Feb 01 2013

How Colleges Should Transition to a New CIO

Some pointers from a leader who just moved from one university to another.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Students: 11,700

Faculty & Staff: 1,200

Central IT Staff: 55 FTEs

Partner IT Staff: 10 to 20 FTEs

Established: 1886

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.

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