Responding to faculty questions on moving to the cloud

This past Friday, I attended a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Science’s Faculty Board to discuss a direction around Queen’s collaborative tools.  This was an opportunity for me to hear what the community was thinking, and the feedback and questions were very helpful.  The issues around  collaborative tools and moving them to the cloud are complex and there has been a lot of discussion amongst my peers in CUCCIO over the last two years, and during consultation with experts in the field.    In this post I would like to elaborate on some of my responses to questions raised, to ensure I have understood the issues and that we are appropriately addressing the questions.   I hope this is of value to the larger community.

Prior to the meeting we distributed the notes listed on the Queen’s Wiki for the Faculty Advisory Committee .   These are just brief summary notes.   There have been discussions about this at the CIO Faculty Advisory Committee, and we have posted additional information resources on the Wiki listed above.

Proposition: Queen’s wants to equip faculty and staff with suite of contemporary e-collaboration services to support the teaching research and administrative activities of our University as it operates on a global stage.

Question Responses:

I have paraphrased a number of these questions to try and group them and better answer the questions in as concise a way as possible.

Q.  Why is this free and what is preventing Microsoft from changing the model?

A.  I think Microsoft sees an opportunity to capture long-term clients with their student offering.  Advancement now offers “email for life”, so once a student graduates they will be able to continue using their existing Queen’s account.   The rules change at that point, but there is some appeal to this as you get to keep your identity, correspondence, documents, and contacts.   Initially, the Faculty and Staff offering did not have the same model, but given competition it is now offered free as well.  In the interests of transparency, we have extensive dealings with Microsoft, including a campus agreement for  software including Office, Operating System upgrades, and Client Access Licenses.

In the contract it will stipulate that Queen’s will continue to own all of the information on O365, so if the model were to change down the road we could migrate to another platform.  This is similar to how  faculty and staff migrated from an older email environment to Exchange a couple of years ago.

 

Q.  Are there tools that allow me to encrypt my email messages?

A. The notion here is that some of an individual’s email is more sensitive and requires a higher level of protection.  I think it is important to note that existing practices do not necessarily take this into consideration.   We believe people currently use email to send some information that probably should be encrypted, and it is important that we begin to resolve this.

Under O365, all email sent between your end device and Microsoft is encrypted by default.   We are exploring options to allow individuals to encrypt specific messages.  There are tools within Outlook that allow you to do this now.   You essentially set up a trust relationship with someone else by sharing a private key.   We are exploring these options in addition to others.  Convenience, lost keys, and interacting with people at sites that do not support this are issues that will need to be addressed. This is something that we need to do, irrespective of our solution.

Currently, many pieces of software such as Word, Excel, and Adobe PDF also allow you to protect them by adding passwords.  There is an overview available on the Microsoft site.  As a reminder, this is about more than just email, and it includes storage.  We are watching what our peers are doing and considering a hybrid solution that makes use of public cloud storage, as well as private cloud storage (at Queen’s) for more sensitive information.  We will continue discussing this and looking at potential joint opportunities.  As we develop more answers to this we will provide links to online resources.

 

Q.  How will this decision be made?

A. We are working on establishing a sound governance structure in line with the IT@ Queen’s review.   We have put  and Administrative Systems Steering Committee in place  to oversee administrative systems.  The Student Learning Experience Task Force (SLETF) has recommended a new governance group that will oversee educational technology.   The piece still missing is the IT Oversight Committee.  In its absence we are using a series of advisory groups and meetings to get feedback.   In the absence of this IT Oversight Committee, the final decision for moving faculty and staff collaboration services to the cloud should rest with the University’s Operations Review Committee (ORC) and the Vice-Principals’ Operations Committee (VPOC).

Q.  Will I have to learn something new?

A.  The transition of email for the end user will be seamless since everyone is already in an Exchange environment.   You can continue to use Outlook if you wish.  If you use another desktop email tool, there may have to be a few be changes, but the affected community is very small. That being said, O365 is more than just email and there will be new services available for those who choose to adopt them.

 

Q.  I have seen situations where there have been issues with cloud services being down for extended periods of time.   There was a specific reference to blacklisting.

