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.

E-mail – the business and personal divide.

Back in the beginning of time, when the internet was first being born, very few people had an email account, and if you did, its use was very limited.   I still remember Netnorth being established (google it) and the excitement it brought.   It was about connecting disparate universities in Canada and allowing us to set standards and protocols to begin using things like e-mail.  That was a time when fname@domain worked because there weren’t 5 million John Does and I ended up with  It was all very informal.

In those early days there were not many people to talk to so your inbox was never overflowing.  Communications were predominately work based.   As the commercial internet evolved, we began to see more email accounts and people began to use their University email account for personal use.   The line was blurred, it was familiar and it just grew that way.  Nobody was really thinking long term and there really wasn’t a pressing problem for getting yet another email account.

Probably about 7 or 8 years ago I actively began using an external email account and separating my personal correspondence from work correspondence.  The transition is not an easy undertaking and there is an investment needed.  To me, this seemed prudent, as I did not want people to assign my personal views to the University and I didn’t want my personal correspondence accessible on the University systems.   Many of my peers did the same thing, but there are still many people in higher education who do not make that separation.

The interesting question is whether this is a problem or not.  In the last few months I have been made aware of a few instances where people expressed strong personal opinions on issues outside of the University, using their University email accounts.  People external to the University felt  these views were associated with the University, because it came from a University email account.  In one of the instances the individual signed the email with their personal address.  I assume this was intended as a signal that it was, in their view, not representative of the institution.  There was likely a big disconnect happening here.

Is this one of those problems unique to universities.  I suspect not, but I also suspect it is more prevalent in higher educations.   How do we resolve this?  Given that we have ‘tolerated’ this until now, I suspect it needs to be an education of the community around best practices and talking about why it is a better option for them personally.

At Queen’s we have a series of Email and FIPPA Best Practices.   Right in the opening paragraph it is noted that: “Email is increasingly used for conducting University business and is viewed as a University record”.  I think this is consistent with a trend towards separating out your personal email and it is interesting to note that an email is a University record.  It also goes on to state: “Whenever possible don’t use email to communicate confidential or sensitive information or personal information” and “Email bears University identifying marks. Use the same care with it as you would with University letterhead”.   I think these can be interpreted in different ways, but there is clearly a delineation being made.

These are  good practices that we should all follow and I think the last point is particularly relevant.  Whether or not you believe there can be a separation between business and personal on the same email account, people external to the community may see it the same way as issuing something on letterhead.  It is simply in your best interest to avoid confusion by separating out your personal emails.   Accounts are freely available and can be easily linked, so the barriers are small.

In addition to these best practices, the University has also has been updating a series of policies around Information Security.  The latest iteration of the Acceptable Use Policy states, in Seciton 5.1: You will use Queen’s IT resources for the academic and administrative purposes for which they are intended.   This is very clear, and although this notion has been around for a long time it has never been enforced.  It would be challenging to change that position now.

The easier course is for us to  build awareness around the pitfalls of using your University email for personal use, and the advantages from separating it out to an external account.   A lot of my private sector colleagues have disclaimers at the end of their emails.  In addition to the legal issue it addresses I think it also builds awareness around the institutional  record

So at the end of the day, is there a problem?   I think there is, but the community practice is moving us away from the problem. I think that building a little more awareness on the issue will allow people to make their own informed decision and we will see less use of the institutional account for personal correspondence.


This morning a friend of mine tweeted an article on The 5 types of Leadership Canada Needs Right  Now. (Thanks Mike!)   I must admit that I usually don’t follow the National Post (Financial Post), but I might have to re-consider, especially if they include content like this.  The fact that the on-line Globe wants to charge me after 10 reads a month may also influence that decision.

There is a lot of good insight in this post and it covers a lot of ground.  Brett Wilson covers leadership perspectives from the way we run our business, to our personal lives, to how we look at the environment. I think this is the value of the article.  It can be many things to many people. You don’t have to buy into it all, but even one or two takeaways are worth the read.

He starts out by talking about the US election and the desire for leadership (from our elected officials).  He goes on to say: “… voters are an inconsistent bunch. We expect a lot of our elected officials, but we don’t always hold ourselves to the same standard.”  I think this transcends to any type of leadership and any organization.   Sometimes we forget our own role in a change process.  He even goes on to quote Ghandi: ” it’s time for us to be the change we want to see in the world.

