Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Chester Family Report for 2014

This year has been fantastic for the Chester family. Gail and I have been living in Athens, Georgia now for a little over three years. We’ve been living the life of academic nomads since 2003 and Athens is our third stop along the way (counting Doha, Qatar and Malibu, California). We’ve learned that the third year in a new place is the year that things settle down and start feeling a lot like home. It’s in the third year that our jobs become more routine, that new friends become old friends, and we decide on ways to get more involved in the community. That’s been the type of year that we’ve enjoyed.

We started the new year in Jacksonville, Florida attending the Gator Bowl with our daughter Amy and her husband to be Jason. It was a miserable trip, being very cold with lots and lots of rain. It didn’t help that our Georgia Bulldogs played a very lackluster game and lost to Nebraska. But the highlight of the trip was the time that we got to spend with our children and we enjoyed a very special dinner together after the game.

Speaking of our children, 2014 was the year that both Amy and Duane got married. Planning for weddings and participating in them occupied most of our extra time this year. Amy and Jason were married in July (it was unbelievably hot in Texas) and Duane and Danielle were married in September. We are so blessed in terms of family. Both Amy and Duane did very well in choosing their lifelong partners. They are all becoming very established in their careers and we are very proud of them.

With two weddings this year, Gail and I spent quite a bit of time together on airplanes and in hotel rooms. In fact, we found ourselves traveling as much or more than we we did when we lived overseas. One of our other new experiences this year was traveling to New York to attend the Peabody Awards. Not many associate the Peabody’s with the University of Georgia but these very prestigious awards have been sponsored by the University’s Grady College since their inception in 1940. It was a working trip for me but we had the opportunity to take in a show and we enjoyed watching Brian Cranston perform the role of LBJ in All the Way. Later at the awards we were pleasantly surprised to find Brian Cranston sitting at a table across from our own. Cranston and his colleagues picked up a Peabody Award for Breaking Bad. We also got to rub elbows with the likes of Charlie Rose, Tom Brokaw, and Ken Burns. It was both a pleasure and an honor for Gail and I to get to participate in this event.

Both Gail and I both continue to enjoy excellent health. During the past year we continued with our previous habits of getting up early each morning for exercise before work. Four o’clock comes mighty early but we are both at the point where we couldn’t function during the day without starting it with some rigorous exercise. We’re not too far away from the fifth anniversary of my becoming much more health conscious and 2014 was the year that I took the next step on this journey. It’s been over a year now since I’ve had any type of sugary snack or dessert. And in three days it will have been a year since I had my last diet coke. Nothing but water or juice for me for the past year. These changes to my diet plus my getting into long distance running (I’ve run over 750 miles this year alone) have left me about twenty pounds lighter. The reward (and price) of living a healthier lifestyle is having to constantly invest in new clothes.

In October I ran my first half marathon, finishing it in a respectable two hours and five minutes (averaging about a little under a 9:30/mile pace). Since then I’ve doubled down on how serious I’m taking the long distance training. Right now I'm running a little more than 30 miles a week preparing for a half marathon on the Warner Robbins Air Force Base on January 17th. Gail and I both are going to run in this event and I am hoping to finish under two hours. Gail plans to do more walking than running but she should easily finish under three hours. We’re both registered for the Chick-Fil-A half marathon in Athens in April and I expect that we’ll both do the Athens half marathon later in October. I’ve also made the decision to commit to the training necessary to compete in the full marathon in Savannah, Georgia that will run in November. I’ve not settled on a goal yet, but I’m wondering whether it’s attainable to try to finish my first marathon under four and a half hours. This time is not even close to what it would take to qualify for the Boston Marathon but not bad for someone who once weighed 40% more than they do today.

For me, it’s also been a very stellar year at work. You can’t say enough good things about the University of Georgia. I’ve been blessed to work for both a president and provost who I truly admire and from whom I learn new things daily. This past year, we’ve finished a major implementation of new databases for admitting and tracking students. The project has been ongoing for over three years and has been an incredible success. It’s provided our students with new capabilities for registering for courses and tracking their progress through their academic programs. For the first time the University of Georgia now benefits from a comprehensive, cradle to grave record of a student's history with our institution. It also provides mechanisms for engaging them as they become lifelong learners and friends of the University.

One of the great prides I have with my work is our ability to hire and develop individuals who later go on and enjoy tremendous career success as leaders in their own right. That means that you have to become very comfortable with eventually losing some of the individuals in whom you've invested considerable time and energy. Over the past seven years three of my direct reports have attained CIO status at major institutions. This track record continued this year as a close friend and colleague also made a similar jump. It was a little discouraging to lose her (and frustrating to watch as she later recruited two of our very capable managers to follow her) but I’ve been amazed at how those remaining have stepped up. We’ve not missed a beat. I would say that the individuals in the pipeline are helping us to perform far better as an organization than we were at this time last year.

