Dr. A. Michael Berman, Vice President for Technology and Communication for California State University Channel Islands, has more than fifteen years of information technology management experience in higher education. Earlier this year, he was listed by the Huffington Post as a Rising Star in its list of 50 Most Social CIOs on Twitter. He recently spoke with us about the challenges of simplifying business processes in higher education.

What new IT demands are you getting from your university clients?

We're feeling getting pressure from all sides. Users are much more sophisticated. There was a time when we could give them tech tools and say, "Well, that's as good as it gets. If you need more training, read the manual." Now they're often frustrated, annoyed or angry because what we have to offer them is so inferior to what they've become used to.

They expect to use their mobile devices. If we say, "That's all well and good, but there are security and user interface issues" they're not receptive to our arguments. They want to work on their own terms, and we're struggling to keep up with them.

We're also getting pressure from the people who do purchasing or manage student records to manage paper flow. They know they're out of date and that there's a better way. They're asking us: “Can you help us do it. And can you do it right away?" They've been told to save money. They can't hire more people, so they want to use technology to become more efficient and cost effective and sustainable. Or else they try to find help on their own—with varied success.

Have you found any good ways to simplify the way you provide services?

One thing that we do is look for external cloud-based hosting for certain services. It's not always cheaper, but it’s often simpler because it moves a big chunk of the implementation and support process to somebody else. Our campus website is hosted remotely in another state. In the event of an emergency, we're not struggling to get it back up and we can use it as a communications device.

And what about simplifying the business processes themselves?

We've asked each division for their two most painful paper-based processes. We're now working on improving the process flow for approvals through our portal. For example, academic affairs has a form that goes out to the faculty to track outside employment. They send out a piece of paper to the faculty member, who fills it out and sends it out to the department chair, who sends it to the dean and the provost's office, who sends it to HR.

At the end of the chain, you have 400 faculty but only 50 forms. When you try to track the missing forms down, you might find them on the program chair's desk…or anywhere else. What finally happens is that the person who really needs a form asks: "Can you just fill it out again and walk it through by hand because we need it by Tuesday?"

The same thing applies for getting a key for a building. It needs to be approved by the person who has control over the building and three to five other people. Or requests for students that are requesting waivers for courses they've taken elsewhere.  Just emailing these forms won't work because we have to meet audit requirements showing things have been approved by the right people.

When you move away from paper, you can simplify everything.

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