Thursday, October 20, 2011

EDUCAUSE 2011 "Technical Skills No Longer Matter"

I was honored that there was such a great crowd this morning for my presentation "Technical Skills No Longer Matter." Slides and other resources for this presentation are here and here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Not What I Had in Mind

Last Friday, I read an article in CIO INSIGHT entitled “An Open Ended Letter to your CEO: What IT Really Needs.” The article caused my knee to jerk quite a bit, a better title might have been “Dear CEO: Here’s Why I Don’t Deserve a Seat at the Executive Table.” If the sentiments expressed in the letter accurately reflect views within IT organizations (and there is evidence suggesting that this is the case), then CIOs have a lot of work to do if they wish to develop their organizations into strategic assets.

After my knee jerk though, it dawned on me that the views expressed in the letter do reflect real IT management problems, namely difficulty in managing expectations, lack of business knowledge in the IT organization, and lack of mutual accountability between IT and the business. But, when we in IT take on the attitude that “we are doing just fine, we just need to get everyone outside of IT under control” we separate ourselves from the business in ways that leads to our being left out of critical conversations. That relegates us to the role of order takers, which puts IT on a slippery slope leading to increased marginalization and loss of credibility. In “Technical Skills No Longer Matter” I suggested that this leads to be role of CIO being downgraded to the role of utility services manager. I have higher aspirations.

A better approach to engagement I believe is for the IT organization to let the external, end-user centric point of view predominate in our organizations. When we stop thinking as technicians and start thinking about IT the same way our end users do, we build a firmer base for positive collaborations with the business side of the organization. With just such a foundation, I believe we can make progress on the three issues identified by the CIO INSIGHT piece.
  • Stop complaining about lack of resources and increased expectations. Doing more with less is the name of the game in the “new normal.” Use collaborations with the business to bring expectations down so that they match the level of resources available. Recognize that this is a leadership issue and not a management issue. Managers confront this challenge by attempting to forge consensus on priorities, which is often difficult or impossible regardless of governance strategies. Leaders collect data and convene important conversations about priorities, but then they make decisions and jealously guard the scope of what their organizations are responsible for. Sometimes, this requires CIOs to make difficult or unpopular decisions. Get comfortable with the way this feels, it is the price of being a C level executive.
  • Accept the responsibility for learning more about the business and hold yourselves accountable for doing so. We talk about understanding the need for IT to better understand and engage the business on its own terms, but then we do the same old things over and over: we hire for technical skills, then promote based on ability to implement technology, and then do anything to retain because of critical technical skills. Stop it! Recognize that there is a broad set of competencies that distinguish high and low performers and adjust your HR practices so that you no longer hire, promote, and retain based on technical proficiency alone.
  • Assess and plan based on end-user focused IT outcomes. Regardless of your line of business, find out the key performance indicators that define success for your organization, assess those outcomes regularly, and hold yourself accountable to them. Using IT focused metrics alone, though important for internal management, tends to widen the engagement gap because such metrics tend to focus on concepts that are important but not necessarily strategic to the business. Find out what drives the success of your organization and then focus like a laser on those outcomes. When you do, you will find it easier to both manage expectations and align what you do with the business side of the organization.
Above all else, accept that we alone in IT are responsible for bridging gaps with the communities that we serve and that reliance on technology and technical skills rarely helps us to do so. When we bridge those gaps something magical can happen - the IT organization will begin to be seen as a strategic asset. And as a bonus, the CIO will be recognized for what they should be – a C level executive.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

University of Buffalo

I really enjoyed conversations today with the IT staff at the University of Buffalo. We started off this morning with a conversation about what I call the "Competency Centered IT Organization." Later in the afternoon, our discussion turned to assessment, planning, and the use of TechQual+. This was a good day. In return for my contributions, I received some wonderful advice regarding high performance computing and avenues to search for leadership in this area. This was a good bargin.

Thanks friends for being such great hosts. Slides from today's talks are here and here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Opening Thoughts

Friday afternoon, I led a discussion with the EITS staff entitled "Opening Thoughts", which is intended to serve as the beginning of a conversation on how we begin to transform the way we approach our work and deepen the impact of our services at the University of Georgia.

The basic premise of my "opening thoughts" was that just because we know that the future fate of higher education in inexorably intertwined with information technology that does not automatically translate into increased significance and dependence on the central IT organization. In fact, there is a very real debate about whether the IT organization can continue to exist in its current form, given how organizations and centralized services have been completely decentered by the Internet. The financial stress of the "new normal" makes the problem more acute. Frankly speaking, if we continue to approach today's challenges the way we approached technology challenges in the past, we face a future of declining investment in our organizations and increasing irrelevance to higher education.

Don't believe me? Here is one of the latest examples that I pointed out to my staff. In an editorial in Inside Higher Education last week ("New Higher Education Model", October 6th), former governors Jeb Bush (Florida, Republican) and Jim Hunt (North Carolina, Democrat) argue that technology has the potential to transform higher education through increased access, better accessibility, and richer learning experiences. So, how do we go about implementing that vision according to the authors?

Setting up the technology needed to deliver high-quality instruction is daunting, but it is a challenge that can be easily managed using the right resources. We believe the answer is public/private partnerships, which was the approach taken by the University of Texas System when many of its campuses decided to start moving courses online. Partnerships like theirs allow the university to maintain control of the content, instructional materials, and admissions standards, while leaving the implementation to the experts.

When Governors Bush and Hunt speak about the experts in implementing better technology for higher education, they are not talking about the central IT organization. Unless we start to dramatically change the way we think about our missions, the way we approach our work, the way we develop ourselves professional and personally, and the way we engage the broader community we face a future where we are increasingly sidelined. I have higher aspirations for us.

This editorial, btw, has been taken very seriously. See articles in the New York Times here and here for more.

Slides from my "opening thoughts" are available here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

This Time is Different

Last week I gave one of the keynote presentations at the 2011 Campus Technology Forum in Longbeach, California. My premise was simple, that while we all understand that the future fate of higher education is very intertwined with information technology, that does not necessarily mean increased importance or dependence on the central IT organization on campus. Because of the rise of consumer technology, faculty, students, and staff are no longer dependent upon the central IT organization for basic services. Coupled with continued economic difficulties arising from "the new normal" it is appropriate to question whether the IT organization can continue to exist in its current form. IT organizations must change, they must redefine the way that they add value to the institution, and they must become more comfortable with the fact that this time is dramatically different.

Campus Technology covered this talk here, and you can find the slides from this presentation embedded in this story.