College CIO’s Talking IT Strategy Can Leave You Gobsmacked

Homer Simpson looking gobsmackedThe recent EDUCAUSE panel discussion of college CIO’s talking IT strategy has left me totally gobsmacked over several things I heard. The discussion was from Session  EDU11: Which IT Strategy and Why? Betting on Clouds, Collaboration and Contracts (or Contrarians?) which is available as a podcast

The panel was represented by four very distinguished CIO’s:

  • David Gift, Vice Provost for Libraries, Computing and Technology, Michigan State University
  • Klara Jelinkova, Associate Vice President and CIO, University of Chicago
  • Kevin Morooney, Vice Provost for IT and CIO, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Brad Wheeler, Vice President for IT and CIO, Indiana University

Gold Star Award

I want to acknowledge upfront each panel member shared some very good insights which reinforces why they are leading IT at some of the top universities in our country. In that regard and certainly relative to the remaining points I hope to make, I really appreciated Jelinkova’s contribution which seemed to me to be the most even keeled and well reasoned executive perspective on IT strategy I have heard from a college CIO in a long time. We could all learn a lot from her leadership.

CIO Ambush or Ill-Prepared

So the panel, having agreed to participate, was clearly not prepared to address the initial question on IT strategy posed by the moderator. Were they ambushed by the question as to what their IT strategy was and how it’s allocated between cloud, collaboration and contracts including budgets? Or, just not prepared?

IT Strategy or Tactic

What really had me surprised was the inability of a couple panelists to articulate even a sense of an IT strategy. I did consider their options might have affected this as the focus was to be IT strategy but cloud is a technology (re: outcome), collaboration is an approach (re: tactic), and contracts are an outcome (re: control). The only conclusion I could come to is the CIO’s see cloud, collaboration and contracts each as an IT strategy unto themselves but toward what outcome I do not know.

Collaboration If I Have To

I heard a lot about the value of collaboration and concepts of consortia for mutual aid and aggregation. But it seemed overly theoretical and in the future tense. Framed in glass only to broken in an emergency or when the initiator is the one to be the service provider. Why aggregation of contracts, shared services, or regional data centers are not active strategies in these economic times, or even in good times, reveals a lot about our institutions and many CIO’s real focus. This is where Jelinkova began to show her stuff as a gold-star leader.

Students Are Second Class Users

I don’t understand the IT strategy that segments the service catalog giving the customer the lowest service level. Too many college CIO’s push IT services on students which employee’s would find inferior. Segregated student help desks, outsourced student help desk, student workers, and student email in the cloud are but a few of these examples.

Again, what is the IT strategy behind giving the college’s customers, the consumer, who represents an increasingly critical source of revenues, the lesser service level? What ever happened to CIO’s eating our own dog food?

Shaping Commercial Markets

What really had me gobsmacked was Wheeler’s IT strategy (21:20) to have an impact on the commercial sector from open source solutions. Wheeler’s strategy is to shape the commercial software market using public funds to create a credible threat (Kuali) to the current vendors. Wheeler goes so far as to advocate other institutions provide financial support to his strategy and Kuali even if they will not use the software for the ‘social good’. What Gift called the commnwealth good. This was another area where Jelinkova stood out and demonstrated real business and public policy sense on CIO’s making choices not influencing markets.

Acknowledgement

Although I did have a few strong reactions to some portions of the session, I am glad I listened to the podcast. I also sincerely appreciate the CIO’s for being willing to take the feedback and comments from people like me while they slug it out in the trenches everyday where it is not very easy.

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