Hello! I’m the New CIO on Campus. Now What?

Interim Executive Director and Chief Relationship Officer
Monday, February 10, 2014 - 12:15pm (updated Monday, February 10, 2014 - 2:03pm)
Ohio's New CIOs art

Ed.—The staff of the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) has invited the new CIOs of our member institutions to Columbus today (Feb. 10) for a series of presentations and conversations focused on enhancing our relationship with these CIOs and their staffs.

A number of IT writers and experts have forecasted a high turnover industry-wide among CIOs and their staffs in 2014. In a blog post at CIO.com, Martha Heller lists some of the large companies welcoming new CIOs this year, which include Microsoft, T-Mobile, Staples, Dick's Sporting Goods and Planet Fitness.

In a ComputerWorld article, Patrick Thibodeau referred to a 2013 Gartner survey that found, in 2012, “the average length of time a local, state or federal CIO in the U.S. and Canada stayed in his post was 4.2 years, the same as 2011. But in 2013 that figure declined to 3.4 years.” In an article at dice.com, Nick Kolakowski cites a survey of IT workers conducted last fall found that a third of them plan to seek another job this year, while less than a third felt sure they would not be.

Many of the same factors behind the corporate shake-ups also have increased the churn at the CIO desks of an unusually higher number of colleges and universities across Ohio. In 2014, we’ll see new faces at many of our member institutions, including Antioch University, Case Western Reserve University, Clark State Community College, Lourdes University, Miami University, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Northwest State Community College, Ohio University, Ohio Northern University, Otterbein University, Tiffin University, The Ohio State University, Sinclair Community College, Wright State University, Lake Erie College, Walsh University, Kenyon College, Washington State Community College and Youngstown State University.

The reasons behind the turnover are probably as myriad as the institutions themselves, and, while potentially very interesting, represent a topic for another day. Of more significance to us in this space today are the challenges facing the incoming CIOs on Ohio’s college and university campuses. Turning once again to the IT expertise found across the Internet, we discover a wealth of tips for the new CIO.

Most of these pointers touch on the importance of a variety of factors: technological knowledge, a clear understanding of the company's goals and a familiarity with the competitive landscape. But each one of our experts stresses the importance of good working relationships with everyone involved in IT-enabled projects, from leadership to stakeholders to vendors.

For a flying start as a new CIO, Russell Reynolds Associates suggests that “The challenges faced by new CIOs, for the most part, are related to people and organisation, not technology.” The article continues by saying that newly appointed CIOs should “build personal relationships with business and technology leaders” and “leverage the knowledge of top-tier strategic suppliers.”

In an interview with Michael Bloch and Paul Willmott at McKinsey & Company, Barclaycard CIO Ian Buchanan stresses that “being the CIO is all about the quality of the relationships you form and the credibility you have with key stakeholders. I learned quickly … that execution wasn’t enough in gaining the confidence to get a seat at the senior executive table.”

Finally, in a book by Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis at Gartner Inc., the authors list ten priorities for The New CIO Leader. Among them, the authors suggest that the new CIO should give priority to understanding the fundamentals of the environment, knowing the industry and the competitive environment and relying “much more on internal and external relationships.”

All this advice makes perfect sense; whenever you see a sports team select a new coach, the first thing that coach does is sit down with his/her key players and get to know their strengths and challenges. I spoke with a long-time higher ed CIO last week, and he reiterated the idea as it pertains to IT.

“I’ve had the privilege of working in higher education in three states and the camaraderie I’ve found with many of my fellow CIOs is priceless,” said Brice Bible, vice president and CIO at the University at Buffalo and former CIO at Ohio University and University of Tennessee. “These relationships allow you to discuss insider tips and best practices on common issues as well as develop friendships that can last a lifetime. Ohio is especially blessed with organizations like OARnet and events like the OARnet member meeting and OHECC to provide opportunities for these relationships to form.”

The challenges in running an IT shop and boosting innovation on college and university campuses remains daunting, but strong relationships across the state can only enhance the many innovations and collaborations that happen in the lab, in the office, in the classroom, at the library, in the dormitory and everywhere else technology intersects with inquisitive minds.

Noted physicist, mathematician and author Stephen Hawking recognized the important role of relationships in making technology powerful, when he said: “Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”