Monday, September 29, 2014

The changing role of the CIO

The role of the chief information officer has changed dramatically over the years. I've discussed this several times, including one article about the CIO of the future. Citing Jerry DeSanto, vice president for planning and CIO at the University of Scranton (PA), chief information officers in the 1990s described their role as Building,Spending, Technical, Physical, Obscure, Functional, User-centric, Operational, Manager. But the CIO of the future must instead embody collaborative qualities: Sharing, Optimizing, Well-rounded, Virtual, Visible, Value-added, Customer-centric, Strategic, Leader.

Along similar lines, a multi-part article series starting with the March issue of Campus Technology describes The New CIO. Interviewing five CIOs in higher education, the article discusses the changing role of the CIO to Strategist, Change Leader, Digital Guide.

A few quotes that capture the changing role of the CIO:
"Patterson: There is definitely a shift in the role of the CIO from someone who manages technology to someone who manages change."

"Patterson: Now we are moving to the next paradigm of technology driving change, which is cloud and consumer-driven. As far as the CIO choosing the technology you use — that role is gone. That is why I see the CIO as the person at the table who leads the organization in strategic change."

"Crain: The focus of a CIO in higher education is certainly changing. For years we have focused on the "T" (technology) in IT and only recently have we really begun to really focus on the "I" (information). I believe that this trend toward the "I" will continue with the explosion of big data and the Internet of Things."

"Young: Collaboration is so important; there isn't one particular person or role. CIOs need to be close to the other leaders in the organization."

"Maas: At UW-Madison, we have consciously separated the role of operations leader for IT from the CIO, to allow the CIO to work more strategically on mission-critical services. A chief operating officer is responsible for IT operations and reports directly to the CIO. It takes time, effort, organizational development and extensive relationship building to shift the focus of IT services to align with emerging needs of the university."

"Maas: I see mentoring as a key role of the CIO. We have highly talented individuals throughout our university and often all they need is some encouragement and support to take the next step."

"DeWitt: The CIO has finally moved significantly away from a focus on plumbing and toward a focus on information, which of course is the essence of the CIO title."

"DeWitt: To be successful, the CIO has to build communication channels to all constituents, both formally through governance structures and informally by being open and responsive."

Friday, September 26, 2014

I don't know

We all get put into tough situations. It's part of our job as IT leaders to get asked the hard questions, to solve the big problems. In higher education, this happens all the time; faculty ask for help on projects or research, or ask "why" and "how" questions about how technology can help them. When someone presents a really tough issue, I find it's best to take a step back and work with them through the issue. How can we make this a more strategic solution, something that solves your problem but will work for others, as well. Through this partnership, we build a relationship based on trust.

Likewise, if I don't know the answer, I try to find a way ahead. I never want to say "We can't do that" or "I don't know." On this topic, Selena Rezvani writing in Forbes discusses Five Alternatives To Saying "I Don't Know," to avoid getting stumped in front of an audience. Use these openers to keep moving forward:

“Let me be sure I understand which information you’re looking for…”
From the article: "It also allows you to hear more details of the issue at hand so that you can react to a smaller piece of the puzzle rather than one large, ominous request."
“Based on what we know today, my thoughts are…”
Rezvani suggests that "By framing your response this way, you convey to your listeners that you have a limited understanding of the topic, but that you’re willing to make an informed guess."
“That’s a timely question, because I’m currently gathering XYZ information…”
"As you return from vacation, let’s say, and are getting up to speed on what happened in your absence, it’s fine to convey that you are “in the process” of getting informed."
“I can answer that in part, but would like to consider it further and get back to you.”
"Postponing giving a full answer—until you have all of the facts—can buy you credibility."
“Great question.  I’m just not familiar enough with XYZ to hazard a guess.  Let me connect you with…”
"Gently explain why someone else is the better go-to person and set a timeline for contacting the right people or uncovering the information."
photo: Hilary Perkins

