Mar 14 2017

IT Leadership Roles Reflect Changes on Campus

CIOs, CISOs and chief data officers contribute to strategic planning at higher education institutions.

As new technologies transform the way college communities live, work and learn, they are also driving shifts in the IT profession. On many campuses, CIOs, CISOs and a new counterpart — chief data officers — are playing a bigger role than ever when it comes to shaping institutional strategy.

One reason for this change is the integration of technology into nearly every aspect of campus operations: academics, administration, residential services, sports, entertainment, security and infrastructure. That alone elevates the role of IT to a more strategic function. But other factors are at work too, from increasing concerns about data security to emerging capabilities in analytics.

The Playing Field Shifts for IT Needs

Existing roles, particularly that of CISOs, have gained heightened importance in an era of persistent cybersecurity threats. A new executive master’s degree in cybersecurity, launched at Brown University this past fall, exemplifies this shift. Designed to develop well-rounded expertise, the program emphasizes not only technical skills, law and policy, but also leadership skills and human behavior. Indeed, one of the program’s goals is to equip graduates to interact effectively with boards of directors about both security and business goals.

While some campuses expand the role of their CISOs, others are creating brand-new positions: chief data officers, vice presidents of analytics and the like. Data analytics is a powerful tool to help institutions address a wide range of issues, from keeping students on track to graduate to refining donor fundraising. It’s not surprising that institutions are seeking out experts who can help them take advantage. CDOs may still be relatively uncommon on higher education campuses, but such experts have the potential to deliver big results.

Meanwhile, the CIO role also is evolving. Technology solutions have a profound influence on the student, faculty and staff experience, and that means institutions rely on IT to an unprecedented degree. That also means the responsibilities of the CIO have become, arguably, more important and more urgent. The person at the helm of the IT department has a great deal to do with an institution’s ability to carry out its mission effectively, consistently and safely.

All of this adds up to a CIO role that is multifaceted and more strategic. At many campuses, CIOs are developing closer ties to senior decision-makers and getting more involved with high-level planning. I’ve also seen speculation that CIOs could become the next pipeline to the college president; given the primacy of technology, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

A Seat at the Table for IT Leaders

These dynamics have a variety of implications for IT professionals at the top, as well as those who aspire to get there. From a career perspective, possessing technical expertise and management skills may no longer be enough. Today’s senior IT leaders would do well, as Brown University’s new program and others like it suggest, to hone their ability to present, persuade, negotiate and otherwise navigate planning conversations at the highest levels. That sounds like a tall order, but it boils down to something that IT leaders already do every day: advocate for technology and all of the ways in which it can enhance the campus experience.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.


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