I attended the Estates Directors’ conference today, taking part in a workshop session debating whether Estates and ICT Departments were naturally moving closer together. There is certainly scope for increased collaboration and joint working in so many areas. Institutions can no longer afford to be in the situation where the ICT infrastructure is an afterthought in building and refurbishment projects; the use of IT has now become so pervasive in teaching, research and administration that there has to be IT involvement from the start. There is also the opportunity for IT to assist institutions deliver real savings both in financial terms and in reducing the carbon footprint.
The delegates acknowledged that a close working relationship with their IT services was important to the future well being of their institutions. There are a number of examples where providing innovative learning spaces or making existing spaces work better have improved student feedback (important in these days of the national student survey) or even improved the quality of admissions. However, when the delegates were asked how many of them felt they had a close working relationship with their IT director only half were confident enough to raise their hands.
Clearly there is some work to be done. Not all IT directors understand the requirements of their Estates counterparts and the reverse is also almost certainly true too. So the first step would be to break down that barrier and to highlight examples of best practice where there is a strong working relationship. From there we can look to building closer collaboration so that the combined efforts of the service departments can bring greater benefits to their institutions. If this collaboration doesn’t happen naturally then there is the possibility that there will be forced marriages between the departments. Such marriages rarely achieve the same level of success.