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Strategic Planning

In my post about the IT Masterplan refresh, I included a note to say this:
This refresh to the IT Masterplan will reset the strategies to improve our campus technology, better prepare our students, and better support our faculty. Our vision in updating the IT Masterplan is to marshal the University's research and creative capacity to address grand challenges, prepare students to meet 21st Century challenges, build on our strengths to create an invigorated culture at all levels, create a transformational culture of innovation of flexibility and responsibility, and support dynamic university partnerships to advance our campus.
Those goals in the vision statement echo the Strategic Plan draft report for the Twin Cities campus, presented on September 12 to the Board of Regents by President Kaler, Provost Hanson, and members of the Strategic Planning Workgroup.

The "Strategic Plan Report" document includes a very colorful landscape table on page 13 that represents four major goals and five vision statements. You can find the same table on slide 10 of the Powerpoint presentation, linked on the same page.

In refreshing the IT Masterplan, we will also work through campus governance, including member participation from Academic Support Services Committee. Throughout the refresh process, the working group will review progress with Academic Support Services and to TechPeople. In February, we expect to present the updated IT Masterplan to Academic Support Services, and (with approval) to Planning Committee.

I also wish the updated IT Masterplan to document our governance model for technology at Morris. Similar to the IT Governance Process used by IT@UMN, our governance model should capture the input cycle (formal and informal), prioritization, and decision-making process that involves Academic Support Services, Planning Committee, Consultative Committee, TechPeople, and others.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Do your employees think you're awful?

I found this interesting article on Forbes, providing 5 Signs Your Employees Think You're Awful. The article gives several hints to recognize when your employees don't trust you. If your teams don't have trust in their leaders, your teams will lack cohesiveness. In the end, you will find it difficult to get anything done.

Do you recognize any of these reflected in your leadership or organization?

1. Conversations stop when you show up.
"If you walk into a room where your employees are talking and it suddenly gets quiet; or (even worse) people look slightly guilty or won’t meet your eyes; or (worst of all) people get up and leave with muttered excuses—that’s bad. It either means that they’re saying bad things about you when you’re not around, or that they’re unwilling just on principle to let you know what they’re saying."
2. Many people suck up to you.
"In any group, there are generally one or two people who believe the best way to get ahead is to be a sycophant. But if lots of your folks consistently focus on flattering you and trying to curry favor with you, it means that they believe the only way to be safe and successful in your sphere is to pretend to agree with everything you think or say. This is not how people deal with someone they respect and trust."
3. You can’t get people to speak up in meetings.
"Executives often blame this on their people (“risk-averse,” “no ideas,” unwilling to step up,” etc.) But generally speaking, if you’re asking people for their ideas and opinions at meetings, and you’re consistently not getting anything back but silence and blank looks—they either think you’re going to respond badly or they’ve become so disengaged that they can’t be bothered."
4. You don’t hear about bad stuff until it’s too late.
"This simply means that people are afraid to tell you the truth—so they try their best to hide tough facts for fear of repercussions."
5. You dismiss feedback about your management or leadership.
"If people are actually brave enough to tell you about things you’re doing that aren’t working, and your consistent response is to disagree or rationalize—or even to shoot the messenger … your employees definitely think you’re awful. In fact, it’s probably what they were talking about when you came into the lunchroom and everyone shut up and looked guilty."

If you recognize any of these behaviors with your teams, make an honest evaluation of how you are viewed by those around you. Is there trust? Ask for coaching from those with whom you do have a relationship, and ask for their feedback and insight. Remember, feedback is a gift.
photo: Kumar Appaiah

Friday, September 19, 2014

Leadership lessons from The Onion

I sometimes like to find leadership lessons in unusual places. Looking for leadership lessons through the lens of unexpected sources can be interesting and insightful. While I usually find these lessons in movies or television, you can find leadership lessons anywhere where you look.

