As CIO or IT Manager, How Do You Keep Atop Emerging Tech? [Survey]

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 10 Mar 2016

Education IT managers use leading edge EdTech for competitive advantage


EdTech is advancing at breakneck speeds. Virtual reality, augmented reality, Google Cardboard, beacons, and more are gaining attention for their transformative role in education. While IT managers, first and foremost, must keep their existing IT infrastructure up and running, true IT visionaries are constantly on the lookout for ways to further their organization’s mission and improve their competitiveness through emerging innovation.

We asked IT managers how they keep up with entirely-new technologies; that is, technologies new to the world in general, not mere product line extensions. Sometimes these breakthroughs spring from consumer technology or unexpected sources. How do IT managers balance their attention between keeping the IT lights on and meeting emerging needs, such as personalized learning? Implementing new Internet of things smart school devices can propel your institution above the competition; but the IoT employs new, often unproven devices and modules. How do you insure these innovations will improve education and not bring down the network?

The Role Of Trailblazing Technology In Education

IT managers in education tend to be innovators with their radar carefully attuned to emerging technology. They have to be. According to 46% of those surveyed, emerging leading/bleeding edge technology is “critical to our organization and to my success.” Another 45% report that it is “valuable to me, but not critical to my job.” To keep up, they follow influential bloggers, attend conferences with their peers specifically allocate resources include budget and staff for evaluating emerging tech, and conduct trials, proofs-of-concept, and pilots. Often the evaluations begin as soon as a new tech becomes available.

How important is it that you stay on top of emerging leading/ bleeding edge technology related to your industry?


How Quickly Do IT Managers Evaluate New Technology?

While 15% of those surveyed evaluate new tech shortly after it becomes available, 24% wait until it is informally requested by another department. The largest group, 36%, wait until a need has been formally expressed by another group to begin their investigation. At the more conservative end, 15% hold off their evaluation until a budget has been allocated for the technology purchase. These different groups roughly equate to the adoption lifecycle categories of innovators, early adopters, early majority, and late majority/laggards.


What Distinguishes IT Innovators From Early Adopters?

Regardless of school size, almost all IT managers feel it is critical or valuable to stay on top of emerging leading/bleeding edge technology. The one outlier to that is the group of IT managers at schools with 5,000-9,999 students, where 13% say it is not important to track new technology, unless it relates to their day-to-day operations. Presumably, this is because the group struggles to support a larger user base with a budget insufficient to explore new technologies. Schools that are both larger and smaller than 5,000-9,999 are more inclined to say that new technology is “critical to our organization and to my success.”


How do you test new innovative technologies?

IT managers evaluate promising new technologies in different ways depending on its potential uses. Our survey found that 37% have staff members specifically assigned to evaluations.

Specific staff assigned to this task.

Our survey asked an open-ended question about whether IT managers had a specific annual budget allocated for buying and testing innovative technologies. The most common answer was “no”, but those that did have budgets for innovative technologies, primarily in higher education, said they spent from $500-10,000 per year. Several had much higher budgets, all the way up to $2M at a large US community college. These comments are from several IT managers who said they don’t have specific innovative tech budgets:

“Not yearly but every 3 year cycle $35,000.”

“Not a specific budget, but spends $1000-$10,000 on testing new tech each year.”

“We primarily rely on grants”


What types of hand-on evaluations of hands-on evaluations do you use?


How many evaluation projects do you typically run simultaneously?

The chart above shows how many tech evaluation projects education (K-12 and higher ed combined) run simultaneously. K-12 IT managers generally limit the number of simultaneous evaluation projects to one; but the largest K-12 school districts say they typically have two projects simultaneously underway.

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How Do You Learn About New Technologies: Differences Between Higher Education And K-12 Technology Scouting

Participating in technical conferences is the most valuable means to keep up with technology for both K-12 and higher education. Tracking technology bloggers is in second place for K-12, while higher education puts technology newsletters second. Industry analysts and vendors play a limited role across all education, but higher education managers pay slightly more attention than K-12 managers to analysts. For more details on how education industry IT managers keep up with technology trends, see
[forthcoming blog].


 How do you learn about new bleeding-edge technology?

K-12 schools are more likely than higher education institutions to have staff members specifically tasked with tracking new tech. Universities tend to do more proof-of-concepts, while k-12 often implements pilot deployments. Many K-12 school districts have been recently rolling out major new 1-1 computing programs for which pilots are critical. Colleges on the other hand have been experimenting with smaller-scale projects like collaborative classrooms that lend themselves better to proof-of-concept testing. Respondents called attention to the inherent risk of working with version 1.0 given the vital importance of protecting student safety and privacy.

Staying in Alignment

Staying up to date with breaking technology would be irrelevant if done in a vacuum and could not be used by the greater organization. To insure their technology plans are in alignment with the organization’s strategic plan and achieve maximum benefit from technology evaluations, IT managers use a number of different methods. The most common method for this is via technology meetings with the important users. There is often a strategic plan that includes technology. Here’s what a technology adviser at small K-12 school had to say, “We’ll try out any tech, but we only share ideas with administrators and teachers if we see a connection to greater strategic priorities.”

The budgeting process also tends to align priorities as indicated by this comment, “the use of a Technology Advisory Committee assists in setting priorities, as well as budget priorities.”

Tapping Into Consumer Technology

The consumer world is often a source of innovation, due its high level of investment and competition. The risk is that consumer technology may not be robust or durable enough for education environments. Nonetheless, many schools are experimenting with consumer drones and virtual reality. On the software side products like Youtube, Twitter, WordPress, and Facebook are examples of consumer technology that has been successfully used in education. The survey found that 54% of education IT managers readily make use of consumer technology in their schools.


Recent examples of technology evaluations

We asked IT managers to briefly describe their most recent examples of leading edge technology they have evaluated, studied or reported on. Here are some of their responses:

  • Double Robotics as an alternative to Skype for Business
  • Various hyper convergence solutions
  • Video conferencing systems
  • 3D printing (mentioned many times)
  • SPRK Lightning Lab for Sphero
  • Tracking computers with a Raspberry pi
  • We have been trying to get more items for “Maker-spaces” in the libraries. Looking at 3-D printers.
  • CintiQ Professional Creative Tablet – for easier autodesk tasking
  • Alice – to create 3D animations


Survey Demographics

Survey size: 345 completed surveys 




This blog was co-authored with Christen Palange.


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