A. In the contract with Microsoft there are specifics around the Service Level expectations, and the uptime guarantees are significant (99.9% of time, I believe).  These cloud solutions are far more robust than what we can build and maintain in-house.   The economies of scale of large data centers like the one in Quincy, Washington are game changers in terms of reliability and uptime.
Blacklisting is a situation where a service, like Queen’s email, is identified as doing harm, possibly by sending out spam, so it is blocked by other service owners.  This happens frequently and is very challenging.  If a user responds to a ‘phishing’ attempt, their account can become comprised and is used to start sending out spam.  This happens more often than you may think.   We see fewer problems now, but we still expend resources to throttle accounts and do manual intervention with end users to try and stop it before Queen’s is put on a blacklist.  This is costly when we are working with constrained resources.  With the Student O365 we have not seen any issues with blacklisting and we believe the spam filtering is more robust than our in-house solutions and students are seeing less phishing.

Q.  In the notes, what items on page two are mitigated and what items are a real concern?

This is a very complex question.   A short answer is that outstanding issues will be addressed in the Privacy Risk Assessment and the contract.   Accountability for information on our systems can never be outsourced.  It is my role to ensure that we make an informed decision based on a clear and full understanding all of the risks.   Given that 90% of Fortune 500 companies use Lync (one of the O365 tools), adoption of O365 in the risk-averse corporate sector is quite high, which I think we can take as reassurance.

• Data ownership is lost…

We continue you to own the information and this is stipulated in the contract.

• “They” will mine our data…

Microsoft  is contractually obligated to not do this. This changes on the student side when they move to alumni Email.

• It is not free – there will be advertising that I’ll see…

The Contract stipulates that there will not be any advertising.   This changes on the student side when they move to alumni Email.

• We lose our ability to fulfil University obligations related FIPPA compliance…

We have tools available that allow us to fulfil our obligations related to FIPPA.

When looking at the next set of concerns we need to ensure that we consider the overall risks including such things as capacity, reliability, accessibility, and security beyond just privacy.  We also need to look at what the existing risks are and evaluate whether moving to O365 changes this risk profile.   My comments above about encryption highlight challenges that exist irrespective of the solution adopted.   The Privacy Risk Assessment is meant to capture and asses the whole picture.

• We lose Ontario and Canadian law protections…

The contract is written in Ontario and Canadian laws apply.

• There are less stringent privacy laws in the US…

We use the contract as a way to mitigate concerns in this area.

• Canadians are deemed foreigners and not protected by US law…

There are many issues around jurisdictional boundaries that come into question when dealing a global community.  The contract is written in Ontario and Canadian laws apply.  Given what we have seen in the media about surveillance we believe this point is moot.   In Global collaboration systems documents are at rest in a variety of jurisidctions.

• The Patriot Act is a problem…

Experts, including David Fraser (legal) and Ann Kavoukian, have commented on this and compared it to similar legislation here in Canada.   This similarity and sharing of information between Canada and the US  was commented on by a member of the Faculty Board in  meeting.   It is our conclusions that it not likely to change the risk profile from what we currently have.

• Government surveillance programs in Canada, USA, and elsewhere make this a less secure option…

Government surveillance is a broad concern.   It is the view of people like David Fraser and Ann Kavoukian that keeping our e-communications systems in-house does not improve the risk profile.   See the quotes at the end of the notes in the wiki. It is our view that O365 is more secure than our existing Exchange environment.

• Vendor complicity with NSA – surveillance, etc. – could be a problem…

It is safe to say that the last thing Microsoft wants to see is a story about them being complicit with the NSA.  The cost for them would be very high.   There is a blog post that  gives some insight into their thoughts and perspective:

• Internet hardware operated by vendors cooperating with NSA, etc. could also be a problem…

See above

• Encryption compromised by NSA, etc. could be a problem…

This would open up problems across the board, not just O365

• ITS and/or Microsoft employees will have inappropriate access to email…

Staff all sign Non-Disclosure Documents.  There are some responses to this question towards the end of this FAQ .

If I have missed any of the questions, or you have additional questions, please let me know:  bo.wandschneider@queensu.ca

Is culture impeding security?

Have you ever questioned how effective we are at doing our job, when you see all these reports coming out about servers being hacked and personal information being lost?   We are certainly aware of these reports and take them seriously.  It seems like there is a new one every day.  Recently it was announced that Target lost the personal information of tens of millions of people.  This is stunning.  Higher Education is not immune, and has its fair share of attacks.

In some cases, attacks are becoming more sophisticated, while in other cases, brute force processing power is used to find weakness.  Last week I was talking to some of my peers in the U.S. and we had an interesting discussion on why these attacks seem to be happening more frequently and what we are doing about them.

