Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where do we go from here? Part 2

Part 1 of this series discussed the ways in which IT organizations have contributed to higher education in the past. The current challenge for IT organizations, our present “chapter of the book”, is about becoming effective at evangelizing and advocating for the transformative power of technology. This challenge is fundamentally different from building computing centers, connecting networks, installing desktops, and Web enabling software applications. This shift poses the biggest challenge that IT organizations have faced yet because it requires them to make fundamental changes in the way they understand and approach their work. 

First, what got us where we are – technical skills – are not the attributes that correlate highly with success if we are to become effective advocates and evangelists regarding technology. In 2007, we challenged our IT organization at Pepperdine to articulate those competencies that distinguish high and low performers across the organization. Technical skills were only one of twenty competencies that were identified, and of the twenty, strong technical skills correlated only with a limited, order-taking role and were not sufficient for success when engaging others outside the IT organization. Competencies such as building relationships, business enterprise knowledge, and change advocacy were the attributes that are more important. This is the point of “Technical Skills No Longer Matter.”

Second, the nature of the world has dramatically changed. Because of the power of Internet-based, collaborative technologies and social networks, we have entered an era where individuals no longer need to depend on institutions or organizations for information, for resources, or even for things as simple as basic IT services. The nature of the world has shifted from one of “one to many” hierarchical relationships to one of “many to many” flat relationships. This has huge ramifications for communication and collaboration, and it’s how a group of loosely organized dissidents recently toppled a thirty-year-old dictatorship in Egypt. If you are an IT organization, this means that end users who used to depend solely on you are now choosers in their own right, who are free to select from a myriad of cloud-based alternatives to your services. Traditional notions of hierarchy, authority, and control go out the window. As mentioned in part 1, leadership becomes more about convening conversations and equipping individuals to participate in the discussion, as opposed to making decisions or performing a gatekeeping function.

So, how must IT organizations change in order to be successful in this new world?

The choice is either to perform up the IT value curve or to face a future of diminishing returns. Separating tactical and thought leadership regarding IT is a mistake because it limits the potential of technology across the enterprise. Every institution has an organization that it looks to for advice, counsel, and thought leadership when it comes to the effective use of technology. Is the IT organization demonstrating the competencies above and beyond technical skills necessary for credible performance of this role? Organizations whose performance is limited to a transactional role are left out of important discussions regarding technology and are more apt to bear the burden of expense reduction efforts in difficult economic times.

The trains must run on time. Nothing is more important for building and sustaining an IT organization’s credibility than their reputation for consistent, reliable, and responsive IT services. However, most organizations define consistency, reliability, and responsiveness in a technology centric way that most end users find alienating. These concepts must be defined from the perspective of those outside the IT organization; our traditional IT notions of these concepts must change. Assessment tools such as those from the Higher Education TechQual+ Project can help you ascertain what your end user community really thinks about your services.

Strategic planning is incredibly important. In a world of limited resources, deciding what not to do is the most important decision IT organizations can make. Effective assessment and strategic planning practices helps to ensure that limited resources are devoted to projects that have significant and tangible benefits, while also helping to ensure that the IT organization avoids a recurring cycle of over commitment and underperformance that destroys organizational credibility. Setting priorities is a must.

IT organizations that successfully demonstrate competencies above and beyond technical skills, who are able to ensure that IT services perform consistently, reliably, and responsively from an end user point of view, and who regularly engage in a cycle of assessment, reflection, and strategic planning, are ones who are able to credibly convene conversations that go to the heart of the institutional mission. That is the challenge of technology advocacy and evangelism.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Updates on the Higher Education TechQual+ Project

If you want to know what keeps me excited and full of energy, it's my research. This work is known as the Higher Education TechQual+ Project. My travels the past two weeks have kept me so busy that I am a week behind in preparing the second part of my "Where do we go from here?" series. Part 2 will be up next week, but for now let me share with you some news regarding TechQual+.


Principal Investigator Timothy Chester along with colleague Gerry Flynn visited the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga April 13-14 to conduct focus groups aimed at helping to develop the TechQual+ survey instrument. These focus groups were designed to confirm or disaffirm findings from previous focus groups held at other participating institutions. With the completion of these focus groups at UTC, the qualitative phase of the TechQual+ project is now complete. A revised TechQual+ survey instrument is expected in the fall of 2011.

The TechQual+ research and survey was featured in a keynote presentation by Principal Investigator Timothy Chester at the 2011 Tennessee Higher Education IT Symposium on April 11, 2011. This presentation, entitled "Where do we go from here?", highlighted the need for better assessment and strategic planning practices for IT organizations if they are to mature towards playing an enhanced advocacy and evangalism role regarding the transformative potential of technology in education.

