Sample Paper on Critical Analysis of a Strategic Plan

Critical Analysis of a Strategic Plan

Introduction

The rise of the internet age has been swift and relentless with access to the internet becoming easy, even in far-flung areas due to advances in technology that make it easy to penetrate formerly impenetrable areas. Technology has been miniaturized, and now, it is possible for handheld devices to have immense computing power, making them behave like mini PCs. It is now possible to access the internet through handheld devices at reasonably fast speeds and hence it is now possible to network and work even when one does not have access to a desktop or fixed internet connection. Institutions of higher learning have been quick to take advantage of the emerging technologies even though adoption and use of the technology presents both a challenge and opportunity. Traditionally, education has been offered in brick and mortar classes and students were needed to physically attend classes in college and hand hardcopies of their assignments to tutors for grading. Most university academic resources could only be accessed through physically visiting the university and going to the premises where the services one required were being offered. However, technology has changed this situation tremendously, and the academic life as well as form of service provision has changed as universities migrate their education and service platforms to the virtual world. It is now common for students to access services, education materials, evaluation, and feedback from tutors virtually rather than through physical interaction with university workers. The development of intelligent networks and interactive programs is opening the possibility of virtualizing most of the university’s non-core functions and some of the core functions that may not need personal interaction. Increased access speeds are now making it possible for universities to conduct classes, assess students, and provide course materials online, making it possible to open the frontiers of education and provide education to even those students living in foreign countries.

Organizational structure of the UTO of Arizona State University

The UTO is led by the Chief Information Officer (CIO) who is in overall charge of the office and makes decisions on the prioritization of needs within the office and the allocation of budgeted resources. The CIO, however, does not work in isolation but works closely with the IT Leadership Council which acts as an advisory group to the CIO and providing guidance and vision to the CIO on matters of investment in technology, probable advances in technology and effective use and application of information technologies in the university (Information Technology Strategic Plan, n.p.).   The IT Leadership Council plays a pivotal role in the decision-making process of the UTO considering that it has been provided with wide-ranging duties and responsibilities vis-à-vis the setting of the UTO’s strategic direction. The Council supports and communicates technology change across the university, provides feedback on the efficacy of technology initiatives, assesses the performance of the UTO as an innovative solutions provider and input into the strategic plan of the UTO. The Council also helps in collaboration with independent software and hardware vendors to implement beneficial initiatives as well as be the champions or sponsors of initiatives that can help the university grow or change.

The council members are chosen for their skill, knowledge and expertise with membership of the council limited to a maximum of 15 members to ensure that it does not become unwieldy and that all the members are fully engaged and participate fully in the Council deliberations. Council members are expected to serve for a maximum of 3 years after which they rotate to help keep the council full and exposed to fresh ideas from incoming members (University Technology Office, n.p.).  The Leadership Council is led by the CIO, has an elected co-chair and a secretary with meetings held every other month for a minimum of one hour where the progress of the UTO initiatives is reviewed with a view to strengthening weak areas. Although the Leadership Council contributes significantly to the strategic direction of the UTO, the CIO makes the ultimate decision on how the UTO utilizes the budget available to it as well as the initiatives to be supported, modified or dropped.

The office of the CIO has a deputy CIO and two departments; IT services management and human resource and finance that act as the central hub from which the various aspects of the UTO are controlled. The information security office is headed by the chief information security officer who reports directly to the CIO and has an identity management department under which the security architecture office works as well as a governance and programs department that oversee policy & compliance. One run below the CIO office and the information security office the UTO has four other departments, planning & programs, operations & support, academic technologies, and development that oversee specialized facets of the UTO. The departments working under the CIO’s office are tasked with implementing the UTO’s strategic vision, come up with innovative solutions for the information technologies platform, ensure compliance, facilitate collaborations and evaluate the efficacy of the programs run by the UTO. Although the CIO has the authority to run the office of the CIO, the Leadership Council provides an oversight role to ensure that the CIO is running the UTO in a way that aligns it with the university’s goals and objectives. The UTO’s organizational structure is geared towards establishing an efficient management system that can outlive the leadership and ensure continuity and stability even in times of leadership change.

