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Tertiary tech best practice: Secure, scalable and (well-) staffed

If you are a chief information officer (CIO) or IT decision-maker (ITDM) for a higher education institution you are faced with a raft of challenges, not least providing the infrastructure and services to facilitate learning in the digital age.

But with change the new normal and technology evolving so rapidly, it is difficult to prioritize what should be top of mind. Here are three items we believe should be on all CIOs’ priority lists to ensure they remain relevant.

1. Security, security, security

Unsurprisingly, security and the threat of a data breach are perennial threats that need to be front of mind for any tertiary institution. The implications of a security breach and the range of data and intellectual property at stake are significant. And while hacking is an ever-present threat, it is not always the culprit.

Phishing attacks, spyware, theft of personal devices and other easily preventable breaches are often the result of poor cybersecurity awareness among faculty staff and students. This is exacerbated by staff and students using their own devices and applications to access campus networks, which further complicates the challenge.

An essential first step would be to audit the current environment and assess what’s required to protect and defend your network and services from an attack. You also need to ensure there is a post-crisis plan in place when a security breach does occur. And with enterprise cloud providers now offering industry-leading security, there is no reason to move some, or all, your data to their secure servers.

2. Provide scalable infrastructure

Technology doesn’t stand still, but many tertiary institutions have aging legacy infrastructure that is time-consuming to maintain and puts a drain on human resources. Common problems include incompatibility with mobile access or having the ability to interact with any proprietary apps.

Systems need to be robust, scalable and responsive to your users’ needs. And while a complete overhaul of your infrastructure may be costly, impractical and disruptive, using a vendor app together with an API could be a workable solution to access data on older architecture. If you do decide to opt for a complete overhaul and transition to a cloud or software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider, one obvious benefit is zero maintenance, which frees up staff and budget to work on value-adding projects and priorities.

3. Hire and retain the right IT staff

If you have rock-solid infrastructure, you still need the right people to run your systems, which is difficult if you can’t hire or keep your IT staff. The education sector struggles to compete with salaries in the private sector while budget restrictions compound the problem, especially for smaller regional institutions or those not in major cities.

The challenge is to build a team who are agile, entrepreneurial and can demonstrate how they deliver to the overall success of the education business. For CIOs that means integrating with other key functions, leading the discussion on the future direction of the institution to avoid being marginalized or outsourced.