The Changing Role of the Chief Information Officer

Robert Dickson, Executive Director of IMS, Omaha Public Schools
Robert Dickson, Executive Director of IMS, Omaha Public Schools

Robert Dickson, Executive Director of IMS, Omaha Public Schools

In today’s landscape, technology is changing how we collaborate, communicate, and even the spaces in which we work. Many companies and in our case, school districts, are in the process of digital transformation. Sometimes this is planned, and sometimes this is forced. Over the last four years our district has been in transformation mode. Much of that transformation has been as leadership has transitioned and fueled by passing two of the largest bond issues in Nebraska history, $421 million in 2014 and $410 million in 2018. Those resources provided the necessary infrastructure to implement change. Change isn’t easy; and later I will comment on how to address the forces that threaten that change.

  If technology is shaping the “how” in an organization, every role needs to have opportunities​  

The need to drive the use of technology throughout the organization is being fueled by both sides, organically through users, our society, and systemically from leadership. This presents both opportunities and challenges. Mobile computing and social media have naturally increased the digital literacy of our end users. This organic approach allows staff to naturally adopt consistent change as they experience this through their use of their personal devices. Data privacy and security become top of mind as we support these users. The need to provide professional development to fill the gap left by organic growth in digital literacy becomes high priority for any organization today. These become initiatives for us to consider when we look to systemically change the landscape in the organization. For example, recently we changed device types in our refresh that were dramatically different in functionality (wirelessly displaying, tablet mode, etc) being deployed to staff members. Knowing we were deploying 4,000 or so devices, we made the decision to provide 1 hour of training on the device prior to staff members receiving them. We saw the trend moving away from static device types such as desktops and shifted to more mobile device types with multiple wireless functions.

How does this effect the role of the CIO? Gone are the days of the traditional information technology component. Technology is the “how” in most processes in the organization. The role now demands shaping those processes without owning everything. That’s how digital transformation happens. Digital transformation isn't just about coming up with the most original ideas or recognizing an original idea when it’s presented. The success or failure of an innovative idea is often about timing, and it starts with the CIO understanding trends, communicating predictions in ways that make sense to others within an organization.

Professional Development should become top of mind for any start of a digital transformation journey. In Omaha Public Schools, we started with providing 200 staff members with a Microsoft Innovative Educator Certification. This allowed us to reach all of our nearly 100 sites with some subject matter expert in our progress in this digital transformation. It is important to note that this can’t happen in isolation, nor in just a departmental silo. If technology is shaping the “how” in an organization, every role needs to have opportunities. It is also important to meet everyone where they are at with technology as we have the largest workforce in terms of age in history.

Communication is critical in making sure everyone is on board. You will have forces within your organization that fights anything that threatens the status quo. It will be necessary to identify those who are resistant and seek them out and show opportunities for growth “we really don't want to keep them where they are at.” We want to share through professional learning how technology can be a vehicle. In this area, you become the change agent for communication in digital transformation. The CIO role is an ever-changing dynamic. It’s a leadership role that requires traditional leadership skills and the ability to apply them to the fast-paced world of innovation. To see our transformation journey, visit transformation.ops.org

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