Mechanisms for obtaining input for the Information Technology strategic plan and its implementation

The UTO emphasizes the need for a consultative approach to the identification, development and implementation of information technologies as a means of ensuring that the initiatives are successful. The office has developed a number of mechanisms and institutional frameworks to help in the sourcing for input in its strategic plan and implementation strategies to ensure higher technology uptake and success. There are a number of bodies that have been constituted to help the office evaluate new technologies, determine prioritization of resources and provide feedback on the efficacy of existing and new information technology initiatives. The information technology Leadership Council is one of the most important bodies that work with the UTO to develop the UTO’s strategic plan, providing expertise on how technology can be used to benefit the university and giving guidance to the CIO on how best to incest the meager UTO resources. The Council is composed of senior management from different departments of the university, allowing it to have diversity, which is essential in proposing new initiatives and impartially evaluating the UTO initiatives.

The council meets with the CIO after every other month for a minimum of one hour, and during these meetings, council members will propose new initiatives to the UTO and provide insights on the best technologies that the UTO can adopt to increase the penetration and success of information technologies. Since members in the leadership council are drawn from various departments in the university, they act as champions for new technological initiatives, helping to initiate and support the adoption and implementation of new information technology initiatives within their departments. Owing to the expertise of the council, council meetings are also an avenue through which development of new solutions to existing challenges and emerging challenges is discussed and mechanisms for addressing the challenges proposed and adopted. The council plays an important role in providing feedback on the UTO’s IT initiatives, evaluating the efficacy of existing initiatives vis-à-vis what is working and what needs to be improved. The council helps to put the university’s IT development in perspective by facilitating collaboration with independent software and hardware partners to ensure that the development and use of information technologies within the university is at par with development in the field nationally.

Faculties in the university have standing faculty technology advisory boards that are made of senior faculty members who are chosen by their respective deans to collaborate with the UTO in shaping the IT direction of the university. The boards are important in providing guidance to the UTO on the faculty-specific technological needs by analyzing and determining the technological priorities of their faculties, which are then communicated to the UTO and university administration. The boards are important in personalizing the faculty technological needs and helping the UTO to acquire, develop and implement appropriate technologies for faculties rather than using a one size fits all strategy that is likely to waste funds on unnecessary IT acquisitions. Faculties also have technology focus groups that are made of members of a faculty, who are the end-users of the technology that is acquired and implemented by the UTO. They provide feedback and evaluation on new technology initiatives of the UTO as well as on the technologies being used in their respective faculties. Feedback from the technology focus groups is used by the UTO to determine the usability of new technology and as a basis for the continuous improvement of existing technologies to ensure usability, stability and appropriateness.

ASU Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system

An enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is based on the premise of combining computer systems of different sections or departments and running all of them as a single, integrated central database as a means of helping management to make decisions on an enterprise-wide basis (Beretta, 258). ERP software is built to facilitate the collection and organization of data from all of the departments of an organization, giving insights into the key performance indicators (KPIs) of each of the departments and helping management to make decisions that are data-driven. ERP systems are useful in monitoring and managing the various aspects of an organization’s activities, providing real time data on events, allowing management the ability to be proactive in addressing challenges encountered in the running of the organization (Dorien & Wolf, 5). The ERP system is efficient in moving the functions of an organization into a digital platform in addition to ensuring that there is no duplication of functions between systems by centralizing data storage and management. However, for the efficacy of the system to be assured, there is a need to integrate the ERP system with other existing systems to ensure that technological development in all the departments is kept in tandem and that systems remain interoperable to minimize exclusion and obsoleteness of systems.

The Arizona State University ERP system is based on Oracle’s people Soft enterprise backbone on which the university has been building a comprehensive infrastructure to encompass the whole ERP system. The university initially installed the PeopleSoft Enterprise Recruiting and Admissions software, as part of its Online Administration & Student Information System (OASIS) program, to help prospective students to check the current status of their applications as well as university staff to expeditiously evaluate and process applications (Arizona State University Implements Oracle, 2006). The system was instrumental in reducing the time taken to make a decision on admission to two to three days from five to seven days that was initially the norm, helping the university make considerable savings on costs for processing admissions while at the same time reducing inefficiencies. In addition to the PeopleSoft Enterprise Recruiting and Admissions software, the university also implemented PeopleSoft Enterprise Student Administration and PeopleSoft Enterprise Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs from Oracle to improve service quality to students as well as help in the management of a student’s lifecycle.  The integrated PeopleSoft software is useful to staff at ASU, especially the admissions department which now has a higher visibility of information on prospective students, which can be used to design and implement tailor-made marketing campaigns.

