IT Trends | Feature

The New CIO: Bob DeWitt

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 the final part of our series, Antioch University CIO Bob DeWitt talks about the importance of communication and partnerships for CIO success. (Missed parts 1-4? See the Table of Contents on the top left of this article.)

Bob DeWitt

Bob DeWitt, Antioch University
DeWitt has worked for Ellucian as a transitional CIO on several campuses. This year he is transitioning from being an Ellucian employee to working for multicampus Antioch University full time.

CT: What have you have learned during your assignments as a transitional CIO? Have the expectations of what the CIO can accomplish changed over the last few years?

DeWitt: I have noticed that even small and medium-sized institutions have moved up the "technology maturity ladder." Previously, there was a focus on improved "customer service," combined with lowering the cost of delivering services to students. Many institutions now have relatively mature customer services, and are being driven to focus attention on the strategic use of data for managing the institution. This is partly being driven by increased competition in the higher education space, and partly by increased requirements by funding agencies for accountability. For example, community colleges have moved fairly rapidly from a culture of "access" to a culture of "success," so colleges now need to demonstrate their ability not just to recruit students but also to retain and graduate them in a timely manner. This has created new integrated enterprise data collection and reporting needs, and the CIO is at the center of identifying and responding to those needs. The CIO has finally moved significantly away from a focus on plumbing and toward a focus on information, which of course is the essence of the CIO title. This is allowing the role of CIO (in higher education at least) to evolve finally to become a true C-level player.

CT: Did you have to establish personal relationships or lines of communication with certain people on campus in order to be effective?

DeWitt: One of the mistakes that some higher education CIOs make is to engage primarily C-level leaders to the exclusion of other members of the university community. Yet the culture of higher education is different from corporate culture in that faculty and students (and other staff) want to be part of the decision-making process. I believe that to be successful, the CIO has to build communication channels to all constituents, both formally through governance structures and informally by being open and responsive.

CT: How have those partnerships helped you prepare for big initiatives like the launch of Antioch University Connected (AUC), a new fully online university?

DeWitt: One way that CIOs can contribute to new initiatives like AUC is by leveraging their experience in building external partnerships. Chancellor Felice Nudelman recognized that in order to launch a fully online university in a short period of time but at a high level of quality, Antioch would need to engage a [vendor] partner with experience and a successful track record in the online space. She asked me as CIO to manage the selection process for the partnership. The process worked well because we were able to engage the very capable university leadership team via a structured process that helped to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the vendor candidates.

CT: What are the essential skills and focus areas of CIOs in 2014?

DeWitt: While staff members must be able to manage "the plumbing," the CIO has to focus on collaboration, partnership building and institutional effectiveness (defining success, measuring progress, continual improvement).

Wanted: CIO

What are colleges and universities looking for in a CIO these days?

Many are increasingly emphasizing the ability to promote the use of technology in instruction, said Phil Goldstein, a founding partner in Next Generation, a San Anselmo, Calif.-based IT recruiting firm with a focus on higher education. That may open up possibilities for people with experience in academic technology support groups, but only after they also can prove their ability to run the whole IT organization.

Goldstein's partner, Mary Beth Baker, noted that many universities recruiting CIOs now want some people in the recruiting pool who are from corporate settings, although experience in higher education and its culture of collaboration is preferred. "But some are trying to change the culture, and they would like to bring in a sense of process innovation and greater agility."

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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