Strike the Right Balance between Scale and Local Innovation

Nelson C. Vincent, EdD, VP IT & CIO, University of Cincinnati

Nelson C. Vincent, EdD, VP IT & CIO, University of Cincinnati

Cloud computing allows students, faculty and staff to easily store, share, manage and access important documents and systems online anytime, anywhere, from any device. The decision to move to the cloud, however, is as much a financial conversation as it is a technical and security conversation.

"IT is about working together to support the 21st century needs and innovations of students and faculty"

Cloud providers are maturing their security to meet the needs of the research extensive university. At the University of Cincinnati, we are incrementally—and securely— building our way into the cloud.

Our implementation of Box at UC more than two years ago marked an important milestone on our journey to the cloud. The service provides students, faculty and staff with unlimited cloud-based storage and the ability to collaborate with partners inside and outside the university. Our partners on the research side of the house saw Box as a valuable tool for research collaborations. But concerns about ensuring the security and compliance of sensitive research data in the cloud prevented widespread adoption. We listened to one another and planned a shared solution that allows Box account holders to securely store and share restricted data per the university’s Data Protection Policy.

Our university also recently implemented a cloud-based, online system for recruitment management, recruitment marketing and onboarding. This new system’s efficient workflow means fewer stops for review and approval, allowing for the faster posting of job opportunities and building of a candidate pool.

University leaders know that at some point, cloud services will be more cost effective because the cost-leadership of on premise offerings will not compete at the scale of cloud providers. At each refresh or upgrade, the university performs the due diligence to compare the benefits of cloud to the benefits of offering services on premises.

There is a misconception out there that IT is all about tools. IT is really about people. It’s about helping people and empowering them to do their respective jobs in a new way. And with that comes a challenging word—change.

We have a lot invested in a change agenda. We have made critical investments in our IT professionals to provide them opportunities to grow as leaders and change agents. That kind of commitment requires the investment of time—time to meet face-to-face with individuals and with teams to develop joint solutions that give them solid career ladders.

At the foundation of this work is our Diversity & Inclusion Committee. This staff-led group coordinates regular workshops to reinforce our core values—respect, honesty, teamwork. These workshops are about creating an inclusive environment where individual talents are leveraged for the greater team to fully partner in the academic and research mission of the university.

IT has a commitment to serve, to lead and to partner with students, faculty and staff to enable student and faculty success and drive innovation. In higher education, IT often grew from a need to serve the academic and research needs of individual departments. As technology became more ubiquitous, continuing to operate in “silos” to meet the needs of individual academic and research departments makes meeting the collective needs of the enterprise more difficult. Becoming an interdependent IT community—sharing individual expertise to collectively solve problems— adds IT-enabled value to the institutional mission.

IT isn’t just about technology. It’s also about people listening and communicating. It’s about supporting the 21st century needs and innovations of students and faculty together.

IT takes a village. We count on our partnerships with students, faculty, staff and the technical community to implement the solutions that further the academic and research mission of the university.

Our jobs require us to be agile to meet rapidly changing needs. I have learned that to do that well, you need to be able to understand where people are coming from—we need to practice empathy and engagement.

Today’s college students are digital natives. Computers, the Internet of Everything (IoE), and the World Wide Web are as much a part of their lives as telephones and television were to previous generations. Students also have high expectations for campus IT networks. Much like electricity, they believe the network should simply work and be as easy to use as flipping on a light switch.

The reality, however, is that many education institutions are constantly challenged to ensure 24/7 network availability. At UC, 64,000 + devices connect to our wireless network every day. That’s approximately 50,000 more connections than three years ago. And that figure does not account for the 22,000 wired network connections we accommodate each day.

Just as maintaining a healthy infrastructure of water delivery and roads is essential to the functioning of cities and towns, maintaining a healthy infrastructure of information technology is essential to the functioning of universities. Deterioration in IT infrastructure can lead to deterioration in research, teaching, and administration. While this is self-evident to IT professionals, it may not be as obvious to everyone else. Given the importance of information technology to all functions of the university, IT professionals must be strong advocates for appropriate life-cycle processes for IT infrastructure.

The movement to the cloud has the potential to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness while freeing up more IT resources for discovery, innovation and custom development. As leaders, we have to strike the right balance between scale and local innovation allowing for different paces of technology adoption across organizations.

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