On Friday I attended ULCC's Round Table session focussed on outsourcing in HE. A formal summary document is going to be released within the next couple of weeks by the folks at ULCC, so I will hold off presenting a full overview of the key discussion points. Much like the Intellect Education Group event I attended last week, though, I thought it would still be useful to share a quick synopsis of morning.

The round table was made up of approximately 12 members of the HE IT community, which included the IT Directors from LSE, Imperial College, Kings College London and UCL.

Brilliantly facilitated by Andy Maggs from Vadis, the session kicked off with a request for a general show of hands to illustrate who has had their budgets cut for the coming year. With an expectation prior to the event that most institutions would have their budgets cuts, I was pleasantly surprised to see that all delegates around the table had actually had a budget increase for IT related projects.

The types of investments that IT departments within those institutions represented are focusing on, though, is changing from recent years. This is particularly impacting the general attitude towards outsourcing.

Student Experience

With the introduction of the Browne Report, the student experience is now, more than ever, a core focus for the IT function within institutions. With this in mind, IT service delivery is now an institutional priority from a commercial perspective and can now be a real USP for those institutions that fully embrace the opportunities around putting the student at the heart of all IT investments.

So with increased IT budgets and a need to put the student experience front and centre of all future IT investments, outsourcing and cloud based technologies, in particular, are becoming an integral component of the IT strategy moving forward.

So how many of those in attendance have already, or are planning, to outsource key services?

In contrast to the FE perspective that was presented during the Intellect Education event I attended recently, all of those institutions represented are already outsourcing and plan to continue outsourcing IT services. Furthermore, while cost is a driving factor, resiliency and other efficiencies are also significant in terms of influencing this decision.

Reducing the amount of long term commitments, managed inline with the finance strategy, is also a major driver.

So with outsourcing becoming commonplace within the HE community, what impact does this have on the future of the IT professional?

The consensus across the table during the session was that the future of the IT pro in HE is going to be more about vendor management and understanding the wider business challenges facing the institution, rather than just managing servers and networks.

Furthermore, making vendors essentially an extension of the IT department is important, which again supports the need for effective vendor and SLA management to make this a reality.

With this in mind, one suggestion from the group with regard to this was could the new brokerage service proposed by JANET(UK) help assist institutions to better manage their vendor relations?

This desire to work more collaboratively with vendors fully supports the desires of the FE community, as expressed during the Intellect Education Group meeting.

Key challenges/trends for the future

Bring your own IT, whereby both students and staff are encouraged to bring their own devices on campus is only around the corner and services that help deliver IT anywhere and at anytime, such as Live@EDU/Office 365, will play an important role in achieving this goal. The mobile piece is obviously a significant consideration here.

This session, the second in a series of ULCC round table events, challenged some of my preconceived ideas about the evolution of the sector from an IT perspective and look forward to the next gathering.

In the meantime, I will keep a close eye out for the formal summary document that should be released within the next couple of weeks.

What are your experiences of both budgets and outsourcing to date? Do your experiences match those of the round table panel? It would be great to hear your thoughts below.

Tim