Getting the Big Picture

Barb White

WHITE ON HER CABINET role
at UGA: "I'm at the table
not because I'm the CIO, but
because my collegues and I
have made a case for presenting
a cross-section of thinking."


CIOs at most institutions are striving for integrated business processes and a places at the table. Here's one CIO's story.

Barbara White’s 30-plus-year career in higher ed administration has included appointments at five Land Grant institutions. This academic year, she joined 33,000-student University of Georgia as CIO and associate provost, directing UGA’s Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS), the unit responsible for the university’s vast network of computing and communications technologies that support teaching, research, and administration throughout the campus. White has extensive experience leading strategic IT initiatives, including a $6.5 million migration of administrative systems at Utah State University, where she was VP of Information Technology and CIO prior to joining UGA.

You assumed your post as CIO at UGA toward the beginning of this academic year. Are you looking at new challenges? The issues we’re facing here are the same ones we faced at Utah State. You’ll find these issues at most campuses: Getting the CIO spot at the table; looking at how to engage the campus in discussions about information technology, how to assess the processes on the business side of the house, how decisions are made, what kinds of governance or advisory models are in place, and asking how we are held accountable.

As UGA’s CIO, do you have a “seat at the table?” Yes; I have a position as a cabinet-level member. I am asked questions by the central administration regarding IT approaches and issues. They view me as a peer, and they’re looking to me for input. Yet I’m at the table not because I’m the CIO, but because my colleagues and I have made a case for presenting a cross-section of thinking.

In general, are CIOs now more likely to get their “seat at the table” in higher education? Are expectations for the CIO role changing? An increasing number of CIOs are being added to and included in the cabinet and senior-level management in higher education. If you take a look at current literature about the role and scope of a CIO, you’ll see that the qualifications that business, industry, government, and higher ed are looking for now emphasize not necessarily high-end technology expertise, but organizational skills, the ability to engage people, planning skills, being able to understand the business side of the house; and, certainly, understanding technology’s role, applications, and major players in the market. We’ve seen a different kind of CIO in the last 18 months to three years—institutions are moving the CIO from an IT executive director’s position into a more established leadership role.

The CIO is moving into a more established leadership role.

You’ve said that “Enterprise IT is not an IT project.” Is this another change we’re seeing in the expectations of IT leadership? This is a big change in the entire culture on campuses as we look at technology as an enabler. The decisions about our business processes in order to purchase and/or go after technology to help us do our work better or more efficiently is a university decision, not just an IT decision. That means you have to have people involved from the business side, the user community, the whole organization; not only the IT department. If you really want to enable change in an organization, it has to be inclusive. If it’s driven by only one group, you’ll have a much harder time bringing about change.

How do you make sure everyone who should be involved in technology planning gets involved? Making sure is one thing, but engaging others is where the CIO has significant responsibility. First, the central administration has to be on board with the use of technology to change the campus. As a cabinet member, I’m engaging them, and so I have confidence that they’re on board. Second, there has to be an advisory structure. There is a very active set of advisory groups at UGA: We have one that represents the user community and technical applications; another is made up of IT directors on the campus; another is the Information Technology Advisory Council, made up of a cross-section of academic, research, administrative, and technical people; and we have an interface with the Board of Regents. We also have exploratory groups, such as one looking at administrative data management systems, representing all business management groups on campus.

You’ve said that institutions need to articulate “where we are, where we need to be, and the gap in between.” What do you mean, and why is it important? Central to this is the idea of an enterprise seeing the big picture, change drivers, and institutional priorities—the entire institution—in terms of the status of connectivity and functionality, along with our ability to provide access to data. Then, we compare all that to where we need to be in order to be competitive. Traditionally, we’ve looked only at the pieces: research, the academic side of the house, or outreach. But you have to look at the whole—and tie planning, budgeting, and deployment to the change drivers and priorities of the university. This is an opportunity that higher ed has not taken advantage of in the IT arena. You can build relationships with people you have not talked to before and implement user-driven planning that d'esn’t come from top-down.

Is there a new IT “democracy” at most institutions? Is the decision-making process cutting through all levels? In higher ed IT, I don’t think that a broad-based democracy has existed, historically. I think what we may be moving toward is a kind of democracy at the upper levels, where all of the central administration come together and put their cards on the table in order to try to make the best decisions for the whole institution. The problem with IT is that it’s all-encompassing. It’s not as though you could elect to have a piece of it missing, and go on functioning properly in the rest of the institution. So, the participation with and respect for IT must be a part of the democracy, and we are moving closer to that than we have been in the past. A critical piece of that democracy will be accountability.

What kinds of accountability and performance metrics should institutions be looking at? We’re seeing more now about performance metrics, portfolio management, and the balanced score card. And the whole performance/productivity/ quality management arena has been around for quite a long time. Yet, we haven’t benchmarked, set priorities, and identified indicators that would allow us to measure our progress, to make sure that we can show that the investment made in a deployment really did pay for itself and was a value added.

Is there benchmarking data available for institutions to set meaningful goals? Yes—there’s a lot available through ECAR (www.educause.edu/ecar), the Educause Core Data Service (www.educause.edu/apps/coredata/index.asp), Gartner (www.gartner.com), Campus Computing (www.campuscomputing.net), and through vendors such as Cisco (www.cisco.com), Oracle (www.oracle.com), SunGard Collegis (www.sungardcollegis.com), and SunGard SCT (www.sungardsct.com). It’s not that we don’t have data; it’s about comparisons. To help, our Board of Regents identified 10 peer institutions similar to us in size and scope. Do institutions take advantage of business intelligence?

Do departments share information for decision analysis? Organizations and units within organizations now see a much greater need to share information. But different, decentralized groups collect data from different perspectives—frustrating for central administration. Over the last few years, there’s been a greater push for integration of data systems and common definitions and elements, to build one central repository for data mining. But we have a long way to go!

Barbara White will be keynoting at Syllabus2005 in July.

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