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An Issue of Credibility
Tim Chester, CIO of the University of Georgia, has written a compelling article in CT (see "Don't Dictate, Facilitate") on the changing role of IT on campus--and the new style of leadership required of CIOs. In it, he talks about the need for IT leaders to be able to "credibly convene important conversations about the effective use of technology on campus."
At the moment, he asserts, too many CIOs are not even in a position to bring campus colleagues to the table. Indeed, IT is often seen as the last group to be involved in any new initiative because of its reputation as a roadblock. In Chester's view, that must change. Instead of a hidebound dictator, IT must become a flexible facilitator, working to achieve the goals of others within the institution.
As Chester points out, though, an IT leader can't simply wake up one morning and decide that he is going to be a facilitator. He can play that role only if people see him and his organization as credible. And to achieve that credibility, he has to build a track record of doing exactly what he says he will do.
While Chester's article focuses on IT's relationship with campus constituents, his message about credibility has much broader value. In "Breaking the Ice," David Raths examines the sometimes-thorny relationship between vendors and campus IT, and offers ideas for putting these partnerships on firmer footing. These are terrific proposals but, after reading Chester's piece, I would add one more: Lack of credibility is as harmful to the vendor-IT relationship as it is to the IT-university one. And it cuts both ways.
For whatever reasons--overpromising, under-delivering, or fixating on the bottom line--vendors are often seen as having goals that are not aligned with those of institutions. In most cases, this simply isn't true, but perception often trumps reality.
On the other side, IT shops lose credibility with vendors when they make unreasonable demands, such as expensive one-off modifications. Or when IT deals only narrowly with vendors, dismissing other ways in which they might benefit the institution.
The resulting suspicion is not conducive to the kind of long-term partnerships that lead to innovative solutions. Indeed, when vendors and IT wrangle over contracts like Cold War arms negotiators, they lose sight of the real bottom line: working together to solve campus problems.
For IT and vendors to succeed in the new world, this must change. I'm not making some fuzzy appeal to altruism here. I recognize that businesses are out to make money. But in this era of social media--when information is shared widely and instantaneously--the time for pricing secrecy or anything else that might undermine a business's credibility is long past.
Likewise, IT leaders will be judged on their ability not only to convene the important conversations, but to follow through with solutions in which vendors often play key strategic roles. In such circumstances, working partnerships are far preferable to business arrangements that cling to the letter of a contract. It all starts with credibility. The partnerships will follow.
Andrew Barbour is the former executive editor of Campus Technology.