One of the more important things for us this year was finding a new church home. Since arriving in Athens we had been worshipping at a church across town, one with leaders and friends that we cherish, but this year we decided that we wanted to worship much closer to our neighborhood. We’ve found that new home in Central Presbyterian Church just down the street from our home. I’m now back teaching Sunday School, something I’ve done off and on for over ten years now, and both Gail and I have enjoyed making new friends along the way. Last night was a very special Christmas Eve service which has started our holiday off on just the right tone.

The past twelve months has been wonderful for my family. It’s been a year filled with blessings, changes, hope, and anticipation for future things to come. I think I’ll shy away from setting any more big goals for the year (training for and finishing half marathons and marathons is enough). But both Gail and I start the new year full of hope and thankful for the blessings that we have enjoyed. We both wish all of our family and friends the same hope and blessings for a wonderful 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Updates to the Core TechQual+ Survey for 2015

The Higher Education TechQual+ Project is a research project that develops tools to help IT leaders create a culture of continuous improvement for their organizations. More information on the TechQual+ project can be found at on the Web.

The project provides the following: a common survey instrument that defines effective IT technology services from the perspective of those outside the IT organization; a set of easy-to-use Web-based tools that allow IT leaders to create surveys and analyze data collected from students, faculty, and staff; and a peer database that allows for comparisons of IT service quality against the performance of other institutions. These tools are available free of charge to participating institutions.

Each year provides the opportunity to assess the quality of the current core TechQual+ survey and make improvements. This activity occurs each fall and any changes to the core survey become effective with the new calendar year. Feedback from TechQual+ participating institutions drives this process.

The proposed core TechQual+ survey for 2015 contains substantial revisions from the previous survey. A draft of the proposed 2015 survey is available at for review and comment by project participants and interested others.

For this year’s revisions, efforts have focused on the need to reduce the complexity of the survey. This includes revisions directed at making the survey easier to understand while improving the applicability of the survey to diverse audiences. At the same time, these changes are in keeping with the core commitments of connectivity, collaboration, and a positive end user experience articulated through past surveys. Through a series of focus groups these three core commitments have been identified as critical for students, faculty, and staff throughout higher education.

Project participants and interested others may provide feedback on the proposed survey through Friday, January 9, 2015. To provide feedback, please download the draft survey from the link above and make edits or comments directly within the Microsoft Word document. Please return the edited document to by e-mail. Please use the same email address for any other questions or comments. The finalized survey instrument will be available for use by all project participants on Monday, January 12, 2015.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thursday's Hawkins Leadership Roundtable Agenda

On Thursday morning roundtable members and participants will convene together at 7:30am in room 209 A/C in the Orlando Conference center. This is the last meeting of the roundtable for 2014 and we hope that you have found our time together extremely beneficial. Our breakfast meeting will include remarks and some question time with Nancy Zimpher, the Chancellor of the State University of New York System, who will also be delivering the final keynote of the conference at 10:15 am.

Participants are asked to please fill out the evaluation form for the roundtable. Your feedback is essential to improving the roundtable for next year’s participants. We look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions.

About the Hawkins Leadership Roundtable: The Hawkins Leadership Roundtable is a leadership development program for new CIOs and individuals actively seeking a CIO role. The roundtable provides a 10-hour networking and mentoring experience integrated over three days of the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. The program includes lunch sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, an evening reception on Wednesday, and a hosted breakfast on Thursday with general session speaker Nancy Zimpher, as well as activities and information sharing before and after the conference week. For more information visit on the Web.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Wednesday's Hawkins Leadership Roundtable Agenda

Tomorrow’s Hawkins Leadership Roundtable activities will continue to connect participants with council members in ways that focus on developing participants’ leadership capabilities and elevating the work of their organizations.

The links for Tuesday’s slide presentation can be found here:

Wednesday’s lunch will begin at 11:30 am in room W209 A/B in the Orlando conference center. During this session the council will focus on the topic of “conversations with presidents or senior executives.” During this session, each council member will play the role of an institutional president and role-play with participants using questions commonly asked of CIOs by senior executives. The goal of this exercise is to discuss ways participants can better engage their institutions senior executives regarding IT issues.

During the evening the council will enjoy a reception starting at 6pm in the Orchid Room at the Hyatt Regency hotel. During the reception the council will enjoy remarks by EDUCAUSE president and CEO Diana Oblinger. Wednesday’s reception is designed to allow council participants and members to continue their conversations on critical issues faced by IT leaders.

Council participants and members are encouraged to continue with their one-on-one mentoring activities, ensuring that the mentoring experience begins at the EDUCAUSE conference and doesn’t stop once the conference ends.

About the Hawkins Leadership Roundtable: The Hawkins Leadership Roundtable is a leadership development program for new CIOs and individuals actively seeking a CIO role. The roundtable provides a 10-hour networking and mentoring experience integrated over three days of the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. The program includes lunch sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, an evening reception on Wednesday, and a hosted breakfast on Thursday with general session speaker Nancy Zimpher, as well as activities and information sharing before and after the conference week. For more information visit on the Web.