Perhaps you are familiar with The Onion? In an "op-ed" article from August, "I’m Always Open To Feedback That I Can Get Defensive About And Ultimately Ignore," we can learn about receiving feedback. Here are three lessons I inferred from the article:
We don't have all the answers. As a friend and colleague often advises, "the answer is in the room." So be prepared to listen to advice as it comes to you. I find that it helps to start with the phrase "feedback is a gift," which allows me to mentally shift gears so I am prepared for feedback, and acts as a sort of "flag" that gives permission to those around me that it's okay to give honest, constructive feedback.

We all need to hear feedback from others, even if that feedback may be difficult to hear. Managers who receive feedback from their staff can become more effective managers, including coping with their emotions, empathizing with individuals and resolving conflict. But managers who do not receive feedback from staff are less likely to change their behavior.

Feedback must be timely to be effective. Do not wait to provide comments. If you have not given the feedback within a week of observing either something good that needs to be recognized or something ineffective that needs to be addressed, you have waited too long.
Consider how you receive feedback. Find a peer coach who can give you an honest opinion about how you are doing. Remember, feedback is a gift!
photo: David Goehring

IT Masterplan refresh

In May 2012, we completed the Morris campus IT Masterplan recommendations report. This was a joint effort with many partners on campus, and provided an update to our campus IT strategy. The recommendations set Morris on a path to a connected campus for our students.

However, we need to focus on the future to avoid getting stuck in the past. In that light, we are starting a new cross-functional effort to refresh the IT Masterplan. After more than two years, we have made significant progress towards addressing the IT needs of our campus. This refresh to the IT Masterplan will reset the strategies to improve our campus technology, better prepare our students, and better support our faculty. Our vision in updating the IT Masterplan is to marshal the University's research and creative capacity to address grand challenges, prepare students to meet 21st Century challenges, build on our strengths to create an invigorated culture at all levels, create a transformational culture of innovation of flexibility and responsibility, and support dynamic university partnerships to advance our campus.

On Monday this week, we came together during our monthly "TechPeople" informal community of practice meeting to pre-emptively "kick off" the IT Masterplan refresh. Thanks to everyone for participating in the group discussion! We used a variation of a "dot" exercise, which helped us to identify the top priorities from this group. We will use these priorities as part of a larger input process across the campus, to include students, faculty, and staff.

From this week's exercise, we identified these top 5 priorities:
  1. Funding for technology
  2. Expanding wireless coverage across campus
  3. Updating classroom technology
  4. Accessibility of course materials and resources
  5. Alignment of technology groups
We will also work through campus governance, including member participation from Academic Support Services Committee. Throughout the IT Masterplan development, the working group will report back to Academic Support Services and to TechPeople. In February, we expect to present the updated IT Masterplan to Academic Support Services, and (with approval) to Planning Committee.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Network upgrades on campus

It is my pleasure to share the status of our campus network upgrade.

This Fall, we worked with Facilities Management and the Office of Information Technology to expand the wireless network coverage throughout several areas on campus.

This week, engineers completed the wireless upgrade in Gay Hall, the Cube, the Regional Fitness Center, Moccasin Flower Room, and Prairie Lounge. This is part of our efforts to expand the wireless network on campus, based on your feedback about where wireless networking was most needed.

During Fall semester, we will continue the wireless upgrade project in Humanities, Camden, Indy Hall, and Spooner CA. We are still working on our schedule for Spring semester, but we are planning on the library and the dining hall, and other areas.

I would like to thank Mike Miller, Robert Thompson, Dave Savela, and our partners in the Office of Information Technology for their work on the wireless upgrade.
photo: mine (wireless access point)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Contributing to free software

Over the weekend, the University of Minnesota Morris hosted a special event to help students learn about free and open source software. In partnership with OpenHatch, the event was titled "Open Source Comes to Campus" and provided an introduction to open source software, including a career panel, and hands-on opportunities to contribute to open source software projects.

During the afternoon workshop, I led several small groups in contributing to their first open source software projects. In my case, we helped out with FreeDOS, a project I started in 1994 to create a free version of DOS. During the afternoon, we contributed in two major ways:
With help from Emily, Josh, and Alek, we migrated old web pages into the FreeDOS Wiki. The overall project to convert old content will take weeks or months, and this workshop provided a great kick-off for our documentation clean-up efforts.

