IT Trends | Feature

The New CIO: David Crain

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 2 of our series, Southern Illinois University CIO David Crain talks about IT's role in strategic initiatives on campus. (Missed part 1? See "The New CIO: Strategist, Change Leader, Digital Guide.")

Southern Illinois University CIO David Crain

David Crain, Southern Illinois University
David Crain has been assistant provost and CIO for Southern Illinois University since 2012. He was previously an assistant vice president at the University of Missouri, where he was responsible for the technology infrastructure.

CT: Looking back over your career at Missouri and Southern Illinois, has there been an evolution in your thinking about what the CIO does?

Crain: The focus of a CIO in higher education is certainly changing. For years we have focused on the "T" (technology) in IT and only recently have we really begun to really focus on the "I" (information). I believe that this trend toward the "I" will continue with the explosion of big data and the Internet of Things. As a result of our digital initiatives at SIU, we suddenly have data on student performance that we have never had before. The key for us is to use that data in a way that positively impacts learning outcomes. We need to become even more entwined with the primary functions of the institution, which are teaching and learning, and research. We not only have implemented the Mobile Dawg program (tablets, digital course materials, mobile applications), but we are implementing numerous technologies for early intervention, student engagement and student advisement.

CT: Could you talk a little more about the origins of the Mobile Dawg project?

Crain: Mobile Dawg is a strategic initiative that is designed to improve learning outcomes. We believe that this increase in learning outcomes will also improve both recruitment and retention and have a positive financial impact on the university. This project was first proposed by myself as CIO but was quickly supported by our administration. It grew out of a desire to solve a number of problems including a perception by students and prospective students that our university was behind our competitors in technology; declining student success and retention rates; and the rising cost of education.

CT: What other strategic initiatives you are working on at SIU?

Crain: We are currently implementing a number of applications designed to make use of all of the data that is being collected. These include applications for degree mapping, transfer equivalency, student success modules, communication modules and advising applications.

I have also recently created a research-computing group to help provide technology solutions to our research faculty. Additionally, we have a number of important projects that are more tactical in nature, including IT centralization, e-mail migrations, voice over IP, fiber projects, additional bandwidth and much more. One of the challenges at SIU is to focus on the "I" when we are still behind our peers on the "T." We have to balance our investments in big data, analytics and software applications with much-needed investments in our infrastructure.

CT: Your job title includes "assistant provost" and at Missouri you were an assistant vice president. Do these titles signify that you are working with other execs on campuswide initiatives?

Crain: I believe the technology leadership exists at the appropriate level at the University of Missouri. The CIO is a vice president and reports to the university system president. This gives IT a seat at the table when systemwide initiatives are being discussed. At SIU, I report to the provost. This structure works for us because we have a chancellor and provost who are very much on the same page and have the same goals in sight. I also sit on our high-level executive committees such as the Chancellor's Executive Committee, the Chancellor's Planning and Budget Committee and the Dean's Council. This provides me with access to all of the other executives with whom we are working on campuswide initiatives.

CT: Are there other aspects of your job that are changing?

Crain: I am becoming more and more involved in classroom technology as we centralize IT. We are absorbing both the staff and responsibilities for technology in our various colleges, so I am inheriting classroom technology that used to be supported by colleges or departments. I am also playing a much bigger role in curriculum purchasing and distribution as it moves to digital formats.

Coming Next: University of New Hampshire Chief Information Officer Joanna Young talks about the rise of the "generalist" CIO.

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Informatics and Government Technology.

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