Tuesday's Hawkins Leadership Roundtable Agenda

EDUCAUSE 2014 is here and the first meeting of the entire Hawkins Leadership Roundtable kicks off today at 12:30pm in room W209 A/B in the Orlando Conference center. Though this is the first time that the council will meet together as a group, participants should have already scheduled some time with their assigned Council members who will act as their mentors for the program. Many participants will have met with their mentor yesterday or today before the first lunch. As a council member myself I am meeting with my first protégé before Tuesday's lunch.

It’s up to the participants in the program to contact their assigned Council member for mentoring activities. This one-on-one collaboration is one of the most important benefits of the Hawkins Leadership Roundtable. Participants that have not yet contacted their assigned mentor should do so as soon as possible, for the conference will come and go in the blink of an eye.

Here’s what participants can look forward to during Tuesday’s lunch.
  • Remarks by Mike Duffield, General Manager for Education and Government at Workday, one of the sponsors for this year’s roundtable.
  • An icebreaker activity, facilitated by the Council members sitting with participants at their tables, where each will be asked to share three things about themself that is not commonly known by others. Participants should think about three things that they would like to share during this activity.
  • A brief conversation about IT leadership roles and their relationship to credibility. After a few opening remarks, the council will turn to table discussions facilitated by Council members directed at the following questions:
    1. What are the different roles that IT staff play across an institution? What knowledge, skills, and perspectives are critical for the IT organization’s ability to successfully perform these roles? How are IT leaders developing these competencies in their staff?
    2. What are the sources of credibility that support IT performance in multiple roles across an institution? What behaviors reinforce IT credibility and what behaviors detract from it? Are there any gaps in credibility that prevent participant's IT organizations from maximizing their potential impact on campus?
    3. How are participants positioned in regards to elevating the impact of their technology services in support of strategic initiatives at their institution? Are participant's organizations positioned to play more than a transactional service delivery role? What gaps in skills or credibility might be holding them back?
Participants should do some thinking about these questions and come prepared to discuss them during the lunch.

About the Hawkins Leadership Roundtable: The Hawkins Leadership Roundtable is a leadership development program for new CIOs and individuals actively seeking a CIO role. The roundtable provides a 10-hour networking and mentoring experience integrated over three days of the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. The program includes lunch sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, an evening reception on Wednesday, and a hosted breakfast on Thursday with general session speaker Nancy Zimpher, as well as activities and information sharing before and after the conference week. For more information visit on the Web.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


[grat-i-tood, -tyood]
  1. the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful, as in "He expressed his gratitude to everyone who worked so hard."
Regardless of how many ERP implementations one has under one's belt, you’re never quite prepared for the stress and emotional roller coaster that ensues when you are racing towards go-lives, working through disagreements on how to reduce scope to make deadlines, validating conversion data that are not even close to being clean, preparing business offices across campus for the substantial changes they don’t see coming, and explaining to executives why these projects are so difficult, so expensive, and how all of that has very little to do with the technology itself.

But we did it.

I think the most amazing thing that has been accomplished at the University of Georgia through the ConnectUGA project has less to do with the new system and its capabilities but is really more about a group of people who came together and two years later accomplished things that most of them once thought were impossible. Together, we have experienced the hype cycle of ERP projects (peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment, plateau of productivity) and come out on the other side stronger than when we began.

There are lots of people to thank and it's time to get started.

To Nancy, congratulations on once again admitting the most academically qualified group of freshmen ever to enter the University of Georgia. You and David did a remarkable job, having this success for the first time using the new Athena system. Of course, you didn’t do it alone; you had Sarah, Tim, Stephen, Jason, Todd, Ramsey, Melissa, Patrick, Alan, Karen, Julie, Melanie, Kimberly, and Dee to help. A special thanks goes to Jason who did some miraculous work at the end in straightening out some very ugly transfer course data that did not come across cleanly.

To Fiona, you loaded and converted hundreds of programs and thousands of courses, and then you and your team worked round the clock to make sure everything was perfect for our students the first time they registered for courses. You also carried a huge load as the chair of our advisory team and we have all benefited from your wise counsel throughout the project. You had lots of help too, with Paree, Shefali, Amy, Brooke, Caleb, Mary, Melissa, Elizabeth, and Ron playing key roles. Others including Paula, Austin, Mary, Wendy, Melissa, Tracie, Jayne, and Bill were also key supporters.

To Bonnie, you successfully awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid to our students and your team’s eye for perfection made sure that our students could count on having this critical support available to them on a timely basis. You undertook significant new responsibilities as a result of some business process changes and you also delivered new modules for awarding our HOPE scholarship – one of the most critical resources we in the State of Georgia have for higher education. Lots of key players in your area provided their support, including Melanie, Donna, Gary, Nancy, Jay, and Mitzi. Additional help came from Joseph, Mandy, Elaina, Audrey, Kimberly, Michael Jason, Cheng-Yu, Pam, Jared, Joanne, Robert, Chris, Heather, and Dee.

