Transition of Higher Education CIOs

By Bob Johnson, CIO/ VP, Student and Information Services, Rhodes College

Bob Johnson, CIO/ VP, Student and Information Services, Rhodes College

Marketing plays a key role  

Marketing! Not only in cultivating relationships with prospective students, employees, donors, and friends but also in affirming existing ones, as well. On the negative side, we need better ways to relate to constituents who have strong opinions and who can organize in a moment, completely disrupting the work environment. We cannot succeed if we cannot stay on mission. The rumor mill is a juggernaut, and it takes amazing resources if handled personally or one-at-a-time effort. On the positive side, however, digital marketing may offer the potential to address some of the constraints of outside sales or personal recruitment. Of course, the most difficult aspect is switching from outside sales to inside sales, from college fairs and high school visits to online, digital marketing, especially since there are two markets we are trying to reach at the same time–that of the 16 or 17year old deciding which colleges to apply to and visit and that of his or her parents deciding how much money to spend. Both have their preferences for channels, and at this point they are not the same. We know that most of our recipients throw away what we send in hard copy, even (or maybe especially) that big, glossy piece that deserves its place on your coffee table but will probably find its place in your recycling bin. Again, we have to make decisions, and they are difficult. 

““BYOD” is woefully inadequate to describe the proliferation of ecosystems inhabited by the array of internal community members” 

 Complexities in deploying IT Unlike most industries in which employees and customers operate on different sides of the firewall, higher education must make room for both on the same side. To the lack of control that this situation introduces, add autonomy for both parties. “BYOD” is woefully inadequate to describe the proliferation of ecosystems inhabited by the array of internal community members, and as the distance grows between consumer or convenience technologies and enterprise technology, the costs have exploded like a grenade -not in one large piece but many fragments. With marketing and security rapidly outstripping other aspects of IT-related expense, the tension is difficult to manage. 

The explosion of office-specific cloud offerings, usually marketed with “and you don’t even need to get your IT office involved” eventually gives way to “integrate this with that” and “we need you to make this work with the directory.” Transformation happens but in an entirely random, accidental way, and in every case the special product designed for the specialized market that the office represents is much better at marketing than centralized IT, which is terrible at marketing itself. Centralized IT can be great at demonstrating its worth albeit in that vegetables-are-good-for-you kind of way, not in that this-will-make-you-look-thin marketing kind of way. 

The blurring line between CIO and CSO roles 

A friend of mine recently told me that he had been given a promotion from CIO to CSO, and he was morose about it. CIOs worry that the job will slowly (or rapidly) transform into a CSO job, devouring the enjoyment in it. The CIO job is its best and most fun when focused on maximizing that value for the company, not in minimizing its chances of becoming someone else’s property. To resolve some of these conflicts of interest, more companies will need an ombudsman, a CSO.  

Advice to all the budding CIOs 

First, whether you are new to the CIO role or to the industry, whatever assumptions, beliefs, and work habits got you here probably won’t get you where you need to be, as Marshall Goldsmith points out in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Second, never confuse capacity with constraints. As in any industry, whatever holds the organization back is probably a matter of assumptions, beliefs, and work habits, and it is probably self-inflicted. 

Read Also

Moving from Understanding to Actionable

Moving from Understanding to Actionable

Matthew Anson, Associate Director for Institutional Research and Assessment at the University of Lowa
The IR Stack

The IR Stack

David Eubanks, Assistant Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, Furman University
Securing Tests and Exams; Need for 360 Degree Security

Securing Tests and Exams; Need for 360 Degree Security

Darrin Theriault, Director of Academic Testing & Prior Learning Assessment Coordinator at Kennesaw State University
Getting past the

Getting past the "Woo" of the Pitch, and Avoiding the "Woes" of Technology Implementation

Sheri Barrett, Director, Office of Assessment, Evaluation and Institutional outcomes at Johnson County Community College Contributor

Weekly Brief