Are you a good chief information officer or a great chief information officer? Every CIO tries to find ways to leverage available resources and opportunities to help the parent institution achieve greater levels of accomplishment, success and excellence. So what’s the difference between a good CIO and a great CIO? The answer may lie in the responses that some experienced managers give to the following questions.
To calculate my institution’s return on investment (ROI):
A. We collect empirical data from various sources, such as a survey that looks at how students at our school and others rank technology in the school selection process or in our overall school ranking.
B. We estimate how technology influences student GPAs and improves retention.
C. You can’t really calculate a true ROI for higher-ed technology.
(Answer: A and B) When considering new technology, look for measures of how the investment will pay off, says Art Gloster, vice president for information services at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I. Survey your students, as well as those who chose other schools, to find out how technology influenced their enrollment decision. Each technology investment you make should have a positive influence on student recruitment or in qualitative measures, such as GPAs, test scores or rankings.
I know campus technology aligns well with the goals of my university because:
A. It’s my job to give guidance about IT choices for our institution, so community members don’t have to be experts and can focus on reaching their unit’s goals.
B. I have the ability to intuitively understand what the community needs to achieve its goals.
C. I discuss strategic goals with every campus vice president, each C-level officer and the student government at least once a month.
(Answer: C) Great CIOs are the middle children of campus life because they get along with everyone. “They’re capable of educating audiences, both up the chain of command to presidents, boards, donors and alums; sideways to officer colleagues; and down through the organization to employees and students,” says Terry Metz, vice president for library and information services at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. “They can adjust and understand the vocabulary, issues and aspirations of those [constituents] and translate them in terms of what their unit can do and what’s a realistic outcome for technology, a database, software or an education program that relies upon them.”
When it comes to certifications, my typical staffer:
A. Has enough certifications to wallpaper his or her office and is seeking still more.
B. Has Cisco or Microsoft certification but nothing beyond that.
C. Has to pay for his or her own certifications because we don’t have the budget to fund staff certification training.
(Answer: A) Great CIOs build great support teams by developing subordinates for promotion, and seeking certifications for your employees helps make them good candidates for promotion. Staffers aren’t the only ones who benefit: Certifying staff is a great way to make sure your institution stays current on breaking technology, says Gloster.
How much time do you spend talking to users?
A. less than 10% of my time.
B. 10% to 19% of my time.
C. 20% to 40% of my time.
(Answer: C) If you’re not spending at least 20% of your time talking to users, getting out more will make you a better CIO, say the experts. Meet with student technology representatives at least two or three times a month, talk to kids on the help desk, visit offices to see how you can break down silos, set up power-user groups and, in your spare time, meet regularly with the other VPs to chat about whether IT is doing a good job supporting their goals.
My energy level is:
A. So high I don’t even need coffee.
B. High because I drink coffee or soda all day long.
C. I’m really pretty laid back.
(Answer: A) J. Brice Bible, chief information officer at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, keeps plenty of coffee around for added energy but has an innate drive to fulfill the various roles CIOs must play. “A CIO is a sales person, developing a vision and selling it,” he says. “You have to form the message around a tremendously diverse group of people, including board members who may be more technical than you. A great CIO is one who knows how to do that well and has the energy to do that continuously.”
If I were offered a better job outside of higher education, I would:
A. Turn it down because higher ed is my niche of choice within technology.
B. Seriously consider it because I could always move back into higher ed if I didn’t like the new job.
C. Take it because if you want to advance, you really do have to keep moving around.
(Answer: A) “In higher ed, you have to have a basic fundamental belief in the importance of education in our society,” says Aaron Powell, director of computing and communications for the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “That breeds the vision, desire, drive and creativity necessary to keep higher ed advancing through the use of technology.” You won’t hop in and out of the industry if you’re truly dedicated to becoming a great CIO.
I’ve been asked to present at user conferences:
A. So many times that I no longer even get nervous before my presentation.
B. I don’t get asked to present, but we do attend conferences each year.
C. The people who get asked to present at user conferences are usually on the bleeding edge of new technology, and that’s somewhere you wouldn’t typically find my institution.
(ANSWER: A) “If you can be out in front in publications, case studies and presentations for vendors and professional organizations, you know you’re [a success] because you’re being judged by your peers and organizations that want to showcase your school with pride,” says Bryant University’s Gloster.
Which is more important to higher-ed success: knowing technology or knowing education?
A. Technology — they don’t call me the CTO for nothing.
B. Education — we’re making scholars, not widgets, here.
C. Both are equally important.
(Answer: C) “Yes, you need to know hardware and software fundamentals,”says Wheaton College’s Metz. “But the technology details are ephemeral. I could know the technology, the hardware and the software inside and out and be a very ineffective CIO if I didn’t know what issues were worrying my boss — the president of the college — my fellow college officers, my students and my college board of trustees. And I coach my direct hires to worry about what I need to worry about.”
Which statement best matches your philosophy on staff recruitment?
A. I have a strategy mapped out that helps me attract and retain the best talent I can get.
B. There are limits to the market for higher-ed talent and whom I can attract.
C. Others handle this task for me.
(Answer: A) Recruitment is always a challenge in higher ed, and there are always limits to the talent you can attract and retain, depending upon the skill set you need and your campus location. That doesn’t mean you can hand off the job of recruitment, or that it’s OK not to have a strategy for finding the best talent you can get. Metz’s strategy is to pitch variety and flexibility to potential employees.
What’s the secret to being a great higher-ed CIO?
A. Understanding the academic and business aspects of higher ed.
B. Knowing where your institution wants to be a decade from now.
C. Striking a balance between stability and risk.
(Answer: All of the Above) This is a trick question because you need all three, says Evergreen State College’s Powell. “You never really know exactly where you’re going with the use of technology or where academics is going, so you have to be flexible and have an understanding of the core processes your academics and administration use and the future implications of changes in teaching and learning, and how those might influence your structure and the use of technology,” he explains.
A great CIO looks for stability but also recognizes the need for change. “You have to balance stability while creating an environment supportive of innovation,” Powell concludes.