We bounced around a few ideas we had heard elsewhere, and three things surfaced:

The culture of hoarding:  We simply keep too much information.  We need better record retention strategies and we need the policies in place to make sure people follow them.  In our information age, the days of trusting that individuals have the skills, judgment, and capacity to manage this are long gone.

The culture of frugality:  We need to invest more.  In higher ed we sometimes lag in having the proper governance structures in place to be able to make the tough decisions on where resources are needed and what the priorities are.  It is hard to commit new investments when funding is being cut and tuition is regulated, but we need to look at the whole picture.   Information Technology is an integral part of the university and we need to stop treating it as a cost centre.  Our investments need to be strategic and effective.  In some cases this means looking at the cloud, which means we need to overcome the perception that information in the cloud is less secure.  This is not necessarily true and in many cases cloud security is significantly better and more cost effective than what we do today.

The culture of service:  This was the one I found the most interesting and one I had not thought a lot about.  We are moving more and more to a culture of service and trying to deliver whatever our community needs.   As we do that, we may not be emphasizing security as much as is probably needed and we are likely compromising. The stress on this service culture is partly to build up trust and to avoid too much shadow IT in the organization.   Some of that shadow IT is healthy, but we do need to ensure we invest where the value ad is and make certain that security is well understood and implemented.  On top of this, the university ‘network’ has also been thought of as a fairly free and open environment and that adds to the risk and means we need to be more diligent.

Back to the question of whether we are doing our jobs.  Simply put, yes. I know we take the threats seriously, have many mitigations strategies in place and invest a lot of resources. I also feel that the cultures of hoarding, frugality, and service are making it a more challenging endeavour.   We need to engage the community, build a better understanding of the risks, make sure proper policies and tools are in place and back this up with effective investments.  We need to consider all options, because this is only going to get more challenging.

Security – Everyone’s Responsibility

When was the last time you forgot your laptop or phone at a coffee shop, bookstore, library, or restaurant, only to find it still sitting where you left it when you rushed back in, panicked, a few minutes later?

When was the last time your car, office, or home was broken into and something was stolen, but you weren’t sure what?  These are places you think are secure, perhaps even alarmed, but were still vulnerable.

We usually think of something like this in terms of what we would have lost (“my whole life is on that phone!”) rather than what someone else might have gained.  But was there a USB key sticking out of your laptop?  Is your phone password-protected?  Is someone else’s personal information on any of your devices?  Can these devices be used to access other systems?

When we relax our attention, these thefts are more frequent and other security threats become more prevalent.  We need to build awareness and ensure we have the resources to build prevention into our technologies and services.

Most people in our communities are unaware of the massive number of attacks that occur behind the scenes on our systems.  Occasionally, an individual may get caught in a phishing attempt, or maybe they get a virus or malware on their personal computer. These threats are only a fraction of the threats out there and even though the personal costs may seem significant for those impacted, the cost of prevention and remediation to the organization as a whole is a significant part of our operations today.

We need to be aware of these threats and we all need to ensure we do what we can to help identify and prevent them.

In terms of email we see an incredible amount of spam and malware coming to our border.   At Queen’s, we might see about 14,000,000 incoming messages in a given month and close to half of those messages are intercepted at the edge and rejected as spam.  The University purchases and maintains special hardware to make sure the vast majority of these messages don’t make it to your inbox.

Through public education, the community is becoming more aware of phishing attempts and usually ignores them, but accounts are frequently compromised and Queen’s has to expend considerable resources to mitigate the risk that these accounts pose.  Occasionally these accounts send out massive amounts of spam.  ITServices has to keep scripts in place to identify and throttle these accounts before Queen’s is blacklisted and our email systems come to a crawl.   Information can also be stolen from these accounts and the costs to repair that are hard to quantify.  At the moment we only scan Queen’s outgoing email for spam, but there are tools that prompt machines to scan email for things like SIN and Credit Card Numbers and notify the user to a double check before they let the message go out.

This isn’t unique to Queen’s and in the last few days we have seen the following posts at Western and Carleton, reminding the community about threats.

http://www.uwo.ca/its/news/2014/information_security_threat.html

http://www.carleton.ca/ccs/2014/phishing-attempt-appears-canada-revenue-agency-tax-refund/

At Queen’s, we also run an intrusion detection/prevention system on our network.  Between January 14, 2013 and January 14, 2014 we blocked just under 20,000,000 ZeroAcess Bots connection attempts.   These are a type of Trojan horse malware that affects Windows systems.  In addition, we blocked over 700,000 ICMP: Nachi-like Ping attacks, which is a family of Worms that attack systems.

