River of Change within Higher Education Technology

John Godfrey, AVC & CISO, University of Kansas Medical Center
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John Godfrey, AVC & CISO, University of Kansas Medical Center

“No one ever steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and they are not the same person.” This adapted aphorism by Heraclitus sets the stage for the contemporary challenges that leaders of technology within education face. Specifically, CIOs must navigate the delicate balance between remaining committed to operational excellence and customer service versus driving technological innovation and interconnection, all while ensuring that information security is the glue that binds it all.

  CIOs will need to ensure focus is placed on thinking strategically about the organization’s future 

Education IT has entered a new world for CIOs where the heavily controlled technology notions of the past are being shed, or in some cases torn apart, and reconstructed due to rapidly evolving technology, the intense push for digitalization, and the omnipresence of technology within the organization. The rise of new technology and IT approaches must be embraced for CIOs to not only enable the business but also ensure sustainability and balance within the IT budget. Examples of new technology that should be considered include containerization, virtualization, hybrid data centers, cloud technologies, devOps, bimodal IT, data analytics, and software defined networking.

The Golden Age of BYOD

The common practice of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has continued to create new and unique challenges for education IT to solve. We are at a point where proscription of the type(s) of devices that students use on our campus is no longer acceptable. As such, CIOs must adopt and implement technology and integrated platforms that gives students thorough access and consumption that is available to them anytime and anywhere. Virtualization and virtual desktops are an excellent way to deliver IT elements to mobile devices. This alleviates the need to manage the device and advances enhancements to information security and compliance through better control over the data and the systems that process, transmit, or store it. 

Shadow IT will continue to grow and can be viewed as either a source of pain or a partner for digital and technological good. We must not underestimate how prevalent shadow IT is. Accordingly, we should energetically partner with our shadow IT staff and have them help us in our technological and digital transformation. Shadow IT is amazing at helping our customers at the edge of our organization and are a great starting point for learning about new technologies and innovation. CIOs should cooperatively develop a set of usage guidelines and infrastructure to ensure that IT users remain safe and secure. CIOs should further embrace shadow IT as a rich source of innovation and a champion of inspired information security solutions.

The research funding landscape continues to evolve for universities and colleges. Although traditional sources of funding may change, research is at the heart of our organizations’ existence. We must forge a new framework and create new partnerships to allow our innovations to be commercialized earlier. This will facilitate a new form of growth and allow, perhaps even force, IT to further evolve along with the success that these new partnerships generate. We must move past the contemporary focus on patent filings and drive advancements in private-public partnerships, innovation hubs, technological commercialization, creative collision spaces, and promote spinning ideas out into startups that could have long tail effects for our organization. This approach would have the indirect benefit of allowing our organizations to attract the best and brightest from around the world, helping our organizations to create new conduits for sustainability, and unlocking growth potential.

Overcoming Information Security

Information security and the ever-evolving cyber threat continues to be a challenge for CIOs. We must seek out new and creative ways to manage the threats to our organization while keeping an eye on new IT security breakthroughs. A deep partnership should be formed between the CIO and the CISO/CSO to ensure that alignment, coordination, and prioritization of IT initiatives becomes the hallmark of a consistent message to our leadership. Many would argue that information security does not demonstrate new value creation. Whether one agrees with this or not, the cyber threat is real. Education is a huge and profitable target for cyber bad actors, and information security is a modern cost of doing business.

Competition from external or cloud providers has moved the needle on expectations regarding operational excellence, associated standards, downtime measures, IT agility, and utility service delivery. This puts additional pressure on CIOs and their teams to further improve operations quality while doing everything else well and at scale. CIOs will be challenged to be both the leader of technology and, more importantly, a leader of the business. CIOs will need to ensure focus is placed on thinking strategically about the organization’s future, what the key business missions and requirements are, and how IT can be the leader in delivering the organizations desired business velocity.

We, as leaders, should embrace the river of IT change within higher education. While the speed of the current will ebb and flow over time, there is no better time to be a CIO than today. We are well positioned to help usher in our organization’s new era of business success and organizational resilience through our deep expertise, firm grasp of what IT developments lie ahead, and our ability to become a business leader and trusted partner.

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