Supplier Spotlight: Columbia Advisory Group (CAG)

An Interview with David McLaughlin, President & CEO

| May 30, 2019 | by Michelle Nettuno, Category Marketing Manager, Technology at E&I Cooperative Services

What are some of the main reasons that educational institutions seek external IT support?

Our higher ed and K-12 clients call us when they have specialized needs that in-house staff don’t have the time or specialized knowledge to manage. Many campuses also realize that IT support partners can help them leverage shared resources and shared IT leadership.

Two great examples are Chief Information Security Officers and a 24/7 Help Desk. Qualified CISOs command higher salaries than most campuses and districts can afford, and their duties can often be handled on a fractional basis. Our security experts are able to share lessons learned and best practices across many IT clients. Plus, they are always up to date on certifications—something an in-house IT specialist can’t necessarily commit to. In the case of help desk support, with our services, the high cost of software and staffing needed to provide 24/7 service is shared across a group of campuses, but end users have a seamless experience so it still feels like an on-campus service.

What services are your educational customers most interested in?

These days, every campus and district is concerned about data security, so security and compliance assessments are often their first priority. Student Information System (SIS) selection, implementation, management and governance are a close second. As distance learning expands and Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) become more widely implemented, many campuses need help selecting, upgrading, and maintaining their audio visual (A/V) systems, such as conference and presentation systems and AR/VR learning systems, for ease-of-use and reliability. We built an A/V practice with a team of experts in design, installation, and service for all audiovisual needs for campuses and districts.

Interim or virtual IT leadership and IT governance are also in high demand. Our virtual CISO service allows campuses to affordably access expert leadership to support campus cybersecurity. Our virtual CISOs work remotely but also attend campus meetings as needed. As institutions strive to meet increasing IT demands, they need specialized expertise and IT leaders are in high demand. We are often called in to fill a gap, or to provide additional expertise for on-campus IT staff with fractional support. This allows a campus to “share” a role like Chief Information Security Officer with another campus, so they can afford a more expert resource by only paying for a fraction of that person’s time.

Why did Texas A&M University at Commerce turn to CAG for their IT outsourcing needs?

Texas A&M University-Commerce (TAMUC) wanted a partner that could provide comprehensive IT support, governance, and lifecycle management, and fill the role of Chief Information Security Officer. We provide TAMUC with seamless IT support for everything from help desk to audio visual, ERP and SIS. We also provide the CISO and CTO for the campus, and employ on-campus staff to handle all of the traditional IT roles you would expect to see. We also provide user help desk support for all IT requests.

When needed, our offsite experts assist with special projects. This approach allows the campus to flex support to meet project needs and be cost-effective day-to-day. Our recent projects have included extensive audiovisual renovations for the student center. We brought in our design and installation team to recommend the ideal configuration, source the technology, and install the systems. We provide audiovisual user support for the rooms, so we select reliable, easy-to-use solutions for the professors and guest lecturers to use.

In what ways can you help campuses and districts innovate?

Since we work with such a wide range of educational clients in various corporate industries, we evaluate and recommend best practices based on our broad expertise. We can help educational institutions decide what technology to invest in and which systems and technologies are unproven or unreliable. Often, the first generation of a new IT product will undergo frequent version updates, which can be frustrating for campus users. Consistency of the user experience throughout the institution should also be considered in order to make all systems easy for the campus to use and IT to support.

We offer practical advice that is hardware and software agnostic. We work with, design, and support many different types of technologies so we know firsthand what pitfalls to avoid. Lately, many institutions are beginning to invest in AR/VR, so that’s a fast-growing innovation area we can help with through advice, installation, and user support.

As IT department responsibilities within educational institutions increase exponentially, how can working with companies like CAG help to optimize budgets?

The IT landscape has grown to touch every part of student life, campus administration, academics, and research, but IT budgets have grown at a much slower pace or even stagnated. Meanwhile, the pace of security regulations continues to grow exponentially. Purely in-house IT departments are not always practical anymore from a budgetary and staffing standpoint, even for large institutions. A blended model of in-house and contracted services is often very effective.

Through our managed services contracts, we provide expert staff on an as-needed basis. We handle entire IT department tasks and strategy as needed. We also support in-house teams by working within a defined scope on specialized or routine tasks, so institutions can focus on big-picture items.

Since we work closely with campus leaders, we become a seamless part of the IT team and support educational objectives effectively. Our consultative approach helps institutions focus their budget on priorities and assists leadership in finding ways to hire more specific expertise for their budget dollars, which may mean sharing a CISO or Help Desk team so that on-campus staff can focus on other projects. IT needs and regulations are constantly evolving, so we highlight important items as they arise and help campuses address them proactively. We are able to help campuses optimize their spend on routine IT requirements so they can reallocate additional funds to evolving needs and projects on campus.


Click here to find out more about the E&I Columbia Advisory Group contract. 

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