ERP, security among top issues for higher ed IT pros

Identity/access management still not getting big funding despite many schools suffering data breaches

A new EDUCAUSE survey of US college and university CIOs finds that administrative and ERP systems, infrastructure and security are the leading strategic concerns for 2007.

Those three issues were among the top 10 identified in all four survey categories: most important to strategic success, potential to become much more significant in the coming year, those taking most of IT leadership time, and those getting the most in human and dollar resources.

Four other issues showed up in three of the categories: course/learning management, disaster recovery, IT funding, and identity/access management.

EDUCAUSE is a leading association of college and university IT professionals. The 2007 Current Issues Survey Report is the eighth by the group and this year drew responses from 587 senior IT executives in higher education, mainly CIOs. The survey asks respondents to rank their top 10 issues in the four categories mentioned above. The study's authors list for each of the 10 issues a set of questions for IT leaders to consider.

Overall, the top 10 issues in all four categories stayed pretty stable compared with 2006. Course/learning management, which is based on commercial or open source enterprise software, grew in importance, as did electronic classrooms/technology buildings/commons facilities, which require considerable infrastructure investment in wireless networks, physical layout design, and an array of instructional technologies such as Web-based courses, digital content, and collaboration tools.

This year's survey split what had been one issue, security and identity management, into two. Last year, the combined issue was the number one IT-related issue in strategic importance, edging out IT funding, which had held the top position for three years in a row. For 2007, IT funding was again the top issue in the strategic importance category, with security second, and identity/access management fourth. But in terms of the amount of time devoted to it by IT leaders, identity/access management ranked ninth, and didn't appear at all in terms of the human/financial resources devoted to it.

The disparity in the rankings reflects the high-profile damage to institutions, and to their public image, caused by identity theft and data breaches, of which there were a growing number in 2006. But so far, identity and access management doesn't seem to be claiming a disproportionate share of IT resources.

Course/learning management for the first time moved into the top 10 in two categories: it was ranked number nine in strategic importance, and number seven in the potential to become much more important in the future. It jumped from eighth place last year to fifth in its consumption of human and dollar resources.

These software systems become the main "meeting ground" for students and faculty outside of the classroom, with a growing array of digital course content, online tests, interactive chat and bulletin boards and other collaboration tools, as well as tracking student access to content and measuring student mastery of materials. These systems drew a lot of attention last year when Blackboard, a leading vendor of learning management system (LMS) software, said it would enforce recently awarded U.S. patents against rivals, about the same it acquired one its biggest, WebCT. The patent move ignited a heated controversy.

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