How CIOs and IT Administrators Can Promote Growth and Change

Five IT executives share their insights and strategies to promote change within their institutions.

To succeed in higher education, CIOs and IT administrators must be agents of change. They need to help executive administrators, deans and other institutional leaders understand the benefits of technology to enhance the campus infrastructure, and also to serve and support the institution's core mission. Promoting change – and defending the reasons for change – are difficult initiatives.

John Kotter, a retired professor of business at the Harvard Business School, provides a model we can use: The Eight-Stage Process for Creating Major Change, which is described in his book, Leading Change. Kotter, a well-known expert on leadership and the author of 15 books on leadership and change, says that most major transformations are costly failures because people believe they are an event, rather than a process.

Kotter says a series of developmental steps must be taken in the proper sequence in order to establish genuine change in an organization. He describes a practical approach to achieving desired long-term changes and avoiding common pitfalls.

Kotter's eight-step process for creating change includes:

1. Establish a sense of urgency.
2. Create a guiding coalition.
3. Develop a vision and strategy.
4. Communicate the change vision.
5. Empower broad-based action.
6. Generate short-term wins.
7. Consolidate gains and produce more change.
8. Anchor new approaches in the culture.

Using Kotter's approach as the framework for this EdTech roundtable, we spoke with five CIOs and vice presidents for information technology to gain their insights about their role as change agents.

EdTech: How have you led the university in developing a vision for a transformation project that leverages IT?
Frank Clark: One of the first things that I did on my arrival was to review the existing IT governance structure. We quickly began to develop and implement a well-structured IT governance framework that defines “how we do IT” at Medical University of South Carolina.
Mitchel Davis: From infrastructure and applications to education and alignment, it was one plan at Bowdoin.
Joanne Kossuth: In the development of the Olin campus from scratch. This included the vision, design, selection of partners, and implementation of a fully converged redundant architecture to support voice, video, data, building controls and security on one network in a highly resilient and redundant architecture.
Traci Logan: In our vision of the Bentley campus as a living laboratory or test bed for emerging applications. The vision reflects a … combination of IT infrastructure, plus emphasis on applied research, plus corporate partnerships, plus engaged students interested in technology.
David Smallen: A good example was the collaboration of our IT organization with our library to better support the academic program. By partnering with the college librarian, we developed a joint vision based on Hamilton's strategic goal.

EdTech: How was the vision communicated to faculty and staff to engage them in making necessary changes in behavior?
Clark: We first got buy-in from executive leadership as to the concept. I then quickly identified the key faculty and staff and began selling the concept from a business-value perspective to key stakeholders.
Davis: [We used] every plan as a communications device to show IT value and sell the ideas to trustees, alumni, president, executive staff, faculty, students and the IT staff.
Kossuth: Faculty and staff were engaged throughout the process, as well as the trustees [since it was a funded startup]. On an ongoing basis there is a student IT working group that meets monthly, a faculty IT working group and an enterprise resource planning implementation group [primarily staff], as well as an administrative council group.
Logan: On the staff side, IT works closely with key users – content experts in the departments. This way, we get buy-in from the department requesting IT services and make sure there's a clear understanding of what business problem we're trying to solve.
Smallen: The key to communicating the vision is working closely with faculty, staff and students during all stages of the creation of the vision and the development of its implications.

EdTech: As part of the executive team, how do you measure and demonstrate the value of IT?
Clark: If there is a single key to the effective use of IT, it is an engaged and informed IT governance structure that's supported by sound governance processes.
Davis: How much is saved over previous years? How do clients feel about the new or improved services? How many working hours were recovered by staff, faculty and students?
Kossuth: The bottom line is that the more investments are aligned with business requirements, the more obvious the paybacks [will be] as indicated by satisfaction, usage, innovation, and improvement in quality and production.
Logan: When it comes to administrative applications, our IT initiatives must reduce costs or improve services. When it comes to academic technology, we measure this through job placement, media recognition, awards, publications, and traditional means such as student applicant quality and yield.
Smallen: Most often, the value of IT is demonstrated by explaining how those investments are aligned with institutional goals and needs. Support from IT users is critical in making this alignment clear.

EdTech: What were the pitfalls in achieving the changes and how were they handled?
Clark: We began an educational and communications initiative about the new IT governance model. We pointed out the IT inefficiencies manifested in the existing structure. We put in place the checks and balances, as well as incentives, to encourage people to embrace the new model.
Davis: Existing power structures need to be dismantled. Communication needs to be controlled and managed. A marketing plan needs to be put in place to inform people that you are going to be a different professional service-based company that is working for the client.
Kossuth: Promising too much too soon when things such as weather were beyond our control; insufficient contingency planning; and underestimation of the immediate usage of the system.
Logan: Buying and implementing technology is relatively easy. Getting faculty and staff to embrace it, adopt it, and effectively use it to meet their own goals and objectives is tough.
Smallen: Any collaboration is hard work. We applied the principles of a successful collaboration. The library and IT were highly regarded service organizations, but they had different cultures and traditions. It was important to build on the strengths of both organizations in this partnership.

EdTech: What other actions did senior leadership take to implement the required changes?
Clark: We put in place a well-defined stage gate process for major IT systems acquisitions. We established and embraced standards for IT infrastructure and common systems.
Davis: Put the CIO on the executive team that reports to the president. Include IT as part of the overall academic mission for the college. Allow the CIO the time to assess the finances, systems, skills and talents in IT before doing a calculated and successful reorganization that would meet or exceed the IT needs of the college.
Kossuth: Senior leadership provided the support [including concept and funding]. They also had to buy into the vision and encourage utilization.
Logan: I'm a cabinet member and also a member of the academic affairs leadership team, which includes the provost, the dean of Business and the dean of Arts and Science.
Smallen: The VP for information technology partnered with the college librarian to make the case for organizational changes and the needed facilities.

Will O'Brien is an adjunct professor of marketing and management at Bentley College.

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Oct 31 2006