I especially like the section on Personal Leadership.  This is something we are working on in our organization and something I am passionate about.  I think it is foundational to any organization that is driving cultural change.  In the article, Brett Wilson says personal leadership “… requires self-discipline and commitment to positive self-belief, such as: having confidence you can succeed; staying true to your ethics; remaining optimistic even when the odds aren’t great; not letting fear of failure get you down; believing the brightest days are ahead; inspiring and being inspired; believing you can keep improving (even in small ways)….”

I will leave it there and encourage you to take read – it is short and and beefy and to the point.

p.s. I always thought he was the most interesting Dragon.




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) :-)


Working with your Board

I recently saw an interesting lunchtime keynote at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando.   Kenneth Daly of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) spoke on such things as what is important to your board and how to help your board.  NACD is an interesting organization that certainly has some valuable material and  even though the focus may be on corporate America I saw a lot of value for Public Sector Higher Ed.

The top three items that concern boards (I believe this was form a survey) were:

  1. Strategic Planning and Oversight
  2. Corporate Performance
  3. Risk Oversight

There was some discussion around the relationship/overlap between 1 and 3, but I do think these are the relevant points.   I ponder how we measure Corporate Performance in Higher Education.  More so whether we have the proper metrics in place, rather than what success is.

The piece I found most interesting in his talk was around the question:  “How can I help the board?”.  Remember that this talk was given to a roomful of CIO’s and VP of Technology.   Probably most are private sector, but there was a big public sector presence.   The following  are also my interpretation of what was said – there were no slides.

  1. Really understand their challenges – these aren’t your challenges, they are the board specific challenges.
  2. Meet with the committee chairs about what they want and need.  Include the CFO in that discussion.   If you do a better job supporting them they do a better job.
  3. Oversight of risk is a team sport.   It is not just for the board audit committee.
  4.  Assist in agenda setting.    50-60% of the agenda should be about having a dialogue.    (I really like the part on dialogue here).
  5. Help them understand how to identify and find the anomalies.
  6. Remember that there is asymmetric information.   We have the details and they need to identify where the risks are too high and identify what to do.
  7. Do something about IT.  Sometimes the board struggles to ask the right questions.   Make sure IT has an impact on strategy.

Daly also mentioned that NACD has been working with Gartner on 6-7 modules to educate directors and these should be available in the 2nd Q of 2013.   I look forward to reviewing these as I suspect it will be helpful for the C level executives as well.

MBA students pitching solutions for IT

Last week the ITS management team got to hear presentation from the MBA840 class.  Earlier in the term they had been divided into teams and given two questions to consider.  One around enhancing the student experience and one on nurturing a culture of assessment in ITS.

Topic One

How can Queen’s  “enhance the student experience using technology”? This topic encourages teams to think about how graduate and undergraduate students are interacting with universities today and how they may interact differently in the future.  The challenge is to describe one or two ideas or innovations that Queen’s University should consider implementing that would make it easier for prospective students, current students, and alumni to know about and interact with Queen’s

Topic 2

Given the push for more accountability in public sector institutions and Queen’s move to an activity based budget model (, we need to nurture a culture of assessment in IT Services. Your project would require you to propose a small number of measurable indicators (3-5) that will best represent the performance of IT Services in its mission for the University

These were very different questions, the first being open to creativity and exploration, while the second, although requiring some creativity had a more particle outcome.   The students were challenged to clearly identify their ideas and how they could be implemented.   I saw the presentations as a pitch to ITS and we were looking for doable ideas.

Needless to say we were not disappointed with the breadth of ideas that came out.   On the student experience side there was a lot of discussion on SSO and creating a “portal-type” experience.   I think we were a bit surprised about this.  The issues haven’t changed much from those we first heard almost 10 years ago.  What was different was the understanding of SSO and the influence of “apps”.    The students really want a simple point of entry to everything they do.   They find the current disjointed approach frustrating.  Whether it is disjointed apps, with various authentication schemes, or simply disjointed ownership and support.

The problem here seems so easy to define and the solution so simple to undertake, but we still struggle with challenges, particularly those of disjointed ownership of applications.

Other interesting ideas included distributing tablets, with the university negotiating licences for e-books.   The distribution of tablets is a case of déjà vu.   We went through this with laptops and too many times the technology was put in place looking for a solution.  I really like the negotiating e-book licences, which has the potential to be a game changer.