To Jan, the heaviest part of our data conversion and validation burden fell to you and the burden was heavier than any of us ever anticipated. But you came through it and for the first time UGA was able to register over 35,000 students on the Web. This fall, we have one of the largest populations of students ever to enroll for courses and they all did so using new systems that you delivered. You had lots of help too, with Rosemary, Josie, Amy, Nikki, Donna, Julia, Melody, and Andrea consistently going above and beyond. Other support came from Tracie, Mary, Melissa, Kay, Claudia, Beau, Karen, Margaret, Julie, Melanie, and Teresa. A special thanks to Rosemary for stepping up and accepting greater responsibilities when the University required it and for carrying such a heavy load for so long.

To Lisa, your go-lives came at the end of the project and you made it look easy. Over the course of the past few weeks, the University has accepted millions of dollars in tuition and fee payments, all of them through the new modules that you delivered. Therese was your right hand person and you both had help from Melissa, Robby, Marcie, Shannon, and Nicole. Other key individuals working with you included Lena, Amy, Suzanne, Kristie, Jill, Deidra, Jennifer, Amber, Michelle, Julie, Shannon, Teresa, Kimberly, Jason, Dee, Carla, and Bill.

To my colleagues on the EITS student information systems support team, I owe you so much. Throughout this project, you all consistently worked above and beyond and I know that a 40 hour work week is a really foreign concept right now (which should begin to change soon). As we have worked over the past two years, the technology itself was never a problem and we have delivered these new systems with a flawless operational record. You all have my gratitude, including Larry, Mike, Ilir, Jenna, Connie, Aaron, Joel, Wanda, Todd, Gohreen, Angela, Mike, Renee, Andrew, Abby, Al, Angie, Seema, Imran, Yvonne, Lynn, and Margaret.

Others throughout EITS played critical supporting roles getting our network and server infrastructure ready for the implementation and supporting it day-to-day. This list is not exhaustive, but there are many who deserve a heartfelt thank-you, including Brian, Christian, Chris, Rayid, John, Andrew, Matt, John, and many others on the network team who made sure the entire network infrastructure worked. To Michael, Jeff, Stephanie, Chris, Stewart, Ryan, Chris, and John, who made our data center, storage, and server infrastructure hum. To Lynn, Kerri, and Tracy who made our communications strategy one of the best I’ve ever seen. To Shawn, Keith, Kristi, Basit, and others who made sure Athena worked well with our existing identity management systems. A big thanks also goes to Patrick and Stacey, who have led and organized meetings, kept the teams on track, and escalated issues as necessary – you’re the best project management team I’ve ever had.

To Chris, Holley, and Laura, thanks for being such strong partners and collaborators through both the good times and the challenging moments over the past three years. I think you may have thought I was a little off my rocker when I said we would experience a “trough of disillusionment” along our journey, but by now you certainly understand what I meant by that. Thanks for your wise counsel and for being willing to insist that I take some tough medicine when I needed it. You set the right tone and pace for all of our teams by being thoughtful, supportive leaders while also being willing to make the tougher decisions when necessary.

To Danna, a heartfelt thanks for stepping in at a critical time and helping us all see the larger forest for the trees, which helped us stay on track at some key moments in the project. I hated to lose you, but I can accept losing a great employee when they get the opportunity to move on to bigger and better things. You’ll make Stanford a better place over the next few years.

And finally, to Larry. You said 'yes' when I asked if you would relocate your family from Texas to Georgia and you stepped into a project with much tougher circumstances than you probably ever expected. But you have made the project a resounding success. Your dedication, hard work, long hours, and willingness to help anyone at any time about any challenge they have makes you one of the real gems at the University of Georgia. I owe you so much; a simple thank you doesn’t cover it. I’ll be in debt to you for a very, very long time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Day Two Recap - Economic Development, the City of Atlanta, and Global Connections

Here’s a recap of day two on the University of Georgia (UGA) New Faculty Tour. The day began by driving south to Cartersville and from there the rest of the day was spent in and around the City of Atlanta.
  • In Cartersville the group toured the carpet manufacturing plant operated by Shaw Industries. Throughout Georgia the company employs over 15,000 individuals and the starting wage at its Cartersville plant is $15/hour. Shaw believes strongly in sustainability and currently recycles 95% of its waste. It’s aims to improve that to 100% by 2030.
  • Next stop was the Georgia State Capital building to hear comments from Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Senate Majority Caucus Chair Butch Miller. Miller stressed to the faculty the importance of compromise, something that is highly valued in Georgia politics, and lamented that too many of our social and economic ills result from inability to reach compromise.
  • Lunch was with Commissioner Gretchen Corbin of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, USG chancellor Hank Huckaby, and UGA president Jere Morehead. Each spoke to the group and stressed the importance of higher education to the economic development of the state and the need for USG institutions to take a leadership role in strengthening this alignment.
  • After touring the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta the group visited the UGA Alumni Center and the Terry College of Business facility in Buckhead. Following the tour, the group took a break before enjoying dinner with the Consular Corp of Atlanta, UGA provost Pamela Whitten, and UGA Alumni Association president Tim Keadle. Canadian Consul General Stephen Brereton stressed the importance of global collaboration and the special relationship that UGA enjoys with countries across the world.
After dinner the group returned to its hotel for an evenings rest. All enjoyed a great day. Wednesday’s program includes stops at Senoia for a tour of Riverwood Studios and stops at the Kia Motors facility in West Point and at Robins Air Force Base. More to come.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Day One Recap – Agribusiness and Agritourism and Spotlight on the Arts

