3 proven ways to improve higher-ed collaboration

Working across higher-ed departments is not easy but it can strengthen the institution’s ability to get things done. Here's how

Collaboration across departments has been identified as the fundamental differentiator in achieving strategic objectives in not only the business community but also in higher education. Today’s challenging higher-ed environment can benefit from more collaboration, particularly between IT, business, and finance leaders.

The EDUCAUSE/NACUBO 2017 Enterprise IT Summit identified four main areas that can markedly enhance collaboration:

  • development of institutional relationships and partnerships
  • improvement of analytics and data governance initiatives
  • a forward -thinking leadership team to align unit goals with university goals
  • cultivation of a better understanding of IT costs and strategic value

eCampus News highlighted one example that showcased the fruits of collaboration at Emory & Henry College in Emory, Virginia, where IT, finance, and housing collaborated to transform the campus into one of the most digitally connected campuses of its size. Business Officer magazine wrote about a private university where close collaboration between the vice president for advancement and chief business officer during a capital campaign allowed the vice president to tie his asks to strategic initiatives. By working together, they devised a feasible multi-year capital and operating budget that furthers the work of both divisions.

Collaboration across departments in a university setting is no easy task. But, it is ultimately the mechanism that can strengthen the institution’s ability to get things done.

How to collaborate for better financial decision-making

Today, more companies are embracing cross-functional collaboration. While businesses have one main profit goal, higher ed is a complex environment in which the difficulties of collaboration are exacerbated by the complexity of various departmental goals. But improved communication internally will help campuses become more nimble and responsive to necessary changes—from declining budgets to new technologies and changing demographics. The best focus will be on understanding and measuring accountability—and constant evaluation.

So, how can university leaders collaborate more efficiently to improve outcomes and advance their strategic plans? Here are three high-level actions administrators can implement:

1. Improve technical and financial training

As technology drives much of the university experience today, business leaders in higher ed will benefit from becoming more knowledgeable about technology. Sit with the chief information officer and IT staff to understand what’s working and what’s not. This will foster a transparent feedback mechanism and knowledge sharing about software, cloud services, servers, etc.

Additionally, IT staff need to better understand the university mission, P&L, and balance sheets. As part of a cross-functional collaboration team, IT should meet regularly with business leaders on the importance of financial and operational efficiencies.

To truly make cross-collaboration work, incentives should be aligned across the organization for a better understanding of total cost of ownership. Do we need a dedicated full-time employee on digital signage? Can we create work/study programs to cut costs and increase learning opportunities for students? It’s not about eliminating jobs but refocusing them to mission-critical activities.

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