The future role of the CIO

Yesterday the Educause IT Issues Panel met.  The group meets a few times a year and this was our yearly f2f meeting at the Annual Educause Conference.  Unfortunately I couldn’t make the trip this year and had to participate on-line.   That being said, the bulk of our work (facilitation) is done with back channel discussions and polls on Adobe Connect.  It is a format that I think works very well.  I did not feel I was hampered at all by being one of the three people at a distance.

At the moment I am the only Canadian on the panel, and that in itself is at times interesting, but mostly inconsequential.   There are some differences around structure, such as public vs. private and the state/province and federal split, regulatory requirements and acronyms, but at the end of the day we all face very similar issues and approach things the same way.   One of our threads this meeting, led to a point about what the European’s and Asian were doing in terms of service levels.   That usually does not happen, and I hope we do this more.

As usual we had a great discussion, this time focusing on 3 ‘questions':

  1.  What is the single biggest IT-related issue currently facing your institution?
  2. What are the most Strategic Technologies for Higher Education over the next 3 years? (seeded by some definitions from the recent Gartner Symposium).
  3. What is the most appropriate role of the CIO in Higher Ed, for the rest of the decade and why?

We still need to flesh out the ideas in this discussion and will do that at our next meeting, so I don’t want to pre-empt that.   I do however want to talk a bit about the role of the CIO and some things that came out there.

It seems that Universities are still trying to figure out how to integrate IT funding and decision making into the enterprise of the organization.   Does the CIO report through the admin side and/or the academic side of the house?   Is IT a cost centre or a strategic investment for the institution?  Does the CIO run the enterprise IT shop or does the CIO have a visionary role for integrating all of IT into teaching, learning and research enterprise.  Does the CIO do both?

There was a interesting post today in the Technology and Learning Blog at Inside Higher Ed by Joshua Kim, where there was a discussion of highlights from this years Educause Confernce.  One post talked about the gap between Presidents/Provosts and the CIO on the effectiveness of IT investments.  The presentation was based on the Campus Computing Project.   The takeaway was that “Presidents and provosts are generally less sanguine about the effectiveness of IT investments than their IT officers.”   The author goes on to say: “We should all pay attention to this discrepancy in perceptions of the efficacy of IT investments between our academic and IT leadership” and shares some thoughts on why this discrepancy exists.  To me, the statement itself identifies the problem when it talks about the academic and IT Leadership not being aligned.  I think this clearly shows that the CIO needs to be integrated into the academic leadership of the organization – they need to be one and the same – there – I played my cards.   There are no IT investments, there are only “business” investments  that use IT as an enabler, so the CIO needs to be embedded in the academic and research enterprise.

The other thing we talked about was the role of Chief Digital Officer.   I am still processing this, but very interesting.   If you have a Gatner subscription there is a paper by Dave Aron on Does your business need a CDO?.  There is also a provocative piece on Why every budget is an IT budget, that includes a discussion of this role….. but these are for a future post(s) :-)


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