2.5.3 How can ICT Services help?

There exist a number of alternative but not mutually exclusive approaches to providing ICT services.

Gartner's13 work on the future of IT organisations explores the future of a 'Type Z' organisation, where ICT is dispersed across an institution and states their perspective for HE as follows:

'In many universities, the central and departmental IT organisations concentrate on providing the infrastructure (the "heavy lifting" as one university IT professional described it) and operating the financial and administrative systems. All the novel, research-related IT is done in the departments and faculties by academics and students. This frequently results from the desire of those people to control directly the technology that's an indivisible part of their work. It also arises from the schismatic political and governance culture that's common in many universities. So while the use of Type Z contributes well to the creativity and advanced exploration that universities need, the silos of information and processes that arise from lack of coordination and standards create barriers that threaten long-term viability, because they impede the cross disciplinary research where the great majority of new ideas arise. Therefore, such Type Z situations have neutral benefits overall, although they have the potential to be highly positive if the coordination problems are solved or to be disastrous if they are not.'

This raises the same question again; what is the most effective ICT services structure to provide strategic ICT across the institution?

Our research identified a number of alternative organisation and management structures used by institutions as described under Strategic Leadership. We found that these variations influence the ICT services structures, management and practices that support the formulation and delivery of strategic ICT.

In summary these include:

  • Federal or Unitary models: The management and structure of HEIs are represented by two key models; the federal model, epitomised by the traditional collegiate institutions and the unitary model providing for the centralised institution. These models are important because they indicate who will deliver services to which business groups and where strategic collaboration across stakeholders is likely to be required
  • Centralised or devolved ICT services: Services are delivered from a single function or devolved within the institution

Our research noted the source of ICT Services in relation to the organisation structure. Overall ICT services must be able to provide for the management, development and support of the infrastructure, information systems and services required by the university

We found that institutions had differing ICT Service structures, providing services either from a centralised ICT department or through devolved services, as represented below:

ICT Service Models
Figure 6 - ICT services models, for central and shared/local services

A centralised model is simpler and provides advantages in the governance and management of ICT services that have been proven to deliver cost savings, quality improvements and an improved visibility of ICT deployment at an institutional level. Universities need to determine their own provision of ICT services based on institutional needs and, whilst in some instances the requirement for specialised local delivery of ICT services is justified with no detrimental impact to the delivery of strategic ICT, others if closely examined may be more difficult to justify.

Our research has sought to understand the different models and combinations that are in place but we observe that good practice will need to be implemented in a manner to reflect and align with the different institutional structures. The structure, leadership and governance of institutions are complex but these can be aligned to work positively in delivering strategic ICT:

The creation of a robust ICT governance structure was recognised within our research as critical to the ability to deliver strategic ICT. Whilst HE makes wide use of technology the often disjoint nature of ICT strategy formulation threatens the alignment of ICT to institutional strategy and therefore undermines its strategic use.

Each institution will have specific, though possibly less visible, source(s) of ICT services depending on their federal / unitary and centralised / devolved structure. In order for an institution to be able to align and integrate its ICT strategy the governance and management of ICT should be considered at the institutional level.

Our research has recognised that these variations in structure and ICT service provision are often considered fundamental to both the development and the day to day operations of universities. However, in order to embrace the development of more strategic ICT the needs and practices of these varied sources of ICT services could be explored and the structures and mechanisms for ICT alignment reviewed. In some instances, such as ICT strategy and use in research, there may be less need for alignment in contrast to instances across university administration where significant benefits may be obtainable.

In summary, there should be, as a minimum, some rewarding level of ICT expertise and knowledge involved within strategy formulation and implementation. The channels to achieve this have been identified as:

  • Governance of strategy formulation and implementation
  • A Senior Management Team that includes some professional expertise and understanding of ICT
  • A Chief Information Officer, or equivalent senior ICT/IS manager undertaking the role, supporting the Senior Management Team in institutional strategy formulation and leading the appropriate ICT strategy

The Service based approach

In order to meet today's institutional objectives for agility and sustainability ICT needs to be delivered with consideration and efficiency in the context of the whole institution. ICT deploy various approaches and methods to achieve this including Enterprise Architecture (EA), Shared Services and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Some are technical in nature others are business change techniques such as Enterprise Architecture. The underlining principle behind each of these techniques is that the business has requirements that can be defined as a requirement for 'services' rather than a predefined solution. By defining a requirement in this way ICT are able to draw on all their available resources and techniques to identify what is often a more cost effective and innovative solution. This provides benefits to users, ICT and at an institutional level through more integrated solutions with improved data integrity and improved business processes.

Key ICT roles and cross institutional communications

The idea of a Chief Information Officer within organisations has been developed over decades but the increased emphasis on communication and business understanding is now giving weight to developing different strands of expertise to address business and technology. Our research identified a variety of roles and techniques that are focused on establishing close communications across the user community and a greater understanding of their business requirements. CIO's are using business analysts, account managers and enterprise architects to improve communications, identify business needs and business process improvements. The approach allows an institution to build a better definition of current and future ICT requirements which in turn enables greater agility and sustainability.

This in turn provides management with improved information from which to build a more robust and capable ICT services organisation with well matched and skilled resources and infrastructure all supported by policies, frameworks, standards and compliance that ensure consistency and quality.

13 Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2008