EDUCAUSE, the association for information technology in higher education, has just published the results of its 2008 Current Issues Survey. The articles identify the issues that IT leaders in higher education see as their most critical challenges.

Three findings merit special mention:

  • Since 2003, the top-three issues in terms of strategic importance to the institution have been, in various rankings, administrative/ERP information systems, funding IT, and security. Funding IT was ranked number one for three straight years, 2003-2005, until 2006 when security and identity management (a single issue then) emerged as number one. In 2007, funding IT moved back into the top spot, with security as number two. This year, security is number one, administrative/ERP information systems is number two, and funding IT has dropped to number three. These issues collectively continue to be the critical touchstones for IT in higher education, said EDUCAUSE in a release. When any one of them falters, whether through major data-integrity breaches, system implementation glitches, or budget cuts, an institution's strategic health is threatened.
  • Change management appears in the top-10 list for the first time. This issue has two dimensions, one in the larger sense of fostering culture change and the other in the sense of developing a process for handling IT changes that are made on a regular basis (e.g., patches, upgrades, replacements) and that can be very disruptive if there is no change management process in place. Ultimately, change management requires planning for change: defining what the change is; understanding how it will affect existing systems; and communicating, testing, and evaluating the change, once implemented, to make sure it accomplishes the intended purpose.
  • Staffing/HR management/training emerges among issues of strategic importance for the first time since 2001. At that time, IT departments in many institutions, regardless of size, were still grappling with staffing challenges that the Y2K milestone had presented, either for modifying homegrown legacy systems to perform in a new millennium, with increasing demands for Web-based services, or for developing new skills in staff to integrate and manage newly purchased ERP systems. In 2008 there is a renewed awareness among CIOs of the challenges of recruiting, remunerating and retaining a skilled IT staff. Whether hiring people with specialties in such emerging areas as security, identity management, and instructional design/technology or cultivating those skills inexisting staff, CIOs face a daunting test to provide a workforce that can meet their institutions' IT needs in the midst of constrained institutional budgets and increasing competition for experienced professionals.

The 2008 survey gathered responses from 32 percent (589) of the 1,845 primary representatives of EDUCAUSE member institutions, representing public and private, and associate- through doctorate-granting institutions of all sizes. The primary representative is typically the CIO at the member institution.