Daniel refactored the web code for the FreeDOS News page, which also feeds the news items on the FreeDOS website. Daniel made an immediate and lasting improvement to the FreeDOS website. Behind the scenes, the news code needed to be cleaned up. Daniel's fixes also allow visitors to link directly to a news item, necessary for sharing on Facebook and Twitter.
Other groups provided improvements to a free Senet board game and to a drone control system.

I am proud to have been a mentor for this event. What a great way to help students and to serve the campus! I look forward to next year's event!

Special thanks to Elena Machkasova and others in the Computer Science Club who planned this wonderful event.
Photo: Asheesh Laroia, last year's event at Morris

Friday, September 12, 2014

Legal issues facing IT today

In "Lawyer Up," Dian Schaffhauser writing in Campus Technology describes the six biggest legal issues facing IT today, and how CIOs can avoid a run-in with the law. It is a topic I can relate to; before joining the University of Minnesota in 1998, I worked for a company owned by lawyers (we provided services in the then-cutting edge field of electronic document management for production/discovery). Schaffhauser begins:
"Putting a CIO and a lawyer together in the same room may give you the start of a pretty decent joke, but it could also save your institution millions of dollars in legal fees. While the IT chief understands the systems that fall under the purview of compliance, the attorney is the go-to pessimist for identifying the "gotcha" elements when it comes to the law. Working together, they are equipped to anticipate—and resolve—legal worries before they mushroom into headaches."
The six issues, according to the article:

1. Digital Defamation
"When a student publishes a derogatory post about other people, particularly a statement that could damage their reputation and cause injury, that's cyberbullying. Even if the post doesn't break a state criminal law, the poster may still face a lawsuit for libel or violation of state privacy laws."
2. Intellectual Property
"With increasing numbers of faculty and students developing apps on campus, the question of intellectual property (IP) rights has moved front and center. Depending on law and policy, deciding what a campus can do with the output of instructors is commonly the purview of the faculty-governance entity, such as the faculty senate. What schools can do with products or content developed by students, however, is often less formalized."
3. Illegal Downloading
"For higher ed institutions, the legal ramifications of copyright infringement could become far greater depending on the ultimate outcome of legislation under consideration in Congress." While PIPA (the Protect IP Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) were ultimately unsuccessful, we can expect these to return in future, though in different forms.
4. Data-Privacy Compliance
"According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, data-breach notification laws are on the books in 46 states. These laws are layered on top of other federal regulations, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). And that may be just the beginning."
5. Cloud Computing
"Once you get past the technical and financial aspects of implementing a cloud solution, you need to sign a contract with the service provider. If you're relying on the vendor to supply that contract, though, it's time to get your legal people involved."
6. Distributed Antenna Systems
"Seldom are CIOs involved in deals where a vendor wants to pay the institution. But setting up a distributed antenna system (DAS) is one of them … negotiating the right DAS deal for your school poses potential legal challenges."
image: Chris Potter/

Monday, September 8, 2014

Why tech projects fail

Project management is an important skill for anyone in IT, whether you are the CIO directing an enterprise environment, or a systems administrator planning the next round of system upgrades. In a 2013 article, Coverlet Meshing at Information Week writes with five reasons Why Tech Projects Fail. Review these "unspoken" reasons, and make sure your next major technology project fares better:

1. Technology "return on investment" (ROI) numbers are mostly fiction.
"The rule of thumb for calculating the risk of rolling out new technology is this: the higher the buy-or-build price, the larger and more expensive the required redesign of your business processes."
2. ROI rarely drives the technology investment decisions.
"Rare is the executive who puts the company's interests before his or her own (financial stability, career progression, personal brand building). And that kind of behavior isn't exclusive to executives; it's pervasive from the boardroom to the mailroom."
3. There's rarely any long-term accountability in technology.
"It should never come as a surprise when 'too big to fail' stumbles, and spectacularly. What should be a surprise is when project planning contributes to that failure. What's missing in the business and/or IT project plan is agility, the organizational ability to act quickly and decisively."
4. Detailed plans are the enemy.
"When the world outside is changing rapidly, IT projects should be forced into redefining themselves -- and often. Scope creep should be mandatory."
5. Bringing in the outside guns only ensures that someone will get shot.
"Bringing in outsiders keeps your workforce dumb. It locks you into a vendor interested in getting you hooked on its proprietary black box … Eventually, the organization has no internal decision-makers with any depth of technical experience."
photo: Chris Potter/

Friday, September 5, 2014

Preparing for the infrastructure of the future

I came across this 2011 article from CIO Insight, discussing The Future of IT Infrastructure. While now three years old, the article is not dated, and continues to provide relevant observations in preparing for the infrastructure of the future. From the article:
"Andy Mulholland, global chief technology officer for consulting firm Capgemini, says that the Internet has entered the fourth phase of its evolution. The first stage was basic connectivity; the second iteration was global interaction among people; the third phase was sharing content; the fourth step is universal shared processes. In the end, the cloud is more than a way to use virtualization and save money, he says. It enables a flexible environment that, among other things, lets an enterprise tackle projects on demand and distribute micro-tasks among large groups of people."
The article may be succinctly summarized with these seven ways to prepare for the IT infrastructure of the future:
  1. Stop fighting consumer trend.
  2. Think modular, not monolithic.
  3. Move beyond alignment.
  4. Rethink security.
  5. Converge and consolidate.
  6. Build analytics into everything.
  7. Embrace project management and project portfolio management.
Several of these points address a symptom of the "consumerization" of technology, where faculty and staff bring technology into the campus on their own terms. Sometimes they work with IT on the new technology, and that's great when they do. At other times, they try to hide it from IT, and that's not good. We need to face up to personal devices entering the campus network; it's naive to assume this will be a passing fad. IT departments need to embrace BYOD. We need to stop saying "no" to customers, and find ways to say "let me help you."
photo: Kristian Bjornard

Monday, September 1, 2014

Treating student jobs as real jobs

In Computing Services, we have always given our student workers realistic work assignments. Rather than use students as cheap labor, we seek to expand the educational mission of the university by giving "stretch" assignments to our student workers, according to their individual capabilities.

For example: we would often task one student with "Active Directory" assignments- building new computers, binding them to AD, and general AD troubleshooting. These are somewhat mundane tasks for a seasoned IT professional, but good learning opportunities for this student, who had an expressed interest in doing similar computer management after graduation.

In another example: we would usually give "webapp programming" assignments to another student, who aspired to become a professional web programmer. Inventive but small tasks allowed this student to stretch his capabilities, and after graduation he contacted us to comment that his first job was very similar to the programming work we had given him as a student worker.

So it's not surprising (for us, anyway) to see this white paper from Noel-Levitz, about "Enhancing Student Success by Treating Student Jobs as Real Jobs." This brief report (8 pages) describes how institutions may advance student learning: how campus jobs help to prepare students for the post-collegiate working world. From the white paper:
"Ultimately, a positive work-study experience will result in a student having gained valuable job skills nad a high degree of self-confidence, as well as the motivation to continue to perform at the highest level after leaving the institution and entering the world of work. In addition, the network of relationships developed through on-campus employment continues to serve the student as he or she graduates, as supervisors provide references for students applying to graduate schools or full-time jobs, thereby helping students make that critical first step in launching their careers." (pp. 3–4)
The article provides seven suggestions for maximizing the return from your investment in student employees:
  1. Job design and placement
  2. Orientation and training
  3. Effective supervision
  4. Ongoing support and feedback
  5. Rewards and advancement opportunities
  6. Peer-to-peer support
  7. Student employment coordinator
In addition to the above, student workers in Computing Services also get personalized coaching in writing resumes and cover letters, and interviewing. I believe that student jobs should benefit both the university and the student.
photo: Evan Bench