Here’s a quick recap of day one activities on the University of Georgia’s New Faculty Tour. After hearing from UGA president Jere Morehead and vice president for Public Service and Outreach Jennifer Frum, the group assembled for a picture and then it was off to visit North Georgia. Highlights include:
  • Having lunch at Jaemor Farms, a family-owned farm that has been in business for over 100 years. Owner Jimmy Echols and operations manager Drew Echols represent the third and fifth generation of family leadership. They have expanded Jaemor Farms from simple agriculture production to being a tourist destination in its own right complete with great food, annual activities such as the corn maze, and facilities for group meetings.
  • While at Jaemor University System of Georgia Board of Regents chairman Philip Wilheit discussed the importance of the agriculture economy in Georgia and how businesses such as Jaemor are deeply integrated into their local communities by producing products the community needs while also consuming necessary products like packaging from other businesses. Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black also spoke and challenged the faculty to be public servants in all that they do and to give back to the State of Georgia as all UGA faculty have done previously.
  • After lunch the group traveled to Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery to tour another family owned business that has become a tourist destination in its own right. Owner and family patriarch Karl Boegner discussed the process of creating the vineyard’s award winning wines and the tour participants enjoyed a wine tasting event.
  • The final destination for the day included a stop at the Amicalola Falls State Park where Georgia State Parks Region I manager Joe Yeager discussed the state’s extensive system of parks and recreational areas. After dinner the group enjoyed presentations by UGA deputy librarian (and soon to be university librarian) Toby Graham who discussed the University’s resources for supporting teaching and research. Karen Paty, director of the Georgia Council for the Arts, discussed the history of the arts in the state and how the arts are a critical part of the state’s growing economy. The evening concluded with Georgia poet laureate Judson Mitcham recalling his fond memories of growing up in Georgia as he performed several readings of his poetry.
After a long and fruitful day the tour participants enjoyed a good nights rest at the Amicalola Falls lodge. Stops for Tuesday include the Shaw Industries plant in Cartersville, tours of the State Capital and the Martin Luther King center in Atlanta, a visit to the UGA Alumni Center in Buckhead, and dinner with the Consular Corps of Atlanta. The tour has a full day ahead of it on Tuesday. More to come.

On the Road Again

Just finished my first day on the University of Georgia New Faculty Tour. This annual event takes approximately 40 new faculty on a tour of Georgia to view first hand the impacts of UGA’s teaching, research, and service missions on the economy of the State of Georgia.

As the land grant, flagship institution for the State of Georgia, the University plays several important roles across the state. Our faculty members are key for each of these roles.
  • Teaching – everywhere we stop we meet graduates of the University of Georgia. UGA is beloved all across the state and our graduates are in leadership positions across all sectors of the economy. They all tell us of the impact their faculty had on them as they earned their degrees at UGA.
  • Research – across multiple sectors of the Georgia economy, from agriculture to advanced manufacturing to services, research by faculty and students at the University of Georgia drives innovation all across the state.
  • Service – is key for land grant institutions like UGA. At every stop on the tour, we meet the local county extension agents and others who work closely with community leaders, business owners, and families to provide support and access to the vast UGA resources that are available to every citizen of the state.
This is my second year to go on the tour and I’m grateful to vice president Jennifer Frum and associate vice president Steve Dempsey for allowing me to tag along again this year. For me, it’s the chance to spend more time building relationships with our new faculty who five, ten, or fifteen years from now will be the senior academic leaders of the institution. After spending a day with them so far, I would say the future is very bright.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Completing the Circle

As IT leaders, our singular focus shouldn’t be to partner with the business or to align our work with the strategic goals of the enterprise; it should be to develop our staff into business professionals who add value through the use of technology. If we do that, both partnerships and alignment become givens. If our profession is to complete this circle of transformation, we have to dramatically rethink our approach regarding the professional development of the IT staff working throughout our organizations.

Advances in technology, including the wide availability of cloud services, now allow us to shift our organizational focus away from the care and feeding of technology to the intersection of people, business needs, and the imperative to add value in whatever we do. Technicians focus on technical skills and the delivery of technology as the essential ingredients for personal and professional success. Business professionals, on the other hand, must focus on competencies such as communication, analytical thinking, process orientation, emotional intelligence, building relationships, change advocacy, and adding business value as essentials for success. Becoming business professionals requires that we shift our focus from the development of technical skills to the development of the competencies that drive business success. That is not to say that strong technical skills are not a necessary component of success – they are – but by themselves they are not sufficient for IT practitioners who desire to take the next steps in their careers.

