The literature dealing with the position of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) in Higher Education is filled with surveys of what characteristics the CIO must have, what priorities a CIO should hold and to whom the CIO should report. Throughout most of this literature a consistent theme emerges—we seem know what the CIO should be doing, who they should report to, and even what the CIO should look like in the future, yet we repeatedly see that the CIO are often incapable of fulfilling the goals and roles prescribed.
Wayne Brown, VP Technology at Excelsior College and the originator of the Chief Information Officer Effectiveness in Higher Education report series lists the following responsibilities for a CIO:
- Business Partner – Organizational strategic planning and revising business processes
- Classic IT Support Provider – Foundations of IT support and responsive department
- Contract Oversight – Relationships with IT vendors, contract negotiation, and contract supervision
- Informaticist and IT Strategist – Ensure security and accuracy of institutional data and alignment of IT department with the institution
- Integrator – Integration of all internal and external systems
- IT Educator – Evangelist for computer use and understanding; educator of employees on how IT innovations bring value to the organization (2009)
Brown points out that Classic IT Support and Contract Oversight are the two roles in which CIO’s report success while the Business Partner and IT Educator roles are viewed as least important and the area where CIOs rate themselves as least effective. Keeping the systems running, while procuring more technology seem to be the two things that CIOs are able to consistently do well. Business partner and an IT educator and innovator are not. The predominance of literature suggests that the type of focus required to provide the five nines of reliability and provide safe and secure environments are diametrically opposed to the focus that innovation in education require.
As a result of this large body of research, there are repeated demands that higher education not “attempt to use models or paradigms for higher education CIOs that do not fit (e.g. the business model)(Lineman, 2007).” There are recommendations ranging from splitting the this top IT position in two and establishing the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to be responsible for maintaining the IT infrastructure while the CIO is responsible for the innovation and leadership. Other recommendations include having the CIO report to the Chief Academic Officer (Provost) or splitting the report between the academic and financial sides of the academic house. Other literature suggests the position of a Senior Academic Technology Officer.
In the article Run IT as a business: why that’s a train wreck waiting to happen, Bob Lewis fleshes out the warning and provides a very specific list of what the CIO and their IT shop should and should not do. The list includes:
… provide alternatives to internal customers, chargebacks, SLAs, and all the other baggage associated with the “standard model.”
… that IT must be integrated into the heart of the enterprise, and everyone in IT must collaborate as a peer with those in the business who need what they do.
Nobody in IT should ever say, “You’re my customer and my job is to make sure you’re satisfied,” or ask, “What do you want me to do?”
Instead, they should say, “My job is to help you and the company succeed,” followed by “Show me how you do things now,” and “Let’s figure out a better way of getting this done. (2010)”
Perhaps Debra Allison offers the most succinct summary of what the CIO position must evolve to in The Future CIO: Critical Skills and Competencies ECAR bulletin:
The position is evolving from a focus on technology leadership to a focus on institutional innovation. With these changes, the CIO cannot afford simply to respond to requests but must also proactively work to capture opportunities that drive the institutions success (Allison, 2010).
With the requisites for institutional innovation being so different then what is required for building and maintaining that IT infrastructure, is it fair to expect one individual provide such diverse leadership. If you go back in the IT Leadership or governance literature for the past 20 years you will find that many of these warning and challenges have been repeatedly voiced.
Allison, D., H. “The Future CIO: Critical Skills and Competencies” (Research Bulletin 15, 2010), Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2010, available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.
Brown, W. “A Study of CIO Roles and Effectiveness in Higher Education” Campus Technology Viewpoint, 2009, available from: http://campustechnology.com/articles/2009/05/13/a-study-of-cio-roles-and-effectiveness-in-higher-education.aspx.
Lewis, B. “Run IT as a business: why that’s a train wreck waiting to happen” InfoWorld, 2010, available from: http://www.infoworld.com/d/adventures-in-it/run-it-business-why-thats-train-wreck-waiting-happen-477?page=0,0&source=footer.
Lineman, J., P. “The Corporate CIO Model and the Higher Education CIO”. EDUCAUSE Quarterly. Volume 30, Number 1, 2007 available from: http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Quarterly/EDUCAUSEQuarterlyMagazineVolum/TheCorporateCIOModelandtheHigh/157433.
Staples, M. “Making Room for Yes: It Starts at the Top” (Research Bulletin 17, 2010). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2010, available from http://www.educause.edu/ecar.
Albright, Michael J., Nworie, John. “Rethinking Academic Technology Leadership in an Era of Change” Educause Quarterly. Volume 31, Number 4, 2008 available from: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EQM0814.pdf