Lessons Learned As A University CIO
By Chris Wessells, senior higher education strategist, Dell Technologies.
A university CIO is responsible for myriad responsibilities related to improving and maintaining technology and services in support of institutional goals. Still, to do that effectively, the job goes far beyond what many typically consider as part of the role.
Hiring engineers and IT specialists? That’s part of your requirements, in addition to protecting personal information of students and faculty, ensuring there is a high-performance infrastructure, as well as providing effective systems and IT services to meet institutional requirements.
A CIO needs to have a variety of skills to succeed, including being capable of managing people and change while also considering financials, managing a budget, balancing technology responsibilities and keeping cybersecurity top-of-mind.
Having served as a CIO at prominent four-year universities in the United States, I learned that in addition to the responsibilities outlined above, the role of a CIO is an ever-changing position that requires constant evolution and adaption to meet the needs of a heavily technology-driven community.
Some of the most important lessons I learned include:
1) Relationships are as important as technology
I quickly learned that building relationships with executive decision-makers was crucial to the success of institutional initiatives. Building bonds with business unit leaders from facilities management to public safety to athletics can be as essential at the relationships with the provost, deans and academic department chairs. That is, the CIO should cultivate and maintain healthy relationships at all levels of the university, which can lead to allies in digital transformation efforts.
Being connected with students is equally important. I found having a student technology advisory committee was an excellent way to listen to student needs, gain insights on how to improve IT services and build trust with the student community.
Building a strong IT leadership team also enables CIOs to form better relationships on campus that will assist in implementing new academic and administrative initiatives.
2) Enforcing shared governance is a must
One common CIO mistake is dictating change without receiving input from others on campus. This is why shared governance, placing the responsibility, authority and accountability for decisions on those who will use the technology, should be a top priority. Shared governance with the academic community is essential to being successful.
Higher education CIOs should be shifting responsibilities from operating technology to more strategic governance responsibilities. Students and faculty are the primary constituents that require technology and services from a campus IT organization, so naturally, CIOs should consider their requirements when assessing and implementing new solutions. For example, before purchasing new classroom instructional technology, it is crucial to consult faculty on those matters; and include faculty in pilot projects and testing. This approach often leads to better decisions that are made collaboratively, rather than having IT simply dictate decisions from a technical standpoint.