IT (or information technology for the acronymically challenged) is going to be part of the future of college stores, for better or worse. Hopefully for the better. Whether it is e-books and digital course materials, new forms of POS, new types of products and services, data analytics, websites and online transactions, or something else. For those of you who do not read the campus IT news sources, it might be time to start doing so. There are a lot of good resources out there -- such as the publications produced by EDUCAUSE, and particularly the Education Learning Initiative (ELI) and EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR)* units.
Another source for many interesting news stories is Campus Technology. An article by Trent Batson on innovation in higher education IT for academics or learning has some interesting implications for us in college stores. In the piece he argues for a "technology innovation unit" -- a source that is constantly trying, vetting, and implementing new solutions and constantly putting old ideas "out of business." (The last section of the article is most worth reading). In the college store industry I have met some interesting stores that have done something like this, and we are working toward more innovation along this vein as it relates to the digital content area within NACS.
While there are many other worthy sources in this area, one other place to keep your eye on is Inside Higher Ed. They have a good number of interesting articles on a range of topics, including textbooks. For example, earlier this week there was a viewpoint article on the Value of a Textbook by a faculty member at the University of Minnesota. While the article provides an interesting perspective, just as interesting are some of the responses posted to the piece. the voices of some of our customers. This particular piece is a good example of the complexity of the issues in our industry and the many different perspectives -- and some passionate feelings -- individuals have about this topic.
Looking at such other sources is an important task for top management -- as part of the strategic environmental scanning process. I have said it before, but all top managers should be spending at least one hour a day away from the "tyranny of the tactical" and thinking about strategic issues and challenges to their store and the industry. Taking such steps is a vital to organizational survival over the long term, particularly as we are poised to see some dramatic changes within the next 3-5 years across the industry.
Reading other sources like these opens the doors for college store managers to engage in conversation with other campus stakeholders as well. If you understand or can see the "pain points" or perspectives of others, then an opportunity to be part of the solution. An hour a day spent on strategic thinking or activities is well worth the investment.
* As a matter of full disclosure, I am an ECAR fellow, so I have some bias here. I think the publications produced do have value for the wider campus community, though.