There are thousands of other attacks and the threat is significant.

On top of the intrusion detection system, we need to ensure our services and servers are not vulnerable to these attacks and exposures.  In 2013, Queen’s did 231 security assessments, some with external resources and some with internal resources.  These take a lot of time, but they are preventive in nature and well worth the mitigation that they deliver.  We plan for these assessments to be done on new services as well as services that have undergone upgrades.  We also monitor what is happening elsewhere and assess where we feel there may be heightened risks.

In addition, we have numerous compromises that we have to deal with on an emergency basis.  The assessment, mitigation, and recovery take significant effort.  Not all of these compromises are preventable, but education, knowledge, and awareness do come into play.

I hope this information has increased some awareness around the number of threats that Queen’s faces and reinforced the notion that security is a concern for all of us.  We need to have strong policies in place, make sure there is user-awareness, that individuals have access to the tools they need, and that we invest appropriately to prevent intrusions and their associated clean-up costs.

Acting AS THE Business

During the last couple of weeks I had the opportunity to spend time with my peers in Canadian higher ed institutions through CUCCIO (Canadian University Council of CIOs) meetings and through a Microsoft Higher Education Executive Briefing in Redmond, Washington.   This is always a great opportunity to share ideas, develop thoughts, establish common ground, and build partnerships.  In one of the background pieces for CUCCIO strategic planning discussions, the following comment sparked my interest:

“..exploring, understanding, addressing the transformation of Higher Education and the CIO role and how we can collaborate on what that looks like and how to effectively manage the change in our diverse and structured environments”.

This is something that we really need to ponder and figure out.  The role of the CIO is evolving in most sectors, as are the roles of the people employed in HE technology.  I don’t think it is anything more than the maturation of our organizations as a whole, and the maturation of the role that IT plays within that organization.   I have talked about this evolution before in various forums.  It is related to the notion that IT is embedded in most everything we do and because of that we need to embed IT decisions into the day-to-day business of the organization rather than having it as something over on the side that is only called upon on occasion, or worse yet, whenever there is a problem.   At the same time, I have also said that IT is an enabler and a partner.   I am beginning to rethink this a bit.  It is not that I think it is wrong, but maybe there is a better way to characterize this.  After all, it is not just about IT changing, it is also about the organization changing, so maybe we need to look at it from the other side as well.

A few months back my Associate Directors went to a development program through the Intervista Institute in Ottawa where they looked at IT Portfollio Management in a strategic sense.   One of the things that they discussed when they got back was the area around IT and business alignment.  It is absolutely critical to get to this alignment, but probably one of the hardest things to achieve.  Whether it is lack of engagement by the business, lack of understanding of the business by the IT unit, lack of resources, or lack of leadership/vision, it is hard to drive this sort of transformation.   At the end of the day it is no longer about producing good code, it is about improving business performance and having a shared vision around what that means.

In the development program, the Associate Directors looked at IT Credibility and Capability and laid it out in two very nice quadrant style diagrams.   In the bottom right of the Capability diagram was the traditional notion of Supporting the Business.  This is about cost and efficiency, which results in a delivery of Low Capability.  This is such a trap that we fall into.  IT becomes a cost centre and at the end of the day nobody is happy because we are not enhancing business performance, even if we say we are working efficiently.

The middle of the graph is where IT is Acting like a Business.   In this area we are starting to drive from efficiency to effectiveness and from cost to investment.  In this area we haven’t yet developed a balance and subsequently we aren’t fully delivering on business performance and we haven’t maximized the IT capability.   I see this as a transitional piece – a place we have to go, but also somewhere in which the path forward is not always clear, and there is always the threat of falling into the efficiency/cost trap.

True alignment between IT and the Business is where we focus on effectiveness (as opposed to efficiency) and treat IT as an investment, rather than simply a cost.   The title of this quadrant is Acting AS THE Business.  IT may be an enabler and partner in this area, but it is also an integral part of the business.  Decisions about technology are no longer made in isolation and we measure business outcomes, not just cost efficiency.

