Communicating IT’s Value: There’s a Better Way
At Bridgewater State University, we have transformed how we report IT achievements to our board and stakeholders—resulting in more support for technology and improved staff morale.
By Ray Lefebvre
A few years ago, the annual IT report at Bridgewater State University looked like the reports you see on most college campuses: It was heavy on facts, figures, and charts detailing the number of tech support tickets we fulfilled and the number of file servers we installed.
It didn’t really communicate the impact we were having on academics, research, or campus life. It didn’t breathe life into the IT division’s accomplishments. It didn’t inspire anyone.
When I became Chief Information Officer and Vice President of IT, I decided to try something different. For our 2015 IT Outcomes publication, we picked a dozen examples of IT projects that had a profound impact on our campus community that year. We highlighted these success stories in a narrative format, focusing on the people these projects had affected and the improvements they made possible. This simple change has made a big impact.
We divided the publication into three sections: “Enriched Student Learning,” “Enhanced Communication,” and “Increased Efficiencies.” As an example of the impact our IT division had on student learning, for instance, we described how we had built and equipped a new Business Trading Room for our Louis M. Ricciardi College of Business, allowing business students to track and analyze stock performance and simulate trades. Our Business Trading Room, which includes a live stock ticker, 32 computer terminals, one 50-inch monitor at the front of the lab, and two 40-inch monitors toward the back, makes BSU one of only 120 colleges and universities nationwide to have such a space—and the only one in southeastern Massachusetts.
We also produced a companion video for those who would rather watch a story than read the information in text format. We distributed hard copies of the publication to our board of trustees, our president, our senior administration, and our IT staff, and we sent out a digital version (along with a link to the video) for our students, faculty, and administrators.
The response we got back was tremendous. By making IT success stories less about the technology itself, and more about the outcomes that technology enabled, we were able to put a human face on the work that we do as a division. The publication connected very powerfully with key stakeholder groups, who easily could see the significance of IT’s accomplishments on all aspects of our campus community. That, in turn, has resulted in more support for our IT division.
Reimagining our annual IT report proved so successful that we followed that up with a similar IT Outcomes publication in 2016, and I’m already thinking ahead to what we will include in our 2017 version.
When I travel to higher-education technology conferences, I bring copies of the IT Outcomes publication along with my business cards. And when I share the publication with my colleagues at other institutions, they all immediately see the benefits of reporting IT outcomes this way. Yet, no one I have met so far is doing anything similar at their own college or university. That concerns me, because I think campus IT leaders are missing a key opportunity to communicate the value they bring to their organizations more effectively.
By conveying the impact our work is having on the university in a more humanizing and compelling way, our IT division is building credibility with our president and board of trustees. When I share the publication at our cabinet meeting in December, I am not asked the questions I typically get about how we are spending our IT budget and why. What’s more, if I ask for additional IT resources, our board and president are confident they will see a return on this investment—and that whatever project I have in mind will be the subject of a future IT Outcomes profile.
I have found that our IT Outcomes publication also boosts the morale of our IT staff. It makes them feel connected to a greater sense of purpose. They get to see how they are making a huge difference on our campus.
Producing the publication is not a heavy lift. Because we take advantage of internal resources, we have been able to keep the cost to around $5,000—which is a small investment to make for something that has such a big impact. My hope is that people can see what is possible with limited resources. We’re a state university with limited money, but that hasn’t stopped us from being innovative.
We begin the process of compiling the publication each spring. Around March, I send an email to everyone in our IT division and ask them if they have any success stories in their department they would like to share. What accomplishments are they most proud of? I compare the feedback I get from our IT staff with information about successfully completed projects that I can view within our highly detailed Project Portfolio Management platform from TeamDynamix, and I identify 12-15 possible storylines.
We use a freelance writer to help us write the copy. I give her the storylines, along with the key people she should contact. I try to make sure that a faculty member, a student, and an IT employee are all interviewed for every story, so that each of these perspectives is represented.
Writing, reviewing, and editing the stories takes us into August. By then, we have started on the design for the publication. For the design process, we hire a student intern in our graphic design program for a paid internship that results in college credit as well. To produce the companion video, we rely on our Student Affairs division. The whole process takes 9-10 months. We try to go to press around November, so we can produce the first deliverables in time for our cabinet meeting in early December.
Focusing on the people and outcomes supported by technology, instead of a laundry list of tech upgrades, has been the main key to our success. But here are a few other lessons we have learned about communicating IT’s value to stakeholders more effectively:
- Use multiple modalities. Make sure you offer several different methods of delivery. We print the IT Outcomes publication, we create a video, and we also produce a digital flipbook version that can be read on tablets, smart phones, and other mobile devices.
- Make sure all stakeholder groups are represented. When you are communicating the value of IT, make sure you include success stories from students, faculty, and administrators. Every key constituency needs to see itself reflected in the successful IT outcomes for the year. That’s very important.
Looking ahead, we are trying to transition Bridgewater State University into a true IT service organization, where our IT division is focused not just on providing support but on offering an exceptional, technology-driven experience for every member of the campus community. Shifting that mindset involves communicating the value of IT beyond just the nuts and bolts of making the technology work—and our IT Outcomes publications are helping to lay the groundwork for this transition.
The number of servers installed or tickets fulfilled in a given year is meaningless. It’s the learning outcomes that people want to see—and the story of how technology has enabled these is what we should be telling. Communicating IT’s value more effectively, in a way that looks beyond the technology to the outcomes it supports, will help us get to where we want to be as an institution—and it can do the same for yours.
Ray Lefebvre is Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer for Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. Before joining Bridgewater State in 2012, he was the Director of Applications Development and Enterprise Reporting for the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He also has more than two decades of IT experience in the private sector.