University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Faculty & Staff: 1,200
Central IT Staff: 55 FTEs
Partner IT Staff: 10 to 20 FTEs
Campus: 102 urban acres
Motto: "We Shall Achieve"
It is always difficult to start a new job, but particularly so for a CIO in higher education. No matter how similar the duties, a new CIO must leap into an unknown technology environment. Understanding that environment as quickly and as thoroughly as possible is critical to early success.
Last January, I moved from the beautiful sands of Malibu, Calif., on the Pacific Ocean, where I had spent 12 years on the IT team at Pepperdine University, to the lovely banks of the Tennessee River to become the CIO at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. At UTC, I was blessed by several initiatives that had begun there before my arrival.
Under the direction of Dr. Richard Brown, executive vice chancellor for finance, operations and IT, UTC brought in a consulting firm to create an IT Master Plan.
Preparation involved the whole campus and took place over many months. UTC also tapped information available from the annual TechQual+ technology survey of students, staff and faculty.
As I prepared for my new job, the 76-page plan gave me a good understanding of the current environment and how IT could help the university to fulfill its strategic mission.
A Path for the Future
Leadership and planning had paved the way for some really good early exchanges. I walked into interviews in which people were very open, honest and transparent about their organizations.
Upon my arrival, I committed to not making any big decisions for the first month. Instead, I went on a "listening tour," meeting all of the deans, key department members, student government leaders and every employee in IT. Some sessions lasted 15 minutes, others lasted for hours. Everyone was willing to share information because I had no set agenda except to make the IT organization the best possible organization.
I sought to understand as much as I could about how things worked at UTC so as not to repeat something that had failed previously. The approach gave me the chance to learn about low-hanging fruit, opportunities where my new IT team could solve problems quickly. By offering a few quick, ROI solutions, I was able to establish solid relationships between the IT organization and the academic deans and the provost.
I started monthly "Ask the CIO" and IT Town Hall meetings to ensure any changes would be transparent and enable the IT team to solicit feedback. During my first days, I also sought a few good mentors.
Monty Wilson, the previous CIO, had transitioned to the chief technology officer post and proved an indispensable asset in helping with background information. Similarly, Richard Gambrell, the director of information systems, helped to fill in the blanks with the technology.
Remember Past Successes
To supplement all of the great help I received, I brought with me some useful best practices from my former institution. It's crucial to remember that what worked well before might very well work again.
By having a good understanding of my strengths, I was able to seek out those whose skills and experiences complemented my weaker areas.
By far, the most important tasks in any new job remain the same: Build strong relationships, and build trust.