It's About the Relationship

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 “…have 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.

About the Author

Katherine Grayson is is a Los Angeles based freelance writer covering technology, education, and business issues.

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