.