With financial uncertainties spreading across institutions, IT teams are challenged to reduce costs while also expanding capabilities

New demands, new challenges: Modernizing IT to drive long-term financial efficiency

With financial uncertainties spreading across institutions, IT teams are challenged to reduce costs while also expanding capabilities

The uncertain fall is fast approaching, and higher-education institutions are readying themselves for what’s ahead: remote instruction. While health and safety precautions are at the forefront of leaders’ minds, this shift also brings an increased need for digital services, IT infrastructure, and training to support virtual learning.

At the same time, the pandemic is triggering budget cuts and furloughs within institutions across the country – financial repercussions that may reshape higher education for decades.

Related content: Higher-ed is digitized–now, let’s modernize it

Almost three-quarters of higher-education institutions are preparing for cuts in the institutional IT budget for the upcoming academic year; and many are cutting five to 30 percent of their IT budgets. Boston University, for example, plans to lay off or furlough about 250 employees as part of its plan to close a $96 million budget gap.

This places great pressure on IT departments to reduce costs and at the same time, prepare to deliver expanded digital services.

Every institution has a responsibility to recoup as many dollars as possible to offset budget shortfalls and anticipated temporary workforce reductions – and meet new needs. Short-term, cost-cutting efforts are easy, but longer-term cost optimization planning via collaboration across teams is more difficult.

Against this backdrop, IT teams can pursue potential cost savings as well as long-term efficiency by eliminating outdated technology and processes, gaining better visibility into the institution’s resources, and centralizing operations and security.

Understand and simplify the IT environment

Too often, an institution will purchase a new product to solve each new problem. The approach results in redundancy, waste, and a complex environment, often with silos of data stuck in applications that do not communicate with one another. Leaders end up with incomplete visibility into the overall environment, which leads to more overspending.

IT teams need the ability to understand if and how the institution is using the technology tools it already owns. Next, the team must consolidate similar tools and eliminate tools the institution no longer needs – saving on license, upgrades, maintenance, and support costs.

Additionally, as institutions grapple with increased demands and leaner teams, the focus must be on service automation and optimization. This might mean creating digital workflows that streamline and simplify routine tasks, freeing up time for IT teams to focus on priority projects. For example, offering the capability to easily restart, repair, or re-install tools without operator assistance. As digital services are put in place using a common platform, leaders gain an understanding of the trends and ability to identify new opportunities to improve workflows and reduce costs.

Consolidate and centralize operations

Many educational systems will consolidate and restructure to try to increase efficiency. For example, if a state university system has 13 campuses, there are usually 13 IT departments, each with its own Human Resources Information System. There are also likely 13 different email systems, hundreds of collaboration tools – and very likely – software and hardware procured by a department other than IT that no one knows about. There is a significant opportunity for cost savings by improving visibility into technology tools and infrastructure and eliminating unused or redundant tools across campuses.

The University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross recently announced a proposed restructuring strategic plan that would streamline duplicate degree programs at all state-run campuses before fall 2021 and centralize IT, human resources, and business functions to create a system-wide online education model.

Strengthen security

Remote learning and remote instruction bring increased cyber risk: more endpoints, more potential points of failure. In a traditional, decentralized environment, leaders typically have limited visibility of their endpoints, as well as data overload from a daunting amount of security alerts. It’s critical to stay ahead of cyber adversaries – a single decision made on yesterday’s data could elevate the security risk to the institution. Operations and security teams need a platform to break down the data and information silos and help ensure both teams are using consistent and accurate data for risk management.

Leaders need the ability to quickly identify and address the most pressing threats. Often, IT teams rely on a measurement of risk – or a vulnerability risk score – that is not based on real time data. Risk scores are living, breathing things, and must be based on real-time data to protect the institution’s environment and overall vulnerability. Lack of visibility into the network makes risk assessments more difficult for IT teams and creates unknown vulnerabilities.

By taking a holistic, platform approach to technology risk management, security teams can not only reduce risk and improve security, but they can reduce the number of point products, reallocate budget and scare resources, and justify future budget requests for critical security activities – all while providing a more comprehensive view of the security landscape that enables more strategic business decisions.

Getting from here to there

As institutions rethink and reallocate to ensure long-term financial stability, leaders should look to unified endpoint management to help gain the visibility needed to drive IT cost efficiencies, consolidate operations and IT security, and improve business value. Institutions need accurate data in real-time, so they can make the best decisions and cause the fewest disruptions to future learning processes.

Successful IT and security strategies start with the basics: visibility and control across your environment. But getting the basics right is not easy, and IT and financial decision makers need a modern environment to help save time and money while reducing disruption.

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