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Communicating Change

In order to lead their institutions through IT change, CIOs must develop skills that may be more familiar to campus marketing professionals.

Every summer at the Campus Technology conference in Boston, I like to sit in on the Executive Summit: a one-day series of discussions in which top-level higher ed IT leaders share their ideas, concerns and strategies. It's always a thought-provoking event, and a terrific insight into what's top-of-mind for today's CIOs.

A salient theme at the summit this year was change. Not just the existence of change in IT — that's a given — but the need to lead IT change in the institution. As one attendee put it, the biggest challenge for CIOs is "socializing the acceptance of rapid technological change." Or in other words, how can CIOs get recalcitrant faculty (and others) on board with the rapidly changing world of technology?

Our October issue feature, "8 CIO Tips for Leading Change in Higher Education," was inspired by that very question — and the CIO's increasingly vital role as change agent rather than technical guru. Many of the IT leaders we interviewed stressed the importance of relationship-building and communication skills in their efforts to bring about change on campus. But the most telling insight came from Hilary Baker, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at California State University, Northridge: "Who knew that a CIO was in the marketing business? But I am — and my team is — so much so that I now have a director of communications reporting to me that I did not have in other times in my CIO career."

Baker's comment suggests that communicating about change requires more than the simple dissemination of information. It's about marketing: refining the message, targeting the right audience, hitting multiple channels, monitoring the impact, and more. IT departments might benefit from a lesson or two from their campus marketing and PR teams. The University of Notre Dame Office of Public Affairs and Communications Web site, for instance, lists a dozen communication channels and vehicles used to push information to both external and internal audiences. How many different ways does your IT team get its messages out?

Baker cited social media, e-mail and videos as tools in her marketing arsenal. Twitter, in particular, is a favorite among many communication-savvy CIOs, both for its ability to make connections and for the analytics that measure audience engagement. A couple years back, CT polled CIO "tweeters" about why they liked the medium. Some of the responses (sent via Twitter):

  • "Stay up-to-date w/ profession, communicate w/ constituents, develop personal brand … all reasons to use Twitter as #CampusCIO."
  • "#Social allows for succinct, speedy connections & dialogue with customers, partners, colleagues. Supports time to idea/market."
  • "Ability to communicate system upgrade status info out to clients; increase transparency; learn from others."

Of course, getting the most out of Twitter takes time, practice and a commitment to keep up with it on a regular basis.

I don't envy the higher ed CIO these days. You've got to keep the IT infrastructure and operations running like clockwork. You have to think strategically, and make sure IT is aligned with the institutional mission. You have to build trust, communicate and lead change. And now, you have to be a bit of a marketing expert as well.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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