We are now embarking on an initiative at the University of Georgia to implement a new professional development approach for our IT staff that will provide each of them with a personalized roadmap to becoming a business leader. We are building on groundwork laid out over the past three years where our focus has been on the development of communication and teambuilding skills for staff, managers, and senior leaders. An additional prerequisite has been an assessment-based continuous improvement process that uses TechQual+ data to support the setting of organizational priorities. This annual program ends with the reporting of organizational goals and an accounting of how we fared against goals set the previous year. Our work in both these areas now puts us in the position to take the next step, which is to work with each of the teams across our organization to identify the competencies that are most critical for individual and team success, and then to embed the development of these traits into our job descriptions and performance review processes.

We have significant work ahead of us.
  • This month, we’ll be surveying every employee in our organization, asking them to rate a set of competencies - ranging from decision-making to planning and organizing to self-confidence and continued learning - as critical to high performers among those who play a similar role. Technical skills will be one of 32 competencies listed on the survey.
  • Data from these surveys will be the focus of a series of workshops with staff from our organization and IT organizations across the University of Georgia. Staff will be broken into groups by their primary role (developer, analyst, or system engineer, etc.) and will be asked to come to consensus on the eight most important competencies for their role and how the development of those competencies should be mastered over an entire career, from the entry level to mid-career to late career stages. 
  • Based on the workshop results, rubrics for each competency in each career ladder will be developed, which will become the primary focus of professional development plans and annual performance reviews. The new approach will be introduced individually to each employee as a part of his or her regular annual review in 2015. Individual performance plans will be reviewed six months later during mid-year reviews. The annual reviews in 2016 will be based on the competency-based model.
This initiative seeks to replicate similar efforts that we first undertook at Pepperdine University in 2007, as discussed in "Competency-based Career Ladders for IT Professionals" published by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (2009).

Our staff will guide us along the way, from the identification of key competencies that drive high performance to the mapping of those competencies within each of our career ladders. Two key outcomes are expected from this work. For our staff, we will expand their professional development focus beyond technical skills. Each will benefit from having a personalized plan that puts them on a trajectory aligned with our goal of transforming our organization from groups of technicians to teams of business professionals. Organizationally, we all benefit from having a formal methodology that identifies the critical competencies that allow our profession to grow and evolve in a manner consistent with the same transformation.

IT leaders are uniquely positioned between the academic and administrative worlds of higher education. We have the opportunity to play a convening role in critical University-wide discussions. Business leaders, not technicians, can perform this role – but only when actively demonstrating the competencies above and beyond technical skills that are both necessary and sufficient for success. There has never been a more critical moment for higher education – it is in desperate need of this type of leadership from its IT organizations.

Monday, June 2, 2014


If you’re a CIO or other senior level IT leader and you’re not actively looking to get out of the IT business, chances are you’re not doing your job right.

Economic challenges are driving systematic changes in higher education. Some might call it outsourcing and others might refer to it as shared services. For far too many, those words can refer to a loss of control and autonomy that appears disruptive to organizations, as it potentially leads to the loss of both service quality and jobs. At the University of Texas, over 100 faculty members signed a petition objecting to a University plan to consolidate common administrative functions – IT included – in order to save millions of dollars annually. Similar initiatives at other institutions, including the University of Michigan and the SUNY system, are underway and have encountered similar opposition.

The positive outcomes from these sorts of initiatives can be often overlooked. At my University of Georgia, when implementing the Banner student information system, we chose to host the system in our own data center but we contracted with Ellucian for system administration, upgrades, database administration, and support of the software. Our own IT staff focus on working with our business offices to use the Banner software, while the more routine “IT centric” tasks are managed by Ellucian. This strategy has been a resounding success, and as tough as the implementation has been, the operation and reliability of the software – even when registering 20,000+ students for courses – have never been in question.

Leaders in higher education need to drop the word “outsourcing” and the phrase “shared services” from their vocabularies, as the issue driving these new service delivery approaches is the need for greater scalability. Ellucian is administering Banner for the University of Georgia simply because they can provide better economies of scale when it comes to software and database expertise than we can create ourselves. The need for greater scalability has led us to take similar approaches with other projects.
  • Microsoft now runs UGA’s 120,000+ email accounts out of their Office 365 service, simply because they can provide greater reliability and service performance by aggregating our accounts along with those of thousands of their other customers. The outcome is far greater services to our faculty, students, and staff at a much lower cost.
  • UGA’s new learning management system (LMS), Desire2Learn, is hosted and administered by the University System of Georgia as a part of a multi-tenant instance of the software. As a result, three UGA full-time IT professionals now focus on support and faculty, instead of administering and taking care of the software.
  • New academic information systems for housing and facility activity information are hosted in Amazon’s Web Services Cloud, with software and system administration responsibilities provided by DLT Solutions. By leveraging the economies of scale provided by Amazon and DLT, implementation of these new systems no longer requires purchasing servers, configuring, and supporting them. We anticipate taking a similar approach next year, as we begin moving hundreds of University web sites off-premises under a similar model.
For IT organizations, these changes can be disruptive if not handled right. Taking advantage of better economies of scale doesn’t mean that our organization’s role is diminished – quite the contrary. But instead of focusing on technology, we focus on people and their use of technology – and that’s a far greater value add than anything we provided before. And that is what higher education institutions need from IT leaders and their organizations today. Developing strong skills and competencies in this area is a surefire way for IT staff to supercharge their careers for the next ten years or more.

