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A step ahead of profs, staff in higher-ed tech

You don’t need a doctorate in computer science to download an app.

That’s a good thing for people working in healthcare, finance, education or pretty much every industry there is. Technology today is people-friendly. But to IT folks like Larry Gagnon, that poses a big challenge.

The senior IT project manager at the University System of New Hampshire said people in different parts of the two colleges and two universities he services surf the web, find an intriguing piece of emerging higher-ed tech – software that, say, professors can share with students or can use to manage faculty — and then download it.

“No longer do you need IT,” said Gagnon at the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla. “And the challenge becomes all of sudden they do that and then all of sudden they install it on a server and then all of sudden they’re calling my support line saying, ‘Hey, I need help with this.'”

The new college try

And higher-ed tech today is pretty tempting. Adaptive learning, for example, turns computers into interactive teaching devices that can offer lessons tailored toward particular learning styles. And some predictive analytics applications tap data from a number of sources to forecast how a student might perform in the future. They can be used to help struggling students improve — and stay in school.

They’re nifty tools — just the types of things professors, personnel officers and folks in finance and sales would love to get their hands on. That’s why CIOs need to develop and maintain all kinds of relationships, Gagnon said. One is a partnership with a CXO, or chief experience officer. This is the executive concerned with user experience, or how users react to and feel about a product or service. Conversations with CXOs could give CIOs a heads-up on what users are exposed to.

“Because if they’re coming in after the fact, that’s the challenge,” Gagnon said.

Making friends

One higher-ed tech leader Gagnon spoke to at the Gartner conference had formed a strong relationship with someone in the procurement office. It works because procurement is responsible for signing contracts. If something technology-related doesn’t trace back to IT, an official can alert his or her tech contact.

The important thing, Gagnon said, is to make those connections — in the personnel department, finance or, specifically for higher education, academic or leadership groups.

“You try to get a seat at the table,” he said. “If you don’t have a seat at the table, how are you getting your information? How are you communicating with the president and the provost? What’s your trust level there?”