Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Day with Richard Hunter

On Thursday, Pepperdine’s IT Leadership Council held its annual retreat. Each fall, the council members are given a book to read that becomes the focus of the retreat. This year, the reading assignment was Real Business of IT: How CIOs Create and Communicate Value (2009). The author, Richard Hunter, joined us for the retreat and led the discussion.

Our discussion dovetailed quite nicely with the framework established in “Technical Skills No Longer Matter” and “A Roadmap for IT Leadership and the Next Ten Years”; namely, that the value proposition for IT organizations and individual contributors can no longer be defined and framed from within a technology centric view of the world. Our value is best articulated in an outcomes-centered view of the world that is framed around end user expectations, needs, and goals.

Other key takeaways from the discussion include:

First, our mindset must change. Moving from a technology centric view of the world to an outcomes view of the world, while easy to state as a goal, is very difficult to live out on a day-to-day basis. For example, we should stop seeing our colleagues throughout the institution as end users or customers and instead see them as our colleagues and peers. Another example might be to stop thinking about administrative systems as ERP deployments (instead of business process improvement initiatives) or network upgrade projects as, well, network upgrade projects (as opposed to increased collaboration initiatives). But, try dropping the terms end users, customers, ERP, or network connectivity from your strategic plans, your project charters, and your day-to-day vocabulary. It’s tough. Nevertheless, it’s necessary if we are to move away from the technology centric view of the world that limits the value proposition of IT and relegates it to commodity status.

Second, never separate cost from the concept of value. Far too often, we talk about the costs of IT services without putting them within the context of the quality of the service or the value derived from it. During our discussion, my mind harked back to a discussion that I had in 2007 with our CFO when attempting to justify the costs for a new Storage Area Network (SAN). Over and over, he would say, “I don’t understand why your disk storage costs are over $3 a gigabyte, when I can go down to Best Buy and buy a 500 gig hard drive for $50.” I finally said to him, “Well, if you want to store your general ledger on a USB drive plugged into your computer, with no additional backups available if the drive fails or if the building burns down, we can do that for you for about .10 a gig.” Finally, I got around to talking about quality of service and value – and he got it. The point – lead these conversations with the discussion of quality and value and not with the concept of cost. Leading with the latter relegates your efforts to commodity status every time.

Finally, show the value of an IT investment as an investment in business performance – either operationally or financially. Our VOIP implementation is about increasing collaboration opportunities between faculty, students, and staff, particularly for our programs delivered as a hybrid (part online, half face-to-face). Our Xythos disk storage project is about collecting, analyzing, and distributing unstructured content and data related to student learning outcomes. Lastly, our data warehousing initiatives are about creating and distributing key performance indicators in a proactive fashion to decision-makers across the institution.

The point is, by defining IT investments as performance investments, we keep the focus on the transformative power of information technology within higher education. If we continue to maintain a technology centric view of the world, manifested through the way we see ourselves within the institution, the ways in which we articulate what we do and why, and the ways in which we approach both challenges and new opportunities alike, we will find ourselves left out of key discussions across the institution. More seriously, a disproportionate share of expense reduction efforts will be expected of IT.

The challenge is – we must go beyond casual acceptance of these principles and start living them out day-to-day, one conversation at a time, across our institutions. That is the real work for IT organizations in higher education today.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It's the Outcomes that Matter

Our iPad project at Pepperdine University has recently received some attention in Pepperdine Magazine and The Graphic. In previous writings, I suggested that handing out technology merely for the sake of adopting the latest technology was not necessarily the right attitude towards adopting new technological advances. It’s the outcomes that matter.

What distinguishes our work with the iPad here at Pepperdine?

A few things:

First, our faculty members are driving the project. Our goal is to provide faculty members with the tools and support they need; we then sit back and observe where they and their students go with the technology. In doing so, we focus more on how the technology is best used in learning and less on how technologists think the technology can or should be used.

Second, our focus is on outcomes. Our eventual goal is to run an experiment where the use of the iPad is an independent variable and the learning outcomes articulated for different courses are the dependent variables. We hope to accomplish this by using identical sections of a course taught by one faculty member. One section is the control group and the other is the experimental group. Students in the experimental group are provided an iPad and software for use in their coursework. The research question is: how does the iPad positively or negatively impact learning outcomes? By focusing on outcomes, we hope to achieve a more precise determination of the impact of the technology on our central mission – educating students – and to develop a set of best practices that can guide broader adoption of this technology.

You can read more about our iPad initiative here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Disruptive Innovation and Higher Education

I must admit, when I first read this report it put me on edge.

Disrupting College
How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education

No one likes to read that their industry is undergoing substantial and disruptive change. But, as I read the report for a second time I began to see the opportunities. This dovetails very nicely with work that we are doing in our information resource areas at Pepperdine, and if anything, it gives our activities in three areas a greater sense of urgency.

Academic Analytics: the need to build better infrastructure for collecting, organizing, and analyzing structured and unstructured data related to learning outcomes.

Technology and Learning: the need to provide a better integrated experience for learning technologies, opting for a mashup of different cloud, consumer based collaborative technologies as opposed to monolithic, lagging technologies (aka Blackboard).

Key Performance Indicators: in an uncertain economy, seeing trends and proactively planning for disruptive events is far preferable to reacting to them after the fact. We need to make some giant leaps in our ability to quickly analyze and put to use the data in our PeopleSoft applications.

What should your institution be doing to take advantage of the disruptive change that is coming?

"Technical Skills No Longer Matter" Published in EDUCAUSE Review

My article "Technical Skills No Longer Matter" was just published in EDUCAUSE Review. In this piece, I take as the starting point the dichotomy between CIO as Plumber and CIO as Strategist and delineate the performance expectations and competencies as an individual (or IT organization) progresses from the former to the latter. This follows an organizational maturity model I describe as the "IT Value Curve". Follow the link below to read the article.

"Technical Skills No Longer Matter" (EDUCAUSE Review)