It's About the Relationship
- By Katherine Grayson
It’s not about the ideal CIO or how the latest tech rollout was effected;
it’s about how the campus/CIO relationship is structured.
One of the things I like about this Seen & Heard column format is that
it allows me to sit at my desk, peruse incoming information, and then—from
my vantage point here on Mount Campus Technology—comment on the
world of college and university technology as I see it. Pretty nifty, if you
ask me. And, I realize, not always sporting. But from my peak here in the clouds,
I often get a wide-angle view that’s hard to get from inside a campus.
In fact, I was in the middle of reviewing William Fritz’s piece in our
own Dec. 7 C2 eLetter, “A
Missed Opportunity? Technology Implementations Can Drive Cultural Change”,
when CT Managing Editor Claudia Linh drew my attention to the excellent
Dec. 9 Chronicle story, “What
Presidents Want from CIO’s—and Vice Versa”. Both stories
discuss what happens or d'es not happen when CIOs are focused largely on technology
alone. In the C2 piece, the focus is on mode—the manner in which
technology implementations are carried out. In the Chronicle story, the focus
is on the background, vision, philosophy, personality, and breadth of purpose
behind the individual who comes to the role of CIO.
“Presidents like to have CIO’s who can straddle the fence between
the technologists and the others,” stated John Buechner, president emeritus
of the University of Colorado. “We’re really looking
for a hybrid personality.” And according to Mark Clark, director of Computing
at the University of Manchester (UK), the CEO needs to be an
individual who is able to support the chief information officer and “
the courage to say, ‘No, that will not work for this institution.’”
But I think there’s more to it than personality-typing campus leaders
or better organizing the way technology implementations are carried out. Fritz
was closer to the problem when he reported that Georgia State’s
recent tech implementation challenge was “an excuse—a good excuse—to
bring everyone together ‘at the table.’” Yet, why wait for
such an excuse?
UC-Berkeley’s CIO Jack McCredie, speaking in the Chronicle
article, strongly advised, “I don’t know how a chief technology
officer can understand the depth and breadth of opportunities and problems of
a college or university and the issues that are on everybody else’s plate
unless he or she has a seat at that table.”
McCredie is right. The CIO should sit at that table, period. He or
she should also have the same kind of regular interaction with faculty and student
senates or similar campus organizations. Building the CIO’s cross-functional,
pan-campus relationships must be a primary concern of both the CIO and the CEO—and
it d'esn’t much matter what the CIO’s personality is, or what challenges
the current tech implementation presents. Any CIO will see campus and
technology user issues more clearly and drive better tech implementations if
he or she routinely steps out of the IT vacuum to experience the world as the
other campus members see it, and to weigh in on decisions made on other levels.
To deprive the CIO of those ongoing interactions, or not insist that they are
pursued, is to ensure that decisions are indeed made in a void. When I can see
this from up here on the Mount, you know it’s time for change.
Katherine Grayson is is a Los Angeles based freelance writer covering technology,
education, and business issues.