I really like the three states that they describe:  Supporting the Business, Acting like a Business and Acting AS THE Business.  It certainly resonates with me, but I also think this is something that is stated in common language that can be understood by the technology group and the business.  I believe it lays out a clear path forward for us.  In a previous post I have talked about running our senior administration through the Info-Tech CIO Business Vision Survey which is about understanding the business and measuring the business satisfaction.  This is about driving alignment and trying to move us towards acting as the businessAt the moment I am going out to visit each of the people who have completed the survey and, upon reflection, I really think those visits are all about driving alignment and talking about getting IT to act as the business.

Olympics and network contention

The network in the University environment is an interesting beast.  Some people would consider it a bit of the “wild west”, while others would probably say it is a very monitored and controlled environment.   In reality it lies somewhere in between.   We don’t shape the traffic on the main campus network  and we generally don’t monitor activity.   That being said, we do monitor such things as overall usage (not individual usage) and contention to help us manage the environment and ensure good performance.   If something is wrong, we need to know and respond quickly.

Most people would like us to have a network with unbounded bandwidth, but that wouldn’t be fiscally prudent.   Currently we have two commercial links of 1 Gbps and 2Gbps, respectively, as well as a research link at 10 Gbps.    On most days this really acts like a bottomless cup of coffee and people don’t experience contention.  The design also gives us good redundancy if one of the links were to go down (as happens occasionally).

All this flies out the window during the Olympics.   If you look at the graph in the link below, you can see that we did saturate the network occasionally, during the week of Feb.10th.   The level of activity is about 2x the norm.   It was especially high around noon, which is usually when there was a hockey game.   So – what do we do in these situations?   It does not seem to have elicited any complaints.  Personally, I have noticed minor slow downs, but nothing significant.  It appears the contention happens on the commercial links where people stream content, and given peering, some of our normal ‘business’ travels over the research link which has greater capacity.

So, for now, we will continue to monitor events and we will not try and ‘shape’ the traffic.  Hoping that the Olympics continue to be scheduled during reading week :-)

Cogeco-Feb10-14th-2014

Selling Management to Techies

In the December 2013 Issue of the HBR, David Garvin wrote an interesting article on “How Goolge Sold Its Engineers on Management” (http://hbr.org/2013/12/how-google-sold-its-engineers-on-management/ar/1).   There were a few things I found interesting about this article, the first of which was it being buried in a Spotlight on Making Your Company Data Friendly Section.  Certainly not what I expected, although it does talk about mining HR data.

More interesting for me was how they shaped the culture to have a richer and deeper understanding of management through direct engagement from their employees.   The interesting piece here is the tech sector and the unique challenges that come with managing techies/engineers.   All of this change didn’t happen overnight and these things take time.    They brought in a culture of 360’s and worked with the managers on developing a series of core competencies or behaviours.    They then used this list to get a common language and asked their employees to rate their managers, twice a year. It sounds a bit like a 360 light and the list of questions included such things as: are they being a good coach, do they empower the team, do they micro manage, is there clear vision and strategy, do they have technical skills…  None of this is new, but you can see how some of these would resonate with technology professionals.    They made sure there was a good understanding of each of these behaviours across the organization and they added in some qualitative questions on behaviours that were seen or should be seen.   They encouraged the managers to share their results, and set targets for improvement.    They also mined the data to observe more subtle differences and help validate the results, as well as the process.

At the end of the day they saw most improvement in the managers who scored lowest and they nurtured a better understanding and respect for the management role.  It was a good article and an interesting process that could be replicated.

On a side note, an interesting take away for me was the management/employee ratios.   If we take the 5,000 managers, 1,000 directors and 100 vice presidents away from the 37,000 total employees at Google, that leaves 5,000 managers for about 31,000 employees, or a ratio of about 6 to 1.  We recently did a reorganization here that created a new cohort of operational managers and we sit at about 6.5.  There always seems to be a debate around too many, or too few managers. Maybe we are ok J

 

Business Vision

We recently conducted a CIO Business Vision Survey using the services of Info-Tech.  This is a survey of senior people at the institution designed to determine stakeholder  need and improve engagement.  It is a big step in ensuring  that we have common vision, shared governance, and joint accountability.  The survey focused on IT satisfaction and value, IT relationship satisfaction, business priorities, and core service satisfaction.

This was the first time we had attempted to do this sort of high-level stakeholder engagement.   What appealed to us in the beginning was the low risk of this undertaking.  It was all done by Info-Tech.  We simply provided the list of the stake-holders and they did the survey, prepared the reports, and engaged with us in a discussion.  There was no financial cost to this.  The biggest investment on our part was the time of our senior people who filled out the survey.  This is certainly a significant cost and we appreciate the effort in making IT@Queen’s better.