Another group delivered  a pitch around something called “classroom connect” .   It is an attempt to integrate the back channel into a classroom discussion.  It works very similar to something like Adobe Connect, except the piece were comments come up is vetted through synchronous peer review and only appears on the professors screen if it has been determined to be ‘worthwhile’ by a students peers.

Creating community was also discussed.  One group talked about linking with existing communities, but connecting the dots between potential students, current students and alumni.  I really see potential in creating this and the business students are probably the ones who would see the most value and be the best place to pilot something.  It likely all comes down to identity and how we provision and retain peoples identity so that they can generate their own trusted communities around Queen’s.

This post doesn’t do justice to all of the ideas.  I haven’t even touched on the analytics, but will leave that for another day.  This was very helpful for ITS and I hope the students got something out of it as well.

Cultural Reviews

The following post is an opportunity for me to think out loud about a process that our ITS organization is going through.

A couple of weeks ago we held two sessions with staff in ITS to give them the results of a Cultural Review.   Meghan Kirwin, of the Kirwin Group conducted a series of one on one, and focus group meetings with staff in ITS.   The interviews were designed to cover various key areas related to cultural within ITS.  It did not ask broader questions about Queen’s and distributed IT.  That is being left to a ITS Peer Review, currently under way.

It began late last year when we established a small working group, of staff and managers, to look at Talent Management within the organization.  The groups mandate somewhat broadened, and they decided to undertake this cultural review.  In my mind, I view this as an exercise to test the strength of our foundation.  Where is the organization at; what are the big issues for staff; what things do we need to resolve before we start building a new culture in ITS and moving the organization forward.

The results of the Review were extensive and not everything is discussed here.    As is the case with many of these things, consistent themes quickly surfaced.   If we were to summarize into two high level themes, in terms of opportunities for change/improvement, they would be around Career Development and Leadership.

In terms of organizational strengths, ITS is built on Talented People and organized into Strong Working Teams.   People are considered technically strong, believe in the higher education mission, and work collaboratively in a friendly and respectful environment.  Flexibility in terms of work hours and work/life balance, also surfaced.  I think this is common within Higher Ed., and is an important factor in terms of total rewards for people.  This is not always the easiest thing to describe during the recruitment process, but is critical in influencing retention.

Training also surfaced as a strength, although it doesn’t seem to be consistently delivered across the organization.  Possibly surprising, was the fact that organizational communication was identified as a strength.   This is not normally the case, but if accurately observed, sets us up with a strong foundational piece.   That being said, comments coming from staff also indicated a lack of time and/or desire to access the information for some individuals.   This is certainly, something worth exploring.

In terms of Organizational Opportunities, the staff identified significant resource constraints.   Firefighting feels like the norm, leading to less flexibility and little time for innovation or focus on strategic ideas.  A key observation by staff was that key strategic roles were missing.   This is something that can be addressed and we need to explore this further.  A key recommendation was the development of an HR planning process that focuses on the needs of the whole organization.

Performance Development was also identified as an opportunity.  Currently, the staff feel that the process is inconsistent across the organization and performance gaps are not managed effectively.  Career Development and Compensation were also identified.     Employees felt a sense of inequality, and that there were not appropriate incentives to grow.   Much of this can tie back to establishing a strong talent development process, looking at career paths, succession planning and aligning with our performance development process.   In terms of compensation more work needs to be done on aligning what employees value in the work place to total compensation, and being sure that we monitor this going forward.

There was a great deal of discussion around leadership in the organization.  Structure was identified as a weakness and clarity around roles needed to be better identified and communicated.  There was a general feeling that we needed to define a philosophy around leadership and set clear expectations for the team.  One of the first things we are going to look at is 360’s for the management team, followed by 360’s for the coordinators.   This should be a good growth opportunity for the team and the organization.

When it came to my role, as CIO , and leading through change there was a lot of cynicism.  The review heard on a number of occasions “been there, done that, why is this different?” .  Personally, this is challenging, and requires patience, but I can’t say it was unexpected.   We need to stay the course, act on the recommendations, build trust and hope that people see the change.

This is simply a summary of some of the points that came out in the review.    Next steps are for the Culture Working Group (CWG) to take the feedback and recommendations and put a plan in place to address them.  The CWG is also looking on creating a summarized version of the results that can be posted on the web.  There is some low-hanging fruit, but developing a culture of engagement where people really like coming to work is going to take time.   I look forward to the next steps.