Aug 03 2007

President to Techies: Think Strategically

The best way to get the administration to buy into your technology plans is to spell out how those plans align with the higher education institution’s goals and vision, according to University of Central Florida President John Hitt.

Hitt, UCF’s president since 1992, addressed the issue during a keynote address this week at the Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA) conference in Hollywood, Fla.

During his speech, “Communications Technologies: What Do Presidents Need to Know?” Hitt said presidents don’t need to know specifics about WiMAX, voice over IP, identity management and other topics discussed at the conference. Presidents need to know about how those technologies can help the institution move ahead.

“Think and act strategically,” Hitt told a ballroom filled with telco pros. “The focus should not be on technology itself but on the goals of the institution and how IT can align with those goals. Make sure technical directives are visibly linked with the institutions’ goals and visions.”

Hitt said all faculty and staff at UCF have a list of the institution’s goals, and they should tailor their messages to furthering those goals. He added that information technology pros on campus also should be aware of the issues that drive all college presidents — access (who gets into college), accountability (quality of education) and cost.

“For strategic alignment to exist, first there must be strategy and the strategy must be connected to the institution’s goals. That must be followed with the appropriate tactical planning.”

He said IT must present clearly documented objectives if it wants senior leadership to buy in.

“Strategic planning includes reducing costs, adding services, partnering with vendors on ways to create new revenue streams,” he said. “Strategic initiatives are measurable and accountable and must align with the institution’s goals.”

He assured the IT pros that university presidents are indeed interested in ways technology can help.

“Costs are too high, risks are too great, and opportunities too significant for presidents not to be personally involved,” he said.

He said the IT staff should also be involved in more areas of campus than the server room or the PBX closet. “If as an IT person you get involved in campus planning, your chance of success goes up.”

Earlier in the conference, a panel of technology administrators discussed the issue from the other side — “Communicating Effectively With Senior Leadership.” In their discussion of getting the most out of meetings with executives, they stressed the importance of preparation, accuracy and brevity.

“Do your homework,” said Sue Workman, director of user support at Indiana University. “When you only have a few minutes with [campus executives], try to make a point. Anticipate your execs’ questions and work some of that into your presentation. You have about eight minutes to make your point before you lose them.”

She said you should back up your case with facts, but make sure they are correct. “Quadruple-check your numbers. The easiest way to lose a case is if you make a math error and it’s noted. It’s hard to maintain their trust after that.”

The panelists also agreed that when push comes to shove, the senior executive is right.

“You never want to argue with an executive,” said Cheryl Lyn Granto, IT security officer at Florida International University. “Obviously if an exec is moving in a direction, you have to get on the train.”

University of Kansas director of IT fiscal services Anna Hines added: “There are things you don’t know. An exec has part of the picture that you don’t know.”