The results we received were interesting, and very helpful.  As an example, one of the things that was delivered was a Service Gap Score across a variety of services.  This is the gap between the importance individuals place on a service and the satisfaction they have in the delivery of the service.   At the one end of the spectrum we have a positive gap on Faculty and Staff devices, while at the other end we have a negative gap around administrative applications, campus infrastructure, analytical capability, and reports.   I don’t think we were surprised by this, but it is certainly a loud and clear message, which was also highlighted in our external review – IT@Queen’s.

Next steps for us are to review this material in greater detail.  There is a large amount of qualitative and quantitative information.  Part of the process will be engaging with those who filled out the survey and digging a little deeper.  49 people filled out the survey and they include, Deans, Associate  Deans, Department Heads, AVPs, and Directors.  Once we have those discussions we will publish the results and begin working on incorporating this into our strategic plan.  Then we will start the cycle over.   We are also going to be seeing if there is an opportunity to get other HE insitutions to use this, so that we can include it in our CUCCIO benchmarking initiatives. The intention will be to do this on an annual base and use it to measure change.

Privacy by Design

Earlier this month we had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the provincial privacy commissioner.  Talking to a few people after the lunch seminar it really sunk in that we are so fortunate to have a person with such an international profile in our own backyard.

The session was jointly sponsored by my office and The Surveillance  Studies Centre at Queen’s.  Needless to say there was a heavy focus on surveillance, that included an impassioned plea by the commissioner to protect what we have, and exercise our rights through engagement.  It was a fascinating overview with some interesting insights into something I haven’t thought a lot about.

The piece that I was most interested in was the work the office has done on Privacy by Design.  Dr. Cavoukian has a compelling argument that introducing technology doesn’t imply that we have a zero sum game, as long as we take privacy into account in the upfront design of our systems.  Sometimes I find that there is a perception in the community that the introduction of technology into many parts of our lives has inherently compromised our privacy.  If you practice privacy by design you can have both the technology and the privacy.

This is particularly relevant to us in higher education as we  continue looking towards technology to streamline our business process and drive efficiencies in order to balance our bottom lines and keep up with the community demand for new and richer services.  As we venture into the cloud  we must ensure that we actively embrace our role as stewards of the information that is entrusted to us.  We must understand the differences between private information and confidential information, the implications and limitations of encryption and how we build transparency into our processes.

When we recently rolled out Office 365, we undertook a Privacy Risk Assessment at the beginning of the process. At the end of the day I think we have a better service, where we had a much better understanding of privacy and our role going forward.  We ensured that the community reaped the benefits of a much richer collaborative suite, while not compromising privacy – win-win.

 

 

Techies to Leaders

We recently created a new leadership team within our ITS unit.   The team consists of four Associate Directors and a group of Coordinators.  The Associate Directors have had varying leadership roles in the past, but many of the coordinators are taking on new responsibilities and transitioning from technical roles to leadership roles.  Throughout my years in Higher Education I have always found it a challenge developing leaders within the technology sector, especially those with a strong technology background.   I remember when I moved from being a Statistical Analyst to becoming a Manager and I missed the old work..  I liked working in the trenches, dealing with grad students and using my technical skills to solve problems.  It was very rewarding work and it was something that energized me.

It was hard to give that up, as it is for many people, and it is also hard learning a whole new set of skills.   Some people feel drained at the end of the day by leadership and we are not always helping them by moving them ‘up’ into these leadership roles.  I have had a few of these situations where people just didn’t get energized by their new role and it was difficult to watch their passion disappear.  Addressing these issues can be challenging, but usually at the end of the day there is a sense of relief on both sides if you do address them early and deliberately.

As an organization we have a responsibility to ensure that we recruit and retain people.  Retention can take many forms, but part of it may be providing people with a career path, and that may include helping people move into a leadership role.   If we do this we need to give people the tools they need to succeed and we need to support them.  As an aside, there is often a challenge of creating career paths that stay within the technical stream.   Putting technical leadership on par with more traditional leadership can be problematic.   If you have this one figured out let me know.

In a recent article by Robert M. Fulmer in the Wall Street Journal, Do Techies Make Good Leaders, he highlights how deliberate we need to be in order to develop these people.  He hints that maybe it is harder to develop technical people into these roles and we thus need a different focus.    He points to five areas  that I think are very important for devloping all leaders.

