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Trusteeship Magazine

Planning for the Tech Future

By Cliff Thomas
Special Issue
2015

Institutions of higher education face a number of academic challenges in the coming years: rising costs, competency-based education, even-greater variance in preparation, and new demands in technology, just to name a few. Historically, technology has not been a primary concern of board members. As the new chairman of The Texas A&M University System board of regents, I am finding out firsthand how rapidly that is changing. The pressure to reduce costs, offer new modes of classroom instruction, simplify content delivery, and protect data is requiring board members to increase the amount of time given to technology issues.

How is the A&M System planning for the future technologically? How will technology influence what we do in higher education? What are we doing in this area to address current academic challenges? Considering these questions prompted us to organize our technology strategy around four objectives.

Technology must be more student-centric. In order to provide the flexibility that today’s students require, the A&M System is using technology to offer top-quality, online, hybrid, and competency-based learning options in addition to the traditional in-classroom model. We also plan to offer a larger number of degree options combined with a smaller number of class offerings, which is only possible through technology. Being student-centric also requires offering more functionality and capabilities on mobile devices. Administratively, it means standardizing our customer relationship experience, catalog, learning management, and in-classroom solutions across the A&M System, as well as investing in state-of-the-art student success and retention tools and processes. We must also hire people who are thought leaders and change agents in the area of academic technology.

Technology must be more secure. The A&M System is working to ensure that people, processes, and technology proactively and efficiently provide for the confidentiality, integrity, reliability, and availability of all A&M System information assets. We are establishing a system-wide information security governance structure that defines minimum security requirements and frameworks to be followed by system members. Improving security requires a standard approach to address cyber-threats and vulnerabilities to proactively identify and respond to malicious cyber activity. It also involves the development of a set of minimum requirements for information security technology tools to be utilized and deployed by each system member.

Technology must be shared more. The A&M System is migrating to an information technology shared services (ITSS) model. This ITSS model—whether in the guise of one member institution providing services for another, services consolidated at the system office, or a new member responsible for the management and delivery of IT services available to all system members—will reduce IT redundancy for commonly used software and services, provide consistency in the IT services delivered across the system, and make specific IT expertise for services available to all system members. ITSS operations—such as data centers, wide-area network operations, and human resources systems—will be funded by assessing system members for the services they use. The A&M System expects to achieve several million dollars a year in cost savings as the ITSS model matures.

Technology must be more standardized. The A&M System is working to minimize the number of tools and processes used by members. This standardization will decrease overall technical complexity while increasing collaboration and innovation. A&M System members routinely gather to identify common solutions to common problems. This allows them to collaboratively select a set of solutions that reduces the number of tools and processes they each require, such as approved email systems, service desk solutions, anti-virus packages, data collaboration, and storage solutions. We are actively looking to standardize our open records management system, a common transcription program, and a common virtual desktop infrastructure, among other initiatives.

All universities must address the challenges and opportunities brought by technology. At the Texas A&M University System, we believe making our culture more student-centric, our data more secure, our costs lower through shared services, and our processes more standardized will keep us at the forefront of higher education as we continue to address costs, new modes of classroom instruction, and data protection.

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