The first step to transforming the IT organization is developing a service-oriented culture within IT, the road map says.

According to a new report, colleges and universities are facing new market forces, such as online education and MOOCs, which challenge the traditional ways they recruit students, raise money, and deliver services—and the role of the college CIO is also changing, requiring a new road map to success.

The report, “Innovation and Transformation: Going beyond the social campus,” is sponsored by Enterasys Networks and co-authored by Michael Krigsman, CEO of the information technology consulting and research firm Asuret.

“The CIO today is at a crossroads,” says the report: “Embrace stakeholder participation in technology decisions, or risk becoming marginalized. This choice is difficult, because IT’s historical role as guardian of corporate assets requires tight control over computing resources, even though users have come to resent this cultural style.”

The report relates how, in response to the rising numbers of “empowered technology consumers,” which include students and faculty, CIOs in higher education have little choice but to change how they relate to users—and they must reconceive their role and lead IT to collaborate with users while supporting their institution’s plans and daily operations.

For the study, researchers interviewed 10 CIOs and one CTO known for their responsiveness to customers and going “beyond the social campus by participating in an executive capacity with the business issues of higher education.” Each CIO also makes significant contributions in critical areas, such as students retention, student recruitment, fundraising, reduced costs and higher operational efficiency, and greater classroom innovation. (More information about the CIOs, their institutions, and the critical areas of contribution can be found in the report.)

The report aims to distill their wisdom and experience and present a road map to “transform higher education” by applying modern technology, innovation, and dedication to the customer.

A road map for transformation

For an innovative CIO to be a “catalyst to help the institution evolve,” the report suggests a four-point plan based on lessons learned from the CIOs interviewed. The road map aims to align business goals, strategy, and technology to meet the challenges faced today.

Point one discusses how CIOs need to build the right infrastructure—planning that requires a CIO anticipate his or her organization’s needs over a “relatively long time horizon,” explains the report.

These decisions must balance anticipated organizational needs, budget, and expected usable life cycle for each piece of technology under consideration. The choice of on-premise or cloud software deployment also might have a significant impact on infrastructure decisions.

According to the report, components of a higher-education infrastructure portfolio typically include:

  • Local (and/or cloud-based) servers and storage
  • Wired and wireless networking with flexible access to institution resources
  • Strong mobile device support, including robust BYOD capabilities
  • Voice communications
  • Network security and access control
  • Infrastructure to support online learning and collaboration
  • High-speed internet access
  • Disaster recovery
  • Project management capability

Point two discusses providing the right applications and services, because, although infrastructure is the foundation, “if the CIO cannot provide useful applications, the credibility needed to support innovation and transformation will remain unattainable.”

The report notes that application and service portfolios in higher education typically include:

  • Back-end applications, such as ERP, financial systems, human capital management, and business intelligence
  • Administrative tools, such as course selections systems for students
  • Online learning applications, including remote teaching, and learning management systems
  • Collaborations tools such as video conferencing, activity streams, and instant messaging
  • Email and other communication tools
  • Apps for movable devices and phones

Point three highlights how CIOs can transform the IT organization by creating an appropriate organizational design and “cultivate the right cultural dynamics. Because a strategic IT group functions differently than one focused primarily on feeds and speeds, the CIO must shape the dynamics within his or her organization.”

The first step to transforming the IT organization is developing a service-oriented culture within IT, says the report. This culture should deviate from the “historic attitude of IT as insular and unresponsive.”

The second step is to adopt an efficient IT organizational structure, followed by step three: aligning IT and the business.

Aligning IT and business means that, to understand the goals, priorities, and challenges facing stakeholders, it is “imperative for IT staff to spend time with students, faculty, staff, and administrators,” explains the report, “rather than hole up in IT headquarters.”

Beyond interaction with stakeholders, CIOs should examine the governance and policies that guide IT decisions and affect users.

Step four requires the CIO to develop IT staff skills by creating an environment that encourages employees to acquire the skills they need to meet customer needs. CIOs should mentor staff and recommend further education to ensure they can fulfill their roles, says the report.

Concluding the road map is point four, noting that it all comes down to the CIO supporting institutional transformation and culture shift.

“Once the institution sees IT as a reliable partner, a skillful CIO can gradually take on the role of trusted advisor and agent of change. The CIOs we interviewed used the approach described in this section to develop trusted relationships with their institutions,” the report says.

Supporting this shift includes facilitating open relationships with stakeholders, exchanging ideas with stakeholders, and fostering executive relationships. (A more in-depth look at these steps, including best practices from individual institutions, can be found in the report.)

In conclusion, says the report, “we urge you to study these examples and bring the lessons back to your own institution.”