In the long term, the UTO intends to make a number of changes on the university ERP system to make it responsive to the changing student and staff needs as well as take advantage of the advances in technology which are revolutionizing the way people use online systems. First, there is a drive to change the operating version of the software and update it to a recent version with better usability because the original operating system had a limited number of functions and services that were available to the student online, necessitating the need to visit the university offices for some services. The proposed changes involve virtualizing more services, allowing students among others, to access transcripts online,  access financial information including payment history and financial aid, and register for classes online. The university is cognizant that the rise of mobile computing is inexorable and more people are likely to access the university database from handheld devices, like smart phones and iPhones, necessitating a change in focus from tethered infrastructure to mobile infrastructure (Gwo-Jen & Chin-Chung, 66). The UTO is considering making the mobile platform one of its main platforms and there has been increased research into the development of a mobile compliant platform as well as apps that students and staff could use to access the system. The rise of independent software providers is increasingly changing the balance of power vis-à-vis the provision of platforms for working learning and collaborating from the university to the students and staff who now have alternative ways of engaging and participating in academic matters.

Tracking progress relating to the seven areas of focus

The need to track progress in the university’s IT development has been spurred by the concern raised by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) on the security of sensitive data held by universities and the steps that universities were taking to safeguard sensitive information from accidental loss or otherwise (Wright, Miller & Addis 108).  The UTO has identified a number of metrics for goals in each of the seven identified areas against which it measures current progress in relation to the targeted metric score over five years. The measurement of progress in the identified metric is done through collection and analysis of data on the usage of the university virtual system and the analysis of available physical infrastructure to support the system. In addition, progress in achieving the goals is done through analysis of the implementation schedules for new projects in terms of adherence to the timelines in addition to determining whether projects fall within the stipulated budgets. For example, under the area ‘IT Infrastructure’, there are three monitoring metrics – percentage of time the ASU’s computer systems are operational, percentage of time the ASU’s computer network is operational, and the percentage of university server that has been virtualized. The target metric for the three monitoring metrics are 99.9%, 99.9% and 95% by 2016 against a current progress of 99.97%, 99.28% and 95% respectively.

SWOT analysis

Strengths

The UTO strategic plan identifies seven areas that are the focus of the drive to grow ASU into the New American University, turning the university into one of the most attractive destinations for not only prospective students but also for the best academic staff. A major strength of the strategic plan is that under each of the seven areas, there are a number of goals that are listed that have to be achieved for an area to be considered completely covered. The goals are well articulated and are measurable, ensuring that implementation of the plan can be tracked and intervention measure instituted as need arises. The strategic plan is comprehensive, covering both the software and hardware components, hence ensuring that implementation of the plan is not hampered by constraints in either of the components. The plan also has a performance metrics that enables the tracking of the implementation process and assessment of what has been achieved vis-à-vis the projected target. By incorporating well delineated targets in the plan, the plan has a focal point that helps to guide the actions of technology implementers, keeping the plan focused and reducing the risk of drift. The plan also takes into account the input of oversight bodies and has incorporated performance metrics to ensure compliance with statutory requirements. In addition, the plan has an action plan for most of the goals that are identified under each of the seven areas with regular monitoring and recording of the implementation schedule.

Weaknesses

Although the plan is generally well thought out, there are a number of weaknesses that need to be addressed to make the UTO achieve its stated goals in the strategic plan. One of the greatest weaknesses of the strategic plan is that the performance metrics as well as target metrics for some of the goals are yet to be developed. The lack of these important metrics presents a challenge to the implementation of such goals because there is no focal point to guide the implementation of the goals coupled with lack of a mechanism through which the implementation progress of the goals can be tracked. The strategic plan has described the action plan for some of the goals and the anticipated progress at the end of the year, but neither indicates the persons responsible for the implementation of the action plan nor the resources available for the implementation of the action plan. In case of failure in the implementation of the action plan or emergence of new challenges to the implementation schedule, it may be difficult to institute timely intervention measures to address the situation.