How can higher education leaders pick and choose among the myriad of opportunities to leverage greater economies of scale? Here are a couple of criteria to consider.
  • Is the service asset-based (technical, content, or process)? Then look for ways to create better economies of scale, either internally by standardizing the service across decentralized units or externally by working with others outside the institution, including commercial partners.
  • Is the service connection-based; that is to say, is greater human connection an intrinsic or expected good? If so, those are the services that are best delivered in-house using staff resources whose knowledge of institutional history, culture, and context enhances the value of the service delivered.
Far too often, disruption occurs when connection-based services are converted into asset-based services, and the resulting loss of human connection (or fear thereof) diminishes the value of the service as greater economies of scale are realized. All too often, such attempts fail to deliver the efficiencies promised, as the positives of greater scale are diminished by loss of human connectedness. That’s why I have remained skeptical of online instructional technologies when used in a way that reduces the significance of the faculty–student relationship. While greater economies of scale may be realized, the learning experiences of our students, I believe, are ultimately less valuable than what higher education has traditionally provided.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Annual Planning Memorandum for the Next Academic Year (2014 - 2015)

Each year, at the end of the academic year, I prepare an annual planning memorandum for the IT organizations reporting to my office. This will be my third annual planning memorandum since I began my tenure at the University of Georgia in 2011. The goal of this annual memorandum is to highlight for the record our successes over the past year, discuss our progress towards our strategic goals, present our organizational priorities for the next year, and share my thoughts on challenges and opportunities that I see along the way. This year's memorandum was recently distributed at the University of Georgia and is available to others by following the link below.

Annual Planning Memorandum for the Next Academic Year (2014 - 2015)

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Flinch and Other Traps

Everything that IT leaders do involves a negotiation in one way or another. Yet, focusing on negotiation skills is one of the last things we do when thinking about the professional development needs of our organizations.

Once, while thumbing through a magazine on a cross-country flight, I noticed an advertisement featuring a very distinguished-looking gentleman named Chester Karrass, whose testimonial stated, “In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate.” Seeing this ad several times before, I decided “why not” and signed up for a Karrass negotiating seminar. While the content of the workshop was predominantly focused on buying and selling, what stuck with me was how applicable it was to the negotiations regarding the expectations and resources that IT leaders face every day.

This semester, one of my reading clubs – a group of mid-career IT professionals at the University of Georgia – is reading Karrass’s In Business as in Life, You Don’t Get What You Deserve; You Get What You Negotiate. But our group is less focused on buying and selling than on applying Karrass’s principles of negotiation to day-to-day discussions regarding expectations and resources between IT organizations and those they serve. All too often, the root cause of major IT failures has less to do with technical competence and is more likely to be rooted in a mismatch between user expectations and available resources – often the result of a negotiation that didn’t turn out well for the IT organization. Faring well in negotiations is key to avoiding a self-reinforcing cycle of over-commitment and underperformance, which destroys IT leadership credibility and leads to a downward spiral of deteriorating IT service performance.

Karrass’s point is that there are time-tested strategies for better outcomes in any negotiation, and his book’s Chapter 11 highlights two of the more common demand-and-offer tactics that often cause IT leaders to overcommit their organizations.
  • The Flinch – involves the use of body language such as arm gestures, shoulder shrugs, or other hand movements when expressing concern over an offer. Perhaps building, testing, and putting a new IT feature into place would ideally take a month, given other commitments. In response to that offer by the IT leadership, there comes significant concern or even disbelief that something so simple could possibly take so long, and that such a delay would negatively impact a business operation. A flinch, in this case, puts the IT leadership on the defensive, as they feel that they must relieve the obvious concern by defending why their offer is reasonable. When pressed in this way, the IT leader will often overcommit in order to save face, given the obvious expression of concern.
  • The Planning Purpose Trap – involves a request from someone for a rough estimate of time or cost to accomplish some IT-related objective. The person asks for a “rough ballpark estimate” for planning purposes should an initiative be requested later. Wanting to be helpful, the IT leadership makes some quick assumptions about what this initiative is, how it will impact current operations, how much time is required for completion, and how it fits in with other commitments – assumptions that many times prove to be way off. Only later, when the client makes the full request, do IT leaders dig into the actual requirements and discover that their original estimate was way too low – hence the trap. When pressed in this way, the IT leader will again overcommit in order to regain credibility lost when the original estimate was way off.
Ultimately, all conversations around expectations and resources are negotiations, but that does not mean that the individuals we work with are competitors or adversaries; they most certainly are not. All of us – those in IT and in the broader university community – are feeling the pressures of growing demands on higher education at a time when there are fewer and fewer resources. Stronger collaborations – looking for win-win solutions for both IT and those who depend on IT – is key to mutual long-term success.

