Want to Make the Grade with Your Higher Ed CIO? Address These 5 Challenges

Posted by on May 22, 2019

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The learning environment of higher education has changed dramatically from just 20 or 30 years ago. Textbooks and notepads have been replaced by laptops and Google Docs. Faculty and their students are no longer bound to traditional lecture halls, and online learning is changing the dynamics of both educational delivery and enrollment as a whole.

1 in 3 students take at least one online course.1

But while technology has more than arrived on campus, in many ways it’s only the beginning.

Higher education still lags behind other market sectors in digital initiatives. According to Gartner’s 2019 CIO Agenda: A Higher Education Perspective, only 17 percent of higher education chief information officers (CIOs) report that “digital initiatives” are a top priority for their organization.

Yet almost half (49 percent) of the CIOs surveyed say business models are changing at their institutions as a result of market trends that are driving increased digitalization. At the same time, powerful predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are becoming more compelling to higher education institutions as they seek to better assess student performance, deliver more personalized learning systems, and expand and diversify curriculums.

Higher ed has some ground to make up, and digital demands will only continue to increase. This means your CIO is facing new and bigger challenges, including building a foundation that’s both secure and flexible enough to support digitalization. But while they may seem daunting, these same challenges can opportunities for higher ed IT teams. Especially if you understand what your CIO is up against and how you can help.

5 Imperatives for the CIO in Higher Education

Digitalization, or the lack thereof, is fueling competition among higher education institutions. Yet, as CIOs race to keep up, many must do so on tight IT budgets (52 percent) and simultaneously navigate a culture that’s resistant to change according to Gartner.

Understanding your CIO’s top priorities can position your IT team to help solve them. Your ability to support critical initiatives and be prepared with informed recommendations will help transform your institution from “tech-curious” to fully digitalized. Here are five imperatives for today’s higher ed CIO.

1. Elevate the importance of digital demands

The urgency for more digitalization will only increase, but higher education is already behind. To create digital momentum, your CIO has to understand the IT needs of each department and build stronger relationships with them.

Meanwhile, cultural change and buy-in from across your institution are needed to raise the importance of IT. Much of this is predicated on communicating the value of digital initiatives to stakeholders and decision-makers. Your CIO must make a solid business case to leadership that stresses the importance of digitalization, and the role IT plays. This is the first step toward cultural change and ultimately receiving more support and investment.

2. Support business model change

Nearly half (49 percent) of the institutions Gartner surveyed have changed or are in the process of changing business models. Whether that looks like reaching broader audiences, offering more online courses, or transitioning to competency-based education, higher ed is feeling the pressure of consumer demands, competitive forces, and cost reductions.

Your CIO’s ability to unearth and understand the goals and objectives of each department within your institution can drive digitally-powered business model changes. This presents an opportunity for your CIO to proactively build the IT capabilities to support these changes and, in doing so, demonstrate IT’s importance to your institution’s success.

3. Improve customer engagement while maintaining security

Whether students, administrators, faculty, staff, parents or alumni, your customers have needs and expectations around their IT experience. To meet these demands, your CIO has to explore tools and technologies that increase engagement and improve the service experience.

But while 68 percent of higher ed CIOs prioritize engagement, Gartner found that only 35 percent are actually measuring the impact of digital investments on experience. Furthermore, experience can’t come at the cost of security. Your CIO needs to strike the right balance to both ensure user satisfaction, while also protecting your institution's sensitive resources and data and complying with privacy regulations.

4. Embrace a product-centric approach

Your CIO has the opportunity to facilitate a shift from the traditional project and service-based approach to IT to a more product-centric culture. By focusing on the product side, your CIO can deliver faster turnaround of new and higher-quality features—and at a lower cost—as well as enable better engagement between IT, the business, and each customer segment.

More than half of the CIOs Gartner surveyed are investing in DevOps, IT culture change, and new architectures and tools to bring a product focus to their teams. This presents greater opportunities for IT to demonstrate value and better positions your institution as a whole to ideate and innovate in response to business issues and consumer demands.

5. Adopt business-enabling technology

Keeping pace with digital change means your CIO has to assess the impact of technology. The growing drive to personalize interactions—especially at the student level—is spurring the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), like messaging bots and virtual agents. In fact, there’s been a 270 percent increase in AI adoption in higher education since 2015.

But to take advantage of these business-enabling technologies, you need to have the right IT platform. In fact, all of your CIO’s top concerns have a direct tie-in to your IT service management (ITSM) delivery. If you’re fighting against a legacy platform that’s rigid and inflexible, you’ll be hamstrung in your ability to support digitalization and respond to your institution’s strategic priorities.

Conversely, when you’re supported by a flexible, low-code ITSM solution, you can:

  • Easily develop and quickly implement in-house solutions—without the need for developers
  • Automate and optimize ITIL processes, freeing up time to focus on strategic initiatives
  • Offer value beyond traditional ITSM and support other departments’ objectives

How ITSM Can Earn You an A+ with Your CIO

Higher education may trail other industries in digital transformation today. But your IT team has an opportunity to narrow the gap and advance your institution’s digital maturity.

When you can centralize, streamline, and manage disparate IT customers, tasks, and initiatives, you’re in an ideal position to demonstrate IT’s value to the broader institution. A flexible, low-code ITSM solution can help you support your CIO by providing critical capabilities, like:

Self-Service Model

Digitally empowering departments and improving customer experience across your institution starts with a self-service model. When you can enable your users to easily request common services, find answers to problems, and track the status of requests, you’ll see gains in customer satisfaction and overall productivity.

Virtual Agents

AI is trending in higher education. The use of chatbot technology capitalizes on the greater efficiency and personalization that goes hand-in-hand with AI and digital modernization. An ITSM solution that enables virtual agents can help you automate service delivery and provide a personalized experience to your users. You’ll also reduce IT operating overhead, enabling your CIO to make more cost-effective decisions with existing budgets.

Workflow Automation

The ability to streamline and automate ITSM processes and tasks without complex coding or special programming skills is critical to a smoother and faster digital transition. An ITSM platform that supports one-step workflow automation can help you deliver more consistent outcomes and increase efficiency. And as your CIO ushers in a more product-centric approach to solving issues throughout your institution, your ability to automate common workflows will free up resources to focus on these critical initiatives.

Service Catalog

A service catalog provides transparency to your customers, giving them visibility into and a clear understanding of your full offering of services. You’re able to establish boundaries and set expectations with your users while providing your IT team with clear guidelines on what steps they need to complete to quickly and accurately fulfill service requests. This becomes increasingly important as new business units take on more and larger digital initiatives. By providing a single source of truth, a service catalog can support you in scaling IT operations quickly to meet new digital demands. And by streamlining your IT service delivery, a service catalog can increase efficiency and reduce cost.

Graduate to Full Digital Transformation with ITSM

As your CIO navigates the challenges of digitalization, you have an opportunity to play a vital role. A flexible, low-code ITSM solution can help you address many of your CIO’s imperatives while positioning your institution to be more competitive. When you’re supported by the functionality and flexibility of an ITSM platform that’s ideal for colleges and universities, you can:

  • Increase productivity and efficiency
  • Support business model change and drive innovation
  • Deliver a convenient and secure user experience
  • Increase agility and deliver new products at a quicker pace
  • Consolidate disparate data and systems on a centralized platform
  • Extend ITSM to other areas of the business

1 Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2017; and Financial Statistics and Academic Libraries, Fiscal Year 2017, U.S. Dept of Education, January 2019. Accessed from:

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