They’re too busy at the moment, but higher education IT organizations deserve to take a bow. In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, IT gave colleges and universities their only credible alternative to suspending operations. Thanks to that option, millions of students are continuing to learn, and legions of faculty and staff are fulfilling the institutional mission, staying healthy, and remaining employed.
If the COVID-19 crisis ends with this semester, that will be enough, and IT can take its well-deserved curtain call. But the possibility of an extended crisis is real. Institutions needn’t think just yet about what the post-pandemic “new normal” will be, but they do need to shore up current improvisations for potentially extended use.
IT’s short-term success is impressive but fragile
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There’s no shame in IT leaders admitting that the current environment is unsustainable. Scaling up tools that were intended to support a few people at a time into a parallel IT universe supporting everyone is a messy job that overstretches resources and leaves best practices in temporary abeyance.
Nor have we addressed all of the change that the situation may demand. If social distancing remains in place, institutions will have to redesign courses for online delivery, re-tune security practices, recover a safety margin of systems capacity, and instill constituents with more effective digital work habits. All this will have to be grafted onto significantly altered business and academic practices.
Stabilizing IT for the medium term
How can IT leaders prepare for and support a pro tem operations model that might have to see us through the rest of the calendar year? We advise that as soon as a stable conclusion to the current term is in sight, CIOs and their leadership teams should take the following actions:
Just as IT has been essential for meeting the immediate COVID-19 threat, it will be crucial for building a safe bridge to the future. In the coming weeks, EAB’s IT Forum will organize opportunities for IT leaders to share experiences and learn from one another. We’ll also develop toolkits for pivoting from short-term to medium-term response. And in the long run, we’ll also help you ensure that IT’s shining moment of service is remembered as leadership starts preparing for that still-to-be-determined new normal.