For IT leaders, when negotiating with others regarding services you deliver, here’s how to keep the negotiation on a path to a win-win outcome.
  • Focus on understanding and meeting needs and not wants.
  • When listening, try listening to understand and not to respond.
When looking for win-win negotiations, there’s no better solution than to proceed with an eye toward understanding the true needs of those you work with – and the best way to accomplish that is through asking good questions and listening. Other tips for win-win negotiations include: understanding IT’s present constraints; knowing the difference between IT’s true needs and wants; investing in preparation by writing down questions or ideas that may lead to win-win outcomes; and bringing others to the discussion who can help you listen and understand better.

IT success – the kind that we all desire for our institutions – flows from the alignment of expectations and resources. The more that IT leaders understand that managing expectations requires negotiation – albeit sometimes difficult ones – the better their organizations will perform when it comes to meeting expectations and delivering value that goes above and beyond those expectations.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Operations – Concierge Divide

Of all the things I get to do at the University of Georgia, one of my favorites is my lunchtime reading clubs, which are groups of mid-career IT professionals who get together regularly to discuss an interesting book. Typically, half of each club’s members come from EITS, the central IT organization on campus, and the other half comes from UGA’s schools, colleges, or other units. This semester, one of the clubs is reading Gene Kim’s (@RealGeneKim) The Phoenix Project, and it is leading us through some very productive conversations on what service-oriented cultures really are – and more importantly, what they are not.

Broadly defined, a service-oriented culture can be said to be a set of beliefs and behaviors of a particular group, directed at activities that are deemed helpful to others. Within the context of IT organizations, those beliefs and behaviors typically revolve around being:
  • Reliable – seen as dependable, trustworthy, accurate, and infallible
  • Consistent – seen as adhering to the same principles, actions, and outcomes
  • Proactive – seen as prepared and controlled, especially when things are not going well
  • Responsive – seen as responding in a sympathetic or favorable way
Martha Heller (@MarthaHeller) talks about the paradoxes of IT leadership – and one that our reading group has identified involves one of the basic challenges of our profession; that is, from the viewpoint of IT professionals, service-oriented cultures are about IT services that are reliable, consistent, proactive, and responsive. But from the viewpoint of those who work outside the IT organization, service-oriented cultures are about IT staff support that is reliable, consistent, proactive, and responsive. We might call this paradox the Operations–Concierge Divide because efforts directed at the latter, if performed absent sound operating principles and practices, has the potential to disrupt the former. That is to say, IT organizations under pressure to be immediately responsive to unregulated end user requests can find it more difficult to deliver IT services that are reliable, consistent, proactive, and responsive.

The story of The Phoenix Project speaks to this paradox. The driving force behind missed deadlines, service delivery failures, or unmet expectations is not technical incompetence, lack of supervision, or poor leadership, but unregulated work in progress. Failure to properly manage demand for services through sound project, change, and demand management techniques will create the conditions for poor service delivery. Every IT professional has felt the tension between working on planned tasks versus having to immediately respond to someone who has screamed loudly or dropped the name of someone high above the CIO. That pressure is doubly worse when one has to drop planned tasks to respond to an outage or to fix a major service defect.

The paradox of the operations–concierge divide is that efforts to be immediately responsive to unregulated end user demands results in a reactive IT culture whose performance spirals downward because of the cycle of over-commitment and underperformance. The only way to escape this downward trend is to place a moratorium on the introduction of new work into the system, so that the entire system can catch up and reduce the amount of work in progress. That typically requires an intervention of some sort – either new leadership or executive support that comes right from the top.

The trick to building a proper service oriented culture – one that is characterized by reliable, consistent, proactive, and responsive IT services – is to avoid spiraling into the cycle of over-commitment and underperformance in the first place; and the way to do that is to not say no over and over, but build into the organization the proper project, change, and demand management processes for regulating the flow of work. That means investigating and learning about ITIL and other standard processes, and applying some of the lessons learned from The Phoenix Project. These include:
  • Recognize that performance improvements are truly possible only when applied at the constraints that are negatively impacting the flow of work through the organization. Improvements at other places will do little to improve overall service quality.
  • Identify and protect the critical resources in the organization, and do everything possible to make sure they are not dragged into serving ad hoc requests on demand. 
  • Control the flow of work by proactively deciding what work that is to be accomplished, as opposed to letting that be dictated by the tone and volume of ad hoc requests. That requires governance, which is key to deciding which projects should be deferred.
Controlling the flow of work throughout the IT organization is the key to building a service-oriented IT culture that is well regarded for reliable, consistent, proactive, and responsive IT services. Resolving the operations–concierge divide is another one of those paradoxes of IT leadership that are crucial for IT leaders to learn to overcome.