Suppose you are given an opportunity to present a SWOT about your organization. The audience is an incoming Provost and all their reports, including the Deans. The rules are it has to be a verbal pitch and you have 3 minutes maximum to present. Others in the room will also be presenting their SWOT’s. You can only do one Strength, one Weakness and so on. That is much harder than it first appears. This is your archetypal elevator pitch, so what would you say?
I presented this challenge to my peers in CUCCIO and the response was startling. I ended up with about 40 CIO’s responding, which is about 2/3 of the community. It has led to some interesting discussions and some valuable data. There is a lot of commonalty between schools, but each school is also unique in terms of their maturity and what they focus on. I will summarize some of the responses and finish with my statements, as this was a real exercise for me.
In terms of full disclosure, I see Strengths and Weaknesses as being internal to the organization, while Opportunities and threats are external to the organization. Strengths are characteristics that give your unit an advantage over others, while weaknesses are characteristics that place your unit at a disadvantage relative to others. Opportunities are external elements that exploit your advantage and threats are elements in the surrounding environment that could cause challenges. Inevitably people read this differently, and the lines get blurred. I hope this clarification helps explain my SWOT statements..
Most CIO’s talked about their people. I don’t disagree we have great people, who are very dedicated, in higher education, but if we all have great people then how is this an advantage? In addition, several CIO’s talked about a buy-in to the Enterprise. I think this either plays out from the size of the school – the smaller the school the more buy-in to enterprise – or from the maturity of the school. By that I mean the more mature the school is the better handle they have on enterprise computing. Engagement was also mentioned frequently and I think this plays into the need for CIO’s in HE to build consensus and drive norms which may differ from other sectors.
Other things that were mentioned included Infrastructure, Applications, Services, Project Planning and Governance. Governance was only called out once, but it probably blends into engagement and enterprise. Almost every item on the list resonated with me, the challenge is picking only one.
The ability to take an institutional view. By that I mean we have the capacity to understand the complexity and scope of the enterprise environment and design and implement solutions that satisfy that environment in an efficient and cost effective way – this is true whether it is administrative, academic or research technology – I think IT has a unique view across those disparate domains ( examples would be our ERP , or our institutional LMS.
Governance came up frequently as did recruitment and retention. Governance has been top of mind for many of us and given we still see it on these lists it is a tough one to resolve and some of us till aren’t there. Agility, maturity, language, culture were mentioned in various ways. Size, capacity and redundancy came up with someone lamenting that “there is too much work keeping the lights on and not enough put towards grow and transform”. This is an ongoing challenge. Internal challenges within the unit were also mentioned frequently, referencing such things as silos and inability to take ownership as a team. This category is normally the easy one to tease out in Higher Education IT.
We are not always good at speaking the language of the business and this challenges our ability to effectively communicate the value of IT. We frequently find that advancing institutional IT priorities must rely on persuasion and influence rather than common vision and goals and this takes a long time. This means that we aren’t always agile and this frustrates the Faculties who have resources, to the point they build their own solutions. We then sometimes let go of institutional solutions, or water them down, which can further increases the divide between faculties.
Not surprisingly the biggest opportunity was around cloud and shared services. There are clearly many definitions around the cloud, but they all contain the same message around finding efficiencies, creating agility and enhancing security. Many people also referenced various campus initiatives that were redefining IT support on campus. New technologies, internal pressures, efficiencies and campus culture were also mentioned, There was a theme running through many of these that the organizations were maturing and there was an opportunity to engage in a new and different discussion. In other words there was an optimistic view that the community was starting to be ready for this dialogue.
Shared services across HE, including the cloud. We are looking for some level of aggregation to cut costs and/or satisfy a growing pool of unmet demands. The catch here is that we must undertake our due diligence to ensure our information resources are well protected – we can’t outsource stewardship or ownership of Personally Identifiable Information and Intellectual Property. This doesn’t always sit well with the community when they see it as another delay.
The top threats were equally split between finances and cyber-security. In some cases there was discussion that the financial challenges were impeding the ability to deal with cyber-security which is somewhat troubling. The rate of change was also called out by some people as being a challenge. Somewhat related to this is the notion of unrealistic expectations in our community, to the point that someone actually sated that there was “a divergence of expectations and reality”
The increasingly hostile security and privacy risks that need to be responded to in a highly distributed decision-making landscape. Like the rest of the world we probably aren’t really aware of the threats and the risks and they have become malicious and costly to mitigate or clean up.
Given the prolific response to the exercise I think this gives us some relevant material to work with. We are looking at sharing the detailed responses with the CUCCIO community. I believe that going through the exercise helps us shape our thinking and hearing other perspectives is incredibly valuable in validating our thinking.
Postscript: …as always, should any member of your team be caught thinking about this, we will disavow all knowledge of your actions and/or this post.