  1. Formalize the System
  2. Focus on the Data
  3. Value Leadership
  4. Engage the Audience
  5. Encourage Coaching

I found the insights in section two to be extremely revealing and simple.   He suggests you measure leadership on the individual’s ability to complete performance development plans for their subordinates, along with their ability to advance the careers of those who report to them.   I never really thought about intentionally tracking that information.   To me it is all about developing a talent management plan, creating succession plans and changing the dialogue we have with our staff.

Creating leadership within an organization starts at the top.  We need to model the behaviour that we want to see and this isn’t always easy.  If you live within the technical side of the discussion, you probably won’t be developing good leaders, unless they have good mentors outside the organization and that is where good coaching comes in.

We recently hired a new person in our organization.  They came from outside of higher ed and they  non-technical, but had a professional designation.  One of the first things we did was find a couple of people inside the broader organization, but outside of IT, and set up a coaching/mentoring relationship.  These people  understood HE and were more aligned with this persons professional designation.   Will this work?  I am not sure, but I hope so..   It is very dependent on the individuals involved.  This is simply part of our responsibility to developing leadership within our organization.

The other piece I liked in the article was about engaging the audience.  We need to respect the people we are developing into leaders and keep them engaged and growing their skills.  It reminds me of a book I once read called “Leading Geeks” by Paul Glen.  In the book they talk about unique aspects with in IT ‘people’, including how they work, how they are motivated, how they respond to leadership, their organizational culture and subsequently how you manage to full potential in this type of environment.      I think we have done some good things with our new leaders in ITS, but we need to keep our foot on the gas.  The tendency in IT is to push this off as everyone’s plate is too full, but I think that only impedes us in the long run.

So, at the end of the day is it hard developing leaders, yes.   Is it harder to develop IT leaders, maybe.  If we are deliberate and focus on the five areas mentioned above, we can certainly get there.

 

 

 

 

‘I’ is for Innovation

Daniel Burrus, in a recent HBR Blog post, talks about how the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is becoming obsolete and we must move from “protecting and defending the status quo to embracing and extending new innovative capabilities.” In his post he suggests that we need to become Chief Innovation Officers. Burrus goes on to say that is our responsibility to move away from simply looking at keeping the lights on and cost containment to thinking about how we can transform the way to do business.
This article hit a chord with me as we are preparing our 2014-15 budgets and looking at a cost containment exercise, due to the challenges faced in publicly funded Higher Education. In parallel, I recently saw a Gartner paper that talked about cost containment strategies and how IT can contribute to savings. The traditional approach would be to think about IT as a cost centre, but given that IT is normally less than 5% of the overall operating budget, making cuts here tends to give small savings. What would be more effective, would be to look at how we can drive savings through the use of technologies. If we can generate savings across the entire organization by changing the way we do business, then we can create an impact.
In essence, this is about driving innovation through changes in our business practices and the technology tools that we use. The challenge in making this happen is ensuring that IT has a seat at the table and the credibility to deliver. In HE many of us struggle with this, and the result can be significant shadow IT that sometimes has the appearance of being more response and effective. I am sure everyone has heard a story about how the central IT department messed up a project and because of that should never ever be trusted again. Projects can be complex, expectations can be wide ranging and outcomes may not always fully understood. On top of this we don’t really like change and don’t always support projects the way they need to be supported, whether that is right at the top or down in the trenches. Burrus does highlight that we need to go beyond change, and think about transforming what we do.
At Queen’s we have started to talk more about IT@Queen’s, rather than simply ITS (the central IT department) and this opens a whole new discussion. When we start wearing our institutional hats, so much more becomes possible. If we really want to be transformative we need to look at defining our core competencies and focusing on our value add at all levels within our organization, while embracing new things things like Software and Hardware as a Service. Here at Queen’s we have already moved 50,000 student accounts to Office 365 and have moved some of our Learning Management Systems to SaaS. As Burrus points out IT is “quickly becoming an integrated collection of intelligent services that are on demand, on the move, and on any device.”
The CIO has a significant role in articulating and delivering this innovation/transformation to the C-suite. The CIO possibly has a unique perspective in this forum and the subsequent responsibility that comes with that. As an organization we need to evolve to the point were we are not pre-occupied with keeping the lights on, but instead we are looking ahead to what may be and embracing the transformation that entails. Not easy to do, but it is the only way that we will survive.