Evolution of IT and Educational Institutes

By Michael Mundrane, CIO and Vice Provost, University of Connecticut

Michael Mundrane, CIO and Vice Provost, University of Connecticut

In some ways, what we are witnessing is the maturation of the position from ranking technologist to trusted partner and liaison between industry business drivers and operating capabilities. For years, we have admonished IT to become better partners by understanding the business. The strongest organizations took this to heart. What is relatively clear is that while IT itself changes quickly, the details of this evolution are generally not known by respective business units. When I am engaged with institutional executives, the conversation is rarely if ever technical. They are keenly aware of general capabilities and are eager to explore options for applying them to their business challenges, but they are largely disinterested in the details of how these might be provided. When I began my path through IT many years ago, I did not envision that my activities as a CIO would be so dominated by communication planning, institutional dynamics, and business modeling in a climate of scarce resources and competing interests. In hindsight, my perspective was quite naïve. In higher education, like other industries, it is not enough for a CIO to be fluent in tech. They need to understand organizational capacity for change and drive transition down paths and at a pace that is natural for their institution. They need to deliver stable and effective basic capabilities in general using the best practical approach while simultaneously focusing resources on more specific game changers. As IT has become inseparable from the success of most areas of the institution, the requirement for the CIO to work well with other executives and stakeholders has never been more important. The seat at the table is not venue to shine, but an opportunity to plug in the complimentary expertise and contributions at the optimal time. Attacking broader institutional challenges is a team sport and truly successful CIOs have understood this and embraced that role emphatically.

"IT itself changes quickly, the details of this evolution are generally not known by respective business units"

I recently was given the results of a focus group with an assessment that students were advocating for high-end technology. Naturally, I was very interested in such a cultivated and analyzed review. What was fascinating about the video that I viewed was that the students involved were not actually asking for high-end technology at all. Sure, they called it high end, but what they then went on to describe was basic technology that worked well. I see a similar dynamic at the institutional level. Yes, there is a real emphasis to rethink the university enterprise. Much of it is recognition that there are basic aspects that simply need to be delivered more effectively. On some level, the outcomes assessment phenomenon is a long overdue measurement emphasis intended to objectively track quality and to drive general improvements in a traditional field. Other aspects are potential game changers. The current trends regarding micro-credentials (badging) and real time pedagogical adjustment in response to direct analysis have the potential to deliver on the grail of personalized education. This was always desirable but impractical at scale. Now that IT is making real progress on the scale challenge, we can see that only cultural and process friction remain. Naturally, these, in and of themselves, represent thorny challenges but are best tackled early and transparently.