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A Green Light to Lead

CIOs must spearhead the move to sustainable campuses, for the sake of their institutions and their own jobs.

Wayne Brown, the founder of the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officer Studies (CHECS), regularly surveys campus technology leaders on trends that impact IT jobs. In a recent interview, he told CT that higher education leaders--including CIOs themselves--currently view the CIO role as foundational rather than strategic. In other words, everyone expects the CIO to focus on putting computers on desks, not to participate in the discussion about why the computers are there in the first place. In Brown's view, such an attitude puts CIOs on the fast track to seeing their jobs outsourced.

One key foundational role that is getting increasingly outsourced is data management, which has been, by definition and default, an IT manager's primary job. Therefore, as more data and systems move to the cloud, more and more CIOs are left to rethink what it is that defines the work they do.

Which brings me to the focus of the April issue of CT: the greening of higher ed IT. One of the compelling reasons why campuses are moving into the cloud is to lower their own carbon footprint. But the move to the cloud is changing not only the IT carbon footprint, but the IT leader's footprint as well. And it presents an opportunity to extend that footprint beyond IT.

To me, one clear way for CIOs to stake a claim to be part of the strategic leadership is for them to lead the charge in the greening of the American campus. Right now, IT departments are clearly doing a good job of lowering their own footprint through the cloud, virtualization, remote management systems, and so forth. But they seem less involved in larger campus sustainability initiatives, which often find their home in places such as facilities and transportation. It's a surprise to me how often we learn that facilities and IT don't talk to each other, or that an initiative to encourage fewer cars on campus is done without consulting IT. These are missed strategic opportunities.

Universities and colleges have no choice but to find ways to operate more sustainably--economically and ecologically. Information technology should clearly be at the heart of this effort. IT can help institutions assess where they are leaking energy and money; provide students and staff ways to monitor their energy use; collaborate with facilities to create really smart buildings; and work with academic planners to grow world-class online learning opportunities that will save energy and engage learners. The list goes on.

To happily twist the words of Gordon Gekko: Green is good. For the planet. For your institution. For your job.

About the Author

Therese Mageau is the former editorial director of THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at therese@educationworksconsulting.com.

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