How to Make the Case for Strategic Investment in IT
The right data story can transform IT from a cost center to a driver of institutional goals. Here’s how to make the most of benchmarking resources and formulate a narrative to help advance technology projects and lay the foundation for digital transformation in higher ed.
Budget limitations are the biggest barrier to digital transformation in higher education, according to Campus Technology’s 2022 Digital Transformation Survey. One key to overcoming that hurdle: Using data to articulate the value of IT and benchmark with peer institutions. In a Q&A session at our recent Campus Technology Leadership Summit, Educause’s Leah Lang outlined the resources available through the organization’s Core Data Service and how to put together a data-rich argument for investment in IT projects. Lang currently serves as director of corporate engagement for Educause; in her prior role as director of decision support, she set the vision and course for Educause’s suite of digital decision-support products and services that help higher ed IT leaders link their work to strategic goals. (The following has been edited for length and clarity.)
Campus Technology: Can you give an overview of what the Core Data Service is and how to get the most out of it?
Leah Lang: Fundamentally, Core Data Service is a diagnostic tool. It helps IT decision-makers get an understanding of realistic spending ranges and staffing ranges in comparison to peer institutions — and then dig a little bit deeper into the data to understand how and why peers might be spending in particular ways. In terms of getting the most out of it, I’d say take time to learn about why the data had been collected, how to use the data, how to access the benchmarks and how to speak knowledgeably about the results. This is hard to do even for busy professionals who are data savvy, and not everyone has time to do it. So we host these monthly QuickTalks, which are just open office hours. You come in, and we go around the room and ask everybody what their goal is for the meeting. And then usually we get into a little demo of the tool, but we can workshop any problem that you’re having with data or try to craft a data story together with you. We try to be hands-on in doing this work, because we know it’s challenging.
We host our data in what we call the Analytics Services Portal. If you happen to participate in our survey, which runs in the fall, you get access to benchmarking dashboards for spending and staffing and services. The first page just shows your institution’s spending in comparison to the previous year, to help you understand a little bit about your budget. When you drill into the data a little bit more, we show you the key metrics that we have created from the survey. You can filter all of our metrics based on peer groups that you can create on your own: You can pull together institutions that are just like your own, and then filter the results based on the responses from just those institutions. A metrics table highlights areas where you might be out of range in comparison to your peers. And then further into the dashboard, it shows you at a metric-by-metric level what the median metric is for that area.
For example, a very popular metric we have is central IT operating expenditures per institutional FTE. By drilling down into the tool, you can see a scatterplot of where you sit among the data for each institution in your peer group. There are different colors of data points to show institutions that were able to accurately provide data versus those that were just sort of guessing. So you can customize your experience by really getting a firm grasp on accurate estimates, or if you just need lots of data to get an idea of what you’re spending, you can include all the data points.