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It’s all fun and games, until… Making the deCIOsion in Higher Ed

I see a lot of discussion in media, print, etc. asking the question, ‘What does a CIO look like today?’ The response, especially in higher education, often points to a leader, typically male, at the ‘Cabinet’ table, business-focused, sometimes referred to as ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ or ‘Chief Integration Officer’ that should be viewed upon as a provider of insight, empowering efficiency, streamlining process, exuding exemplary service, a competitive creator, speaking in layman’s terms and dishing out powerful, forward-thinking analytics and metrics.

Sure. We’re that. Mostly. Although admittedly I’d like to see an increase in female leadership, but I digress…

In addition to the standard expectations, there are (not-so-)new expectations that I’ve heard several leaders exhale deeply about – collaboration, communication, transparency, accountability. I not only embrace these efforts, I genuinely enjoy them. I’m direct, open and pretty no-nonsense when it comes to technology. I have experienced hands-on technology from many sides and those sides I haven’t personally developed, I’ve found the pros and asked the questions.

For the most part, I enjoy being the active driver of innovation and continuous technology improvement. It’s what energizes me.

As a Chief Information Officer, besides <all of the above>, a primary job function is to serve as the ‘steward of university systems’. In these days of heightened awareness of security breaches and phishing attempts, it is not terribly uncommon to find yourself in a situation that requires a CIO-rial decision.It’s a tough spot to be in. I think many aren’t truly aware of how many people even the most basic technology stands to impact if a swift move is needed. It’s important that, as uncommon as sudden decisions are needed, they do happen.

Here I was thinking I was the pro, however I learned a few things over the course of the past few weeks as it pertains to ‘big’ deCIOsions:

  1. You might not have tomorrow.
    I don’t mean that in a gloom-and-doom way, I simply mean those relationships that you plan to build next month, next semester, next fiscal year? Yeah, you might want to go ahead and get on it. When big decisions involving big change/inconvenience/reaction happen, you need to know your audience and personally know at minimum a smattering of each representation of audience (each college, each school, each department, each group, etc.)
  2. Situation Impact Communication Service
    Wow. As a CIO there is almost no better feeling than to have a solid, perfectly structured team of tech leadership sitting around a table engaged in a discussion that involves the safety and security of a institution of higher learning. The empathy, the knowledge and the genuine concern for faculty, students and staff. Vet the situation, assess the impact a big deCIOsion might have, communicate the situation, and provide stellar service to all impacted.
  3. “It Ain’t Show Friends, It’s Show Business”
    Once you make a solid, vetted decision, never doubt the decision despite the zingers hurled in your direction. Change and inconvenience are hard for many to sit idly by and watch, throw in technology and even the most sensible decisions are difficult to explain to the layperson. It’s similar to when my Mom battled a terminal illness – hate the disease, not the person. People are naturally angry and lash out at the messenger, know they are not attacking you they are attacking the situation – and that is OK.

Just a few thoughts from this CIO whose least favorite part of the job is interrupting the flow of business for the people I proudly serve while concurrently being held accountable for university systems and technology overall.

Technology promises to remain awesomely pervasive…where just one brief move can impact an entire campus. Be prepared.

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