Infrastructure review synthesis: Post 2, Strategic considerations

This post is the second in a series of ten posts that have been created to identify the best practice found in FE colleges by the Jisc infrastructure review service. An introduction to the infrastructure review synthesis project is provided in the first post in the series.

Strategic considerations

The most technologically mature colleges have a high-quality, integrated digital technology strategy. The IT team are developing their infrastructure planning with direct reference to a wider organisational strategy or plan, inclusive of mapping to curriculum and other outcomes. This ensures there is no disconnect between the work of the IT team and the other departments that they provide systems and services for. Critical infrastructure investment is made based on the strategic planning to ensure that key priorities of the college are appropriately supported. IT action planning is detailed and includes quality and impact measures based on the strategic plan. Sustainability of IT infrastructure and other IT assets, inclusive of end user equipment is a key component that is addressed in such planning.

The best performing colleges have a senior role dedicated to IT and technology such as a CIO, CTO, or head of technology type role. Those colleges that do have this role generally have improved outcomes reported around the quality of technology services that are provided and how well they fit with organisational priorities. Where high-performing colleges do not have this role a senior member of staff, such as an assistant principal, takes responsibility for line managing the IT team and champions technology related decision making at the senior level.

The colleges with the highest levels of strategic collaboration between the IT team and other staff teams have a representative group of staff working with the IT team to help develop strategy and to prioritise the IT teams tactical work programme. The requirements of the curriculum team are fully understood by IT teams through the input of this group. We have seen evidence that this approach ensures that the IT team can prioritise resources or improvement projects in line with the wider requirements of the organisation.

IT budget planning is well developed with replacement strategies for both end user equipment and core infrastructure. The IT budget is considered within strategic planning, notably to support infrastructure renewal that is enabled by productive dialogue between IT managers, other mid-level, and senior leaders. The IT estate is sustainable. IT teams know what they must replace and when, and senior leaders are supported to understand the urgency of these investment requirements so that they may be supported. This point has increased in urgency due to the DfE / ESFA changes to the conditions of grant funding that require the Cyber-Essentials certification to be in place from September 2020 and Cyber-Essentials Plus to be in place for September 2021. In response to this driver, the colleges with the most developed strategic planning in place have scheduled for core networking, server or storage replacement and other critical infrastructure works to be undertaken in order to support the college to obtain Cyber Essentials certification.

High performing IT teams have a good understanding of what their priorities should be and are able to articulate these clearly to the Jisc team at the start of the review.

How Jisc can help:

  • The Jisc subject specialist team provide a digital strategy review offer as part of the consultancy service.
    • This service offer can assist colleges to develop their forward planning and can encourage colleges to consider the creation of a fully integrated strategic approach to technology.
  • Through the infrastructure review service we have been able to make representations to senior managers around the prioritisation of infrastructure renewal.
    • This has included supporting IT managers to present their concerns in an accessible or more easily understandable way that makes clear what the risks of not making an investment might be.
    • Note that this can include the identification of critical cyber-security issues, weaknesses with backup, restoration and disaster recovery or concerns around safeguarding that may impact inspection grades, or other staff and student related outcomes.
  • The Financial X-ray service helps IT departments to benchmark, understand and easily compare overall costs. It is a useful tool to build a business case for changes in IT infrastructure and create an ongoing mechanism for dialogue between finance and IT departments. It can also provide a means of highlighting the comparative cost of shared and commercial third-party services.

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