The new TechQual+ survey site, located at, has been placed in production. This occurred after the new user interface was the subject of usability tests at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Thanks to all the participating institutions who have participated in the process of vetting this new survey Web site.

Use of the TechQual+ survey at Yale University was featured in a news story in the Yale student newspaper The Yale Daily News. Click here to read this story.

Finally, the Higher Education TechQual+ Protocol Guide was updated to reflect upgrades in TechQual+ Web site functionality, particularly upgrades in communications functions. Please review the guide for more information on these changes.

For more information regarding the Higher Education TechQual+ Project please visit the project Web site at

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Where do we go from here? Part 1

On Monday morning, I am giving the keynote address at the 2011 Tennessee Higher Education IT Symposium. My talk, entitled “Where do we go from here?”, is—in small part—a retrospective on the contributions that IT organizations have made to higher education over the past thirty years, and how these contributions have led to the challenges that IT organizations are experiencing today. Most importantly—and this is the larger part of the keynote—I explore how responding to these challenges sets the stage for where we should go in the future, and I do believe that the future is very promising for both higher education and the IT organizations serving them.

Reflecting on where we go from here requires a full understanding of where we have been. Greg Jackson, the Vice President for Policy at EDUCAUSE, laid out that history in The Chronicle a few years ago (“A CIO’s Question: Will You Still Need me When I’m 64?”, January 30, 2004). The first chapter was the data processing era, where we built computing service centers to provide our institutions with the processing power necessary to support administrative protocols such as payroll and registration and to provide our faculty with computational resources that would support their research. Next was the networking and desktop era, where the challenge was to put a PC on the desktop of every faculty and staff member and then connect them together, at first to institutional resources in the computing service center, and later, to what would eventually become the Internet. The next chapter was about leveraging the Web to automate key processes and services across the institution. At the same time, many institutions would implement packaged ERP systems in order to rid themselves of legacy technology and to provide the Web capabilities demanded by faculty, students, and staff. The current chapter, as envisioned by Jackson, is the era of “technology advocacy and evangelism”, where IT leaders become more important advocates for the transformative power of technology at their institution.

However, both higher education institutions and the IT organizations that serve them must change, in order to realize the transformative potential formed at the intersection of technology and learning.

I was reminded of this Wednesday night, as I sat through a fantastic keynote address by Marina Gorbis at the WASC Academic Resource Conference in San Francisco. Her talk, entitled “Education: Back to the Future”, has helped me to articulate something that I have known, but have struggled to adequately put into words: that, at the intersection of teaching, research, learning, and technology today, the role of leadership and authority changes radically. Whether it is in the classroom, the research lab, as an administrator, or as a technologist, leadership or authority becomes less about making decisions, controlling access to scarce resources, or imparting knowledge. Instead, leadership becomes more about credibly convening important conversations and equipping others to participate in the conversation and preparing them for the journey that results. This is an incredibly exciting proposition if you are an educator.

IT organizations have an important role in supporting and sometimes convening these conversations. But to be successful we must change the way we approach the design, implementation, and support of technology services in order to credibly perform roles beyond ordinary service delivery. Once we do that, then there are three areas that are ripe for exploiting the transformative power of technology in higher education: learning technologies, academic analytics, and business intelligence.

More to come.

Friday, April 8, 2011

April 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report Up

Our Information Technology Status and Activity Report for April, 2011 is up and available. A great month for our technology and learning, networking and Internet connectivity, and enterprise information areas. I encourage you to check out this month's report.

April 2011 Information Technology Status and Activity Report

Also, we have just recently completed our annual TechQual+ service satisfaction survey with 514 faculty, staff, and students completing the survey. That's a response rate of 21%. At first glance, this year's survey provides significant evidence that Information Technology services at Pepperdine continue their upward trajectory by virtue of their positive reception by the University community. Our Leadership Council is already at work analyzing the data and the over 2000 comments and suggestions submitted through this survey. This data will guide our planning efforts for the next year.

Congratulations to my colleagues for a great month!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Not as long as I'm in this job."

I remain in reverential awe of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He epitomizes everything that leadership is about: getting people to follow when they have the freedom to choose not to follow. As President of  Texas A&M University he demonstrated that capability daily. That leadership was on display last Thursday when he stated "not as long as I'm in this job" when pressed by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on whether there will be American troops on the ground in Libya.

It was just four weeks ago that Gates warned his successors against sending large ground forces into the Middle East or Asia ("Defense Secretary warns against fighting more ground wars"). This reminds me of a story I heard about one of his cabinet meetings at Texas A&M. I was not in the room, but I have heard this story from several who were. The meeting occurred just about a week before the second war in Iraq began. Gates was asked whether he thought a second war in Iraq was inevitable. He reportedly said "Yes. It will begin next week and we'll be there for the next fifty years." He was probably right. And his advice to his eventual successor is also probably right.