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As an advocate for strategic tech improvements, you’re right in line with technology experts in higher education. Campus Technology noted that “mitigating repetitive tasks in favor of more important work” is a top EdTech trend to watch for in 2019. Machine learning and artificial intelligence will continue to automate more and more administrative tasks, opening up exciting possibilities for universities to do more with less.
But even more important than efficiency is the ability to make smart decisions based on data. In its report on the Top 10 Information Technology Issues for 2019, EDUCAUSE issued a warning, “The difference between perhaps not surviving at all and thriving rests on the ability to make data-grounded decisions.” Without the right technology, your university will be navigating the future without a compass.
Ready to make your case? Whether you need a project management tool, grant management software, a CRM, or cloud storage, the shrinking budgets of many universities make proposing new technology no easy task. Here are some strategies to convince even the biggest skeptic and get your proposal approved.
1. Enlist Your Technology Department’s Expertise
Before you get too far down the road with your research, identify an IT staff member who can answer technical questions. Ask about security, data migration, integration, and other important topics. Gather a list of requirements so you can quickly assess whether a solution will work. This is also an opportunity to evaluate the provider. Ask them to verify your requirements or see if they have a knowledge base that’s easy to navigate and understand.
When you prepare your business case, create a table with the university’s IT requirements and a note (or check mark) showing that you did your homework. This will prevent university leaders from delaying the review of your proposal until it’s been approved by IT.
2. Consider Software as a Service (SaaS)
Nearly 80 percent of universities have incorporated SaaS applications, according to a survey by eCampus News. When the service provider hosts applications, this frees your university IT team from backend upkeep. This could be an appealing solution for universities that can’t add new infrastructure. You’ll just need to ensure that security is a priority and all service level agreements protect the institution. Your partnership with the IT department will help you assess any risk.
3. Talk to Real Users
Once you’ve shortlisted a few options, reach out to your network for feedback. Pose a question on LinkedIn, contact a peer you met at a networking event, check out reviews on Capterra, or see if there are online resources available through your professional association.
Getting direct feedback from people actively using the technology is the best way to see if it would work for your department. Make a list of the primary problems you’re trying to solve and ask a real user if their software addresses them.
You can add this information into your business case a few different ways. You could make a chart with the problems the software would solve, list the number of universities using it or provide direct quotes from actual users. The goal is to bolster your case from a number of angles.
4. Anticipate Objections
Talking to your peers at other universities gives you insight into the objections they’ve encountered. Using their experience as a starting point, make a list of questions or concerns that might come up. Create a section in your report with an FAQ-style list. You’ll be prepared for every obstacle.
Be sure to anticipate some concerns about onboarding, data migration and learning curve. Your business case should include a section that addresses the cost and time involved in the transition as well as a clear change management process. It’s also smart to develop a visual showing integration points between this new software and any existing tools.
5. Use Stories, Not Just Facts
It’s easy to go crazy with charts and graphs when presenting a complex proposal, but research suggests that stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone. Let’s say you’re proposing a grant management system. You might begin with an anecdote that brings the most glaring problems to light.
“As you recall, last month we barely made the deadline for a critical limited submission opportunity because one member of the review committee missed an email with important attachments and another member was referring to an outdated version of the status report. This could have been a disastrous loss of important research revenue.”
6. Back Up Your Assumptions
In the world of academia, citations are key. If you want to give your arguments more weight, check out resources like EDUCAUSE. This nonprofit provides higher education technology trends and practices, research reports, case studies and benchmarking data. You can join on an institutional basis, which also gives your IT department access to all the resources. Depending on the complexity of the solution, you might want to partner with them to take advantage of the EDUCAUSE library and strengthen your proposal.
7. Focus on the Benefits, Not the Features
When you’re in the weeds of everyday administration, it can be tempting to dive right into the features of an application. “Look! It can do this! And this!” But the decision-makers want to understand the benefits of those features. Keep it high-level for the people who won’t actually be using the system. For example, if you’re proposing a project management tool:
Instead of saying: “The software allows users to view tasks in several formats - spreadsheet, Gantt chart, boards, lists and calendar.”
Try this: “The software provides several ways of viewing tasks to accommodate different work styles. This will encourage staff adoption, making implementation go more smoothly.”
8. Don’t Forget - “What’s in it for me?”
Lastly, don’t overlook the most important part of any proposal - “What’s in it for me?” When you consider the decision-makers, think about the emotional reasons that might derail your efforts. Make sure you incorporate the answers to these hidden questions:
How will this benefit me?
Will this create more work for me in the short or long term?
Will this make me (or my department) look good?
Will my boss disagree with this proposal?
You know there’s a better way. Strategic technology additions will give you both time and insights, stretching your department’s capabilities and helping you focus on what matters. Use these tips to develop an airtight business case that will sail through the approval process.