Question

The higher education sector has not taken to outsourcing as quickly or to the same extent as other sectors. Many functions, which could theoretically be handled more effectively by external organizations, are still handled in-house. However, there are signs that this is changing. 

As CEO of Perceptis, you have a unique vantage point for commenting on outsourcing in higher education. I have two questions. First, why has higher education historically chosen not to outsource many of its functions? Second, what are the factors that are now encouraging higher education institutions to turn to outsourcing?

Answer

“I agree that higher education has traditionally been averse to outsourcing.  However, there is great change in the air.  I think there are three key functions that have caused schools to begin seriously considering it and in our case to entrust huge portions of their traditional functions to third parties.

The first is their user’s expectations.  Students, faculty and staff have experiences with support services and technology in every aspect of their lives.  Great customer services, quality products and instant gratification on resolution are now table stakes.  CIO’s realize they must excel to succeed.  Alternative sourcing fits.  BTW, related to this and adding pressure to the pot is the fact that modern universities operate on the backbone of their technological infrastructure.  Technology is so entwined in the teaching and learning mission, things must run smoothly or CIO’s get the heat.


The second is the reality of budget management.  Do more with less is the mantra.  Outsourced services allow CIO’s to drive price predictable outcomes with toothy contract language.  And they can manage the function with a contract administrator and good data reporting.  BTW, related to this is continuing scrutiny of the value being delivered by CIO’s in Higher Ed.  It is the same question that was asked of corporate CIO’s in the 1980’s.  That period drove a quantification of value movement which ultimately led to the growth of alternative sourcing as a strategic tool in the CIO’s arsenal.  The parallel’s are striking.


My third observation is that the accountability structures in higher education don’t motivate them to do transaction processing services (help desk, etc) very well.  Clever CIO’s recognize that the functions that require “productivity driven operations” are best left to folks who specialize in them, thereby freeing up resources to work on more strategic “project” oriented work…  where university IT staff’s do very well! 

In the end, the new breed of progressive CIO is separating their work between what is Core and what is Context.  The good ones are not asking “Can I do this?” but “Given all on my plate, Should I do this and, if I do, can I provide service better than I can buy it?”  There are other analog’s for alternative sourcing in higher ed.  Just look at how bookstores and food services are now run.”

Bio

Bill Bradfield is the Founder and CEO of PerceptIS, the new standard in end-user support services for higher education. He has more than 35 years of executive experience in the telecommunications, professional services and software industries. Prior to his work PerceptIS, Bill was the co-founder and CEO of controlGen, Inc., an industry leader and pioneer in the use of wireless machine-to-machine applications. ControlGen was sold in 2003. Bill has also successfully run his own technology consulting company, Advantage Communications, which performed strategic technology consulting to higher education. Bill’s formative career experiences were at Bell Atlantic where he finished a 21 year career as the founder and CEO of Bell Atlantic’s Systems Integration Corporation and Bell Atlantic Public Sector Systems, Inc.

2 thoughts on “Bill Bradfield on Outsourcing in Higher Education

  1. […]the new breed of progressive CIO is separating their work between what is Core and what is Context. The good ones are not asking “Can I do this?” but “Given all on my plate, Should I do this and, if I do, can I provide service better than I can buy it?” […]

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  2. I know that we are seeing this trend increasing as well. As CIO’s have vast ERP systems like Banner/Peoplesoft which require so much attention and long term dedication to implement, and repeatedly update, their tolerance and ability to respond quickly to things is greatly diminished.

    We are finding the temperature of IT folks is shifting from “we must control” to “who can control it best”. One analogy that I heard from a frustrated admissions person a year ago, who was upset that his IT department wanted to ‘write their own’ application was “we wouldn’t ask them to write a new version of Word, so why do they think they can do a better job writing a CRM? For that matter, how do they conclude that doing it themselves can offer the school more value?” I’m paraphrasing of course (as I can’t recall a specific quote for more than 24 hours…let alone a year!)

    I think as Software as a Service (SaaS) continues to gain adoption rates in the corporate world, with great success and ROI, I think CIO’s and executive teams in PSE will follow suit. Not surprising, more and more, the outlook of PSE’s is that of a business, and not just a place of higher learning.

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