5.Take Small Steps
While everyone loves the idea of hitting one out of the park, tech wins are best notched up through a steady stream of singles. “Big-bang projects are a thing of the past,” said Young. “You can’t spend two years building something and then pop it out of the closet at the end. You want to attack small problems, show some success, demonstrate capability, and then continuously innovate and iterate.”
By taking small steps, organizations can also ensure that they don’t expend resources on a solution that may ultimately not pan out. “In a lot of cases, you don’t know you’re going to get it right the first time,” added Young. “Spending a huge amount of effort and time to come out with some monstrous reveal, only to realize that you’ve missed the mark, is really disappointing.”
Pilot programs are probably a good first step for avoiding this fate. Plus, they provide a controlled space in which to study the impact of new tech solutions on the campus community. “When you introduce a new piece of technology, you don’t understand the full ripple effect that’s going to happen,” said Morgan. “Obviously, if you dive in deep, you’re going to have a pretty large ripple effect and a lot more chance for big problems.”
6.Perform Due Diligence
Given the speed at which educational technology is changing, it’s unrealistic to believe that any institution can—or should—develop all its solutions in-house. In today’s environment, working with vendors is almost unavoidable. Choosing the right vendor is another question entirely, however.
“If I had to pick one mistake that colleges make when they undertake a major IT project, it’s not fully vetting vendors to figure out whether or not they are in line with them philosophically,” said Morgan. “They don’t take that extra step to understand who the vendor is, where they come from, and whether it’s someone who can be trusted with their data.”
The task of mapping vendors’ offerings to the needs of a specific campus can be a painstaking process, further complicated by the budget squeeze felt by many colleges. For his part, Green believes most institutions do a good job of kicking the tires of prospective vendors, but he urges vendors and colleges to hash out the scope of any project to the fullest extent possible. According to his 2015 Campus Computing Project survey, more than 25 percent of public universities experienced major cost overruns or unexpected costs during the deployment of a major ERP.
In Green’s view, a case that ended up in court nearly 20 years ago is emblematic of how these overruns occur: “The client said, ‘Well, the provider over-promised and was not clear about a lot of the implementation issues.’ The provider said, ‘The client kept changing the work orders and wanted a lot of customization on top of the base application.'”
Detailed conversations with vendors can go a long way toward eliminating such misunderstandings, but another invaluable resource for vetting vendors is peer institutions. Unlike corporate America where trade secrets are jealously guarded, higher education tends to be far more cooperative. “Campuses do a lot of consulting with one another,” said Green. “They’re very willing to talk with their peer institutions about their relationships with various technology providers.”
7.Avoid Excessive Customization
Too much customization of a vendor’s product can delay and even derail an IT project. Not only are the upfront costs higher, but subsequent upgrades and improvements also come with higher price tags—not to mention the compatibility headaches that often arise when customized systems need to talk with one another. In many cases, too the customization is simply not necessary.
“There is a tendency for universities to emphasize how they are different rather than how they are the same—we all want to be our own snowflake,” said Ted Dodds, CIO and vice president for information technologies at Cornell University. “But, underneath it all, a lot more is the same from university to university than really is a differentiator.”
8.Maintain Support After Launch
When a team has been working on a project for months on end, the natural inclination is to move on after it launches. Big mistake. The most critical phases still lie ahead as end users start to employ the technology in their everyday work. “You have to make sure that you set up a structure that supports the stakeholders who are going to use the solution, and maintain that support structure going forward,” said Morgan.
Initial staff training can go a long way but, like a plant, any technology initiative will wither if it’s only watered as a seedling. “You need to have periodic check-ins and a way to support people if they forget their training two semesters from now,” said Morgan.