B. Background

Higher education, like the rest of society, is at the beginning of an upward curve in realizing the power of information technology. The Internet began in 1969 with four host computers. This number grew to about 200 in 1979, and to 80,000 in 1989. In about the next three years the number of computers reached 800,000, and in another three years reached 8 million. Since 1995, there have been 22 million computers added to the Internet, of which almost half were added in the last year alone. The amount of traffic on the Internet (email messages sent or Web-pages retrieved) is doubling in volume every one hundred days. The Web itself is estimated to have more than 320 million pages and it is projected that the number of Web sites will increase ten-fold in the next few years. Similar dramatic increases in use and functionality can be found in respect to personal computers, high-performance computers, telecommunications, digital media, information systems, and electronic transactions.

Dramatic technological change will reshape society and its institutions in the next ten to twenty years. The pace of this change is increasing and, as noted earlier, small causes can have great effects. For these reasons, there is urgency to the choices we make about information technology. The paths chosen in the next few years will be critical in setting a direction and trajectory for this institution in the decades that follow.

As we have argued in the Preface, since the essence of higher education is information and the creation and conveyance of knowledge, there is every reason to think that these changes will radically transform colleges and universities. This is unavoidable. But it does not mean that we have no control over our destiny. Indeed, to the contrary, it means that we must plan carefully so as to control events, and not be controlled by them.

These changes will cause a redefining of student, faculty, and staff roles, needs, and expectations, and are likely to cause profound shifts in university functions and structures. Universities that do not plan for the future will fall behind those that do. While IU has a record of information technology planning over the past decade (see Appendix B), the results of these plans have been mixed. In some cases recommendations were acted on, in other cases they were overtaken by events, while in still others there was no action at all.

What IU needs now is a comprehensive plan for information technology, backed by a commitment to action. The need for an IT plan is necessitated by several factors: the acceleration of technological advances, a university-wide planning effort (Strategic Directions) intended to make Indiana University "America's New Public University" (see Appendix C), and recent organizational changes, including the creation of the Office of the Vice President for Information Technology (OVPIT), and the formation of University Information Technology Services (UITS).

Most immediately this plan is a response to the challenge from President Myles Brand for Indiana University to become a leader, in absolute terms, in the use of information technology. This is essential not just for our standing among other universities in information technology, but, given the emerging centrality of information technology, it is essential to the fulfillment of President Brand's "Next Step" vision: "Indiana University must move forward now to the next level until it is recognized as one of the very best of the nation's universities."

It is well to note that Indiana University is embarking on this "Next Step" from a position of already having many comparative advantages, and we should seek to establish a position of technology leadership that is consistent with the institution's strengths. As a small sampling, these include:

While the details are difficult to project, it seems clear that the University will observe and participate in the following changes:

To achieve a position of leadership, Indiana University must implement an effective strategic plan for the use of information technology in research and academic computing, teaching and learning, and administrative support. This plan must recognize the inevitability and ubiquity, but also the unpredictability, of the spreading use of information technology in higher education.

Information technology is in a state of rapid change. No one would have predicted where we are now five years ago, and there is no reason to suppose we can predict with certainty where technology will be in another five years. For this reason, flexibility and experimentation should guide every phase of information technology planning and implementation. Throughout this process, IU must stay light on its feet! Indeed, flexibility and experimentation are so important that these might well be guiding principles for this entire plan.

It is well to remember that as IU participates in all of these changes (and more), it does so from a position of relative strength. We start with a number of comparative advantages in information technology, including:

This plan is not just a plan for University Information Technology Services, but rather a strategic plan for information technology for all of Indiana University. Full implementation of this plan will need more than increased activity and funding for UITS. Much of the implementation will by necessity take place at the school and departmental level, calling for increased activity and funding there too. This fits the distributed nature of information, and is consonant with flexibility and experimentation. But as individual units make their own plans for information technology there should be an institutional expectation that these plans will be shared for review and comment with the UITC who, along with the Campus Computing Center Directors and the campus Information Technology Councils at IUB and IUPUI, can provide an important advisory and review function.

We recognize that this plan implies expenditures well beyond the historic norm, and that full implementation of this plan may be seen as competing with other University needs. The University should continue its efforts to increase revenue streams for information technology. Achieving fully the vision outlined in this plan may depend on increased state and federal funding, and on external partnerships, both national and international, with government, industry, and others in higher education which can help IU advance to a position of leadership in the application and use of information technology.

A. Preface  |  Table of Contents  |  C. The Process

June 1998
Comments to ovpit@indiana.edu
Copyright © 1998, the Trustees of Indiana University