IT Trends | Feature

The New CIO: Bruce Maas

5 higher ed chief information officers discuss their changing role on campus.

Campus Technology interviewed five CIOs about the perceptions of their changing role on campus, asking them to give examples of how they delegate, mentor, collaborate and strategize more than they used to. In part 4 of our series, the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Bruce Maas talks about the organizational changes that enable him to focus on a more strategic role. (Missed parts 1-3? See the Table of Contents on the top left of this article.)

Bruce Maas

Bruce Maas, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Bruce Maas is CIO and vice provost for information technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

CT: What are some organizational changes you have made to reflect the more strategic role that IT needs to play at Wisconsin?

Maas: When I became a CIO, I immediately sought to work with and empower the distributed IT leaders. [Now] we have a much more strategic and institutionally engaged group of distributed CIOs I am working with as partners. We have made a lot of progress in working together on institutional IT strategies, but there is still a great deal of work ahead of us.

At UW-Madison, we have consciously separated the role of operations leader for IT from the CIO, to allow the CIO to work more strategically on mission-critical services. A chief operating officer is responsible for IT operations and reports directly to the CIO. It takes time, effort, organizational development and extensive relationship building to shift the focus of IT services to align with emerging needs of the university. Our COO John Krogman and I are working together to accomplish this. As the higher education business model is being disrupted by technology, I am steadily spending more of my time on teaching, learning and research infrastructure issues.

Typically, operational issues can be so demanding that they will at times trump planning or strategic issues. By separating these two functions, we are able to better focus on both aspects.

CT: How do you resolve the tension between the desire for departmental autonomy vs. enterprise efficiency?

Maas: We want to have healthy discussions about how to best optimize services at the right scale level. An example is the use of Moodle, which gradually sprung up in pockets around campus. We just completed a funded consolidation of multiple Moodle instances to an enterprise service run by Engineering for the campus. That is the type of conversation we want to continue having. It is not either/or, but when does it make sense, gravitate things from edge to core and make it more scalable.

CT: UW-Madison has an Educational Innovation (EI) initiative that includes experimentation with MOOCs. Was it important that IT execs were part of the core team?

Maas: The CIO was at the table in early planning phases, but it quickly also included our Director of Academic Technology Linda Jorn. Linda earned a greater stake by making contributions that were greatly valued by academic colleagues. This led to her also being appointed associate vice provost for learning technologies, which was an important message that she was also a key leader on behalf of the provost. This dual title connects her with both the COO and CIO, which gives her, and the EI initiative, support from both leaders by definition. We are working hard to have the academic mission drive our work directly, and closely align by providing scalable services. Given that there is often significant ramp-up time for scaled services, we need to be a proactive part of the senior leadership team, collaboratively educating our colleagues about IT infrastructure needs along the way.

CT: Do you mentor your team to take positions of greater responsibility in the university?

Maas: Yes, I see mentoring as a key role of the CIO. We have highly talented individuals throughout our university and often all they need is some encouragement and support to take the next step. The best organizations are those in which the talents of all individuals are utilized effectively, including as they grow in experience and ability.

Coming Next: Antioch University Chief Information Officer Bob DeWitt talks about the importance of communication and partnerships for CIO success.

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