Opportunities

The recent past has seen rapid improvement in internet access technology and now it is possible to deliver internet connectivity at very fast speeds through wireless as well as fixed connections. The increase in connectivity speeds and advances in mobile technology has made it possible to have handheld devices with immense computing power that can also access the internet at relatively high speeds. The easy access to the net is an opportunity for the UTO to utilize the internet for provision of most of the university services, considering that students and staff can now access the internet from virtually any place without the need for accessing a fixed connection. Cloud computing has also become popular because of the immense computing power and near limitless storage capacity offered, and the use of cloud services is likely to keep improving as they become easily accessible as well as relatively cheap (Sultan, 112). Cloud services provide an opportunity for the UTO to outsource most of the non-core IT services to the cloud services providers, helping to reduce the cost of running the IT programs while improving on the quality of the services offered. Finally the ubiquitous use of mobile services through smart phones provides the UTO with the opportunity to develop mobile apps which are less data intensive to help students’ access university services while reducing the data costs associated with implementation of information technologies.

Threats

Technology has a relatively short lifespan and there are always new disruptive technologies that are emerging and quickly turning older technologies obsolete. The biggest threat to the strategic plan is the emergence of new technologies that may render the current technologies obsolete, turning the heavy investments made in implementing the strategic plan redundant. Implementation of the strategic plan is an intensive process requiring a considerable investment of resources to acquire the requisite software and hardware as well as training of personnel to equip them with the skills to use the new system effectively. However, there has been a reduction in the budgetary allocation from the state to the university as statewide austerity measures lead to reallocation of resources and slashing of budgets. Without the necessary resources, it will be impossible to implement the strategic plan considering that savings in expenditure cannot be stretched to infinity, and there is a basic minimum resource level below which it becomes unfeasible to implement the plan.

Recommendations

From the preceding discussion, there are a number of things that the UTO can consider changing to ensure that the strategic plan is successfully implemented and that emerging challenges are expeditiously addressed. The UTO should ensure that all the goals in the strategic plan have performance and target metrics as a means of tracking implementation. The action plan should be improved to clearly show the persons in charge of implementing a specific goal and the resources available for the implementation process to increase accountability and ensure that implementation stays within the projected budget.  The UTO should also consider instituting a standing team that continuously analyses the university’s technology platforms vis-à-vis emerging trends and help make recommendations on appropriate intervention measures. Finally, the university should strengthen the collaboration between the UTO and independent software and hardware vendors and explore ways that the relationships can be exploited to create synergies that can reduce the university’s technology expenditure.

 

 

Works cited

Arizona State University implements Oracle® applications to improve student administration system and support rapid growth. Oracle press release, 11 December 2006. Web. 19 February 2015. < http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/press/015423_EN>

Beretta, Samuel. “Unleashing the Integration Potential of ERP Systems: The Role of Process-based Performance Measurement Systems”, Business Process Management Journal, 8. 3 (2002): 254–277. Print.

Gwo-Jen Hwang & Chin-Chung Tsai. “Research Trends in Mobile and Ubiquitous Learning: A Review of Publications in Selected Journals from 2001 to 2010,” British Journal of Educational Technology, 42.4 (2011): 65–70. Print.

Information technology strategic plan 2012-2016. Arizona State University. 2012. Print.

James, Dorien & Wolf, Malcolm. (2000). A second wind for ERP. McKinsey Quarterly,

Sultan, Nabil. “Cloud Computing for Education: A New Dawn?” International Journal of Information Management 30.2 (2010): 109-116. Print.

University technology office. Arizona State University. 2015. Web. 19 February 2015. <https://uto.asu.edu/plans>

Wright Richard, Miller Ant & Addis Mathew. “The Significance of Storage in the “Cost of Risk” of Digital Preservation”, The International Journal of Digital Curation, 3.4 (2009): 104-122.