ResNet Outsourcing

I’ve recently been thinking about the state of ResNet outsourcing. There is very little data about this topic and it doesn’t seem to come up very often in the ResNet community but it’s out there. Allow me to take you on a brief tour of the available data and my thoughts.

A few recent items have mentioned this topic. Actually, they’ve more generally mentioned IT outsourcing. The first of these is the just-released EDUCAUSE Core Data Service FY2005 Summary. I (briefly) discussed this in my previous post. This document notes that “the use of external suppliers to run a campus IT function appears not to be a common practice overall.” More specifically, only 3.1% of respondents are outsourcing their ResNet. Another recent item that mentions outsourcing is the just-released results of University Business’ Technology Spending Survey 2007. The reported results of this survey are more general but 20% of respondents outsource their “IT Support” and 15% outsource their “Help Desk.” The extent of the outsourcing and other details don’t appear to be available in either of these documents (they’re broad, general surveys; there is no way to construct them to answer the questions or concerns of every niche or specialty).

The EDUCAUSE data are very similar to to the data in the 2005 ResNet Survey. Only 2% of the respondents to that survey indicated that they were, at the time of the survey (spring of 2005), outsourcing their ResNet; an additional 22% have considered or were considering it.

In addition to these surveys, I also recall seeing several EDUCAUSE programs and presentations related to ResNet outsourcing. The vast majority of them, however, are all related to one company: Apogee. While I am, in general, very skeptical of outsourcing ResNet, almost everything that Apogee’s clients have said about Apogee has been very positive. While it doesn’t appear that Apogee has a large number of clients, some of them are very large and significant (University of Texas (see clarification below in Update 3) and Florida State University). Their list of clients is certainly larger than I remembered it from the last time I looked into this issue and this company and they appear, from my outsider’s perspective, to be experiencing some level of success.

So that’s the trail that I followed when trying to figure out the current state of ResNet outsourcing. If I wanted to be even more thorough, I would search the archives of the ResNet listserv and perhaps post a message asking for help, insight, or input. I monitor that list pretty carefully and have been doing so for several years and thus consider such a search unnecessary for this brief, non-scholarly overview.

I don’t care to go into a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of ResNet outsourcing. As mentioned above, many of my colleagues who have actually pursued this option appear to be pretty pleased with their decision. I’m sure that of the 4,000+ institutions of higher education in the United States nearly every possible decision is the right decision for some of those institutions. I am wary of surrendering the incredible (but often untapped) educational value of an institutionally-run ResNet program, including the student employment and leadership opportunities possible through a well-run ResNet program. On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to those institutions whose priorities differ and who do not have or care to dedicate the resources to maintain a ResNet.

Please accept my apologies for not being able to give you a succinct, well-written, and well-researched discussion of the causes, effects, and viability of outsourcing your ResNet. As a ResNet researcher, I am acutely aware of the dearth of data in this area. I am also aware of the immense variety among American institutions of higher education. Without a significant amount of data, attempting to generalize the few focused, single-institution discussions to every institution appears to be very foolhardy and unwise. We have quite a bit more work to do in conducting descriptive research before we can think of making prescriptions.

Update: The Chronicle has a short article about the perceived increase in IT outsourcing based on data from the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service and the Campus Computing Project (a survey I did not mention as it (a) doesn’t really have much ResNet- or student affairs-specific material and (b) has only a brief executive summary with the rest of the data reserved for paying customers). The Chronicle article isn’t bad for what it is but some of the numbers are pretty small and do I have to wonder about statistical significance as the article does appear to be trying to extrapolate these surveys’ findings onto the entire population. But the gist of the article – outsourcing is slowly increasing – appears to be correct, in general.

Update 2: InsideHigherEd also mentioned the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service and the perceived increase in outsourcing. I’m puzzled why a topic that is only briefly mentioned with no fanfare a handful of times in a 121 page document is attracting so much attention (relatively speaking).

Update 3: William C. Green, Director of Networking at the University of Texas at Austin, asked me to clarify his institution’s relationship with Apogee: “The University of Texas at Austin residence network is provided by university.  It is not now, nor has it ever been, outsourced to Apogee….Apogee does provide services to off campus private dorms and apartments.  And at one point had a contract to market that service through the university.”  Thanks for the clarification William!