Asumag 2534 Robert Johnson 1

Technology Issues: Common Ground

June 1, 2013
College CIOs have much in common with their industry peers.

Many schools and universities are sharpening their focus on financial performance as they struggle to manage rising costs in the face of limitations on growing revenues. With the pool of U.S. high school graduates slowly shrinking, colleges must work harder to attract and retain students and faculty. And recent, less-than-favorable media coverage of higher education forces institutions to move faster.

School and university CIOs feel these pressures, some for the first time in their careers. Their industry peers have lived with this situation for some time, especially in sectors that have gone through major changes (for example, the music and publishing industries).

Let’s look at a couple of similarities between college CIOs and their industry peers, and takeaways for school and university CIOs:  

·Growth vs. efficiency: The recent recession makes growth the top priority for almost every business. Growth can be increased revenues, more customers or increased wallet-share per customer. Regardless of the specifics, the mandate for industry CIOs is for IT to shift orientation and contribute directly  to their company’s growth initiatives. For many, it’s deploying analytics for their companies to gain insights on buyer behaviors and purchasing trends.

For example, I know a business services company that’s analyzing its customers’ buying history to identify additional services to sell them in the next few months. Other industry CIOss work with their engineering or R&D teams to develop new technology-based products. For example, a manufacturer of scientific equipment recently introduced a chemical testing device with wireless capability that analyzes chemicals in real-time. The idea for this product came from IT, which spent time meeting with customers and learning product usage. Regardless, industry CIOs are shifting perspectives and redirecting their teams from increasing efficiency towards accelerating growth. 

·College CIOs must do the same. Say a CIO in higher education wants to increase student retention. Putting more IT resources to work by using analytics or technology accelerates use of the institution’s intellectual property. And that attracts more research funding.

·Perception of IT as cost center vs. investment: In many organizations, the IT department’s reputation isn’t favorable and perceived as an expensive cost center. There are myriad reasons for this such as the perception of IT saying “no” a lot vs. working to find ways to say “yes” to business colleagues; IT’s use of technical jargon with their non-IT colleagues; the perception of weak IT service levels, etc.  This is a problem for industry CIOs as well as those in higher education.  Today’s dependence on technology forces IT to consider how the department is viewed and take action to be seen as a priority investment space.

Most industry CIOs and their teams proactively promote their value (in some cases with help from marketing). They’re use internal monthly newsletters acknowledging recent accomplishments and contributions to their company in business terms. They send weekly “IT tips” or holding frequent “lunch and learn” sessions to help users make better utilize the technology available to them; all of this tactics create good will for the IT department. They announce the successful completion of major projects and they cultivate active, vocal advocates from key influencers in their company. Over time, such efforts generate a favorable reputation of IT and shift the perspective from a cost center to a valuable contributor to their business. 

School and university CIOs should communicate the value of IT to peers and key constituencies across their institution.  If IT isn’t promoting its contribution to the institution, its reputation may be suffering. And if IT isn’t telling its story, no one is.  Giving brief IT updates at monthly cabinet or trustee meetings isn’t enough since that information rarely is shared by department heads with their teams and subordinates. 

IT must tell its story frequently and to a broad audience. Many of the communications techniques mentioned above can be employed, for example, by sharing recent academic or research computing accomplishments. Smaller schools aren’t likely to dedicate a full–time resource to IT communications--in which case the communications initiative can be shared across several team members with a single person designated as being responsible. Start small and be consistent; don’t start several efforts and then fade away. 

Instead, begin by conducting some research on the institution’s current perception of the IT department. This can be evaluated by conducting a brief survey or 1x1 meetings. The results provide a baseline for IT’s reputation and helps the team customize their strategy to address the institution’s feedback.

School and university CIOs are more like their industry counterparts than in the past; consider capitalizing on some of the similarities to make everyone value IT at your institution.

Robert Johnson is senior director of strategic intelligence at Atrion Networking Corporation where he’s responsible for market analysis and growth strategies. 

About the Author

Robert Johnson | Senior Director of Strategic Intelligence

Robert Johnson is senior director of strategic intelligence at Atrion Networking Corporation where he's responsible for market analysis and growth strategies.

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