Creativity, Innovation and Inspiration Growing in the Toughest Droughts

By Brian Haugabrook, CIO, Valdosta State University

Brian Haugabrook, CIO, Valdosta State University

Role of a CIO Today

The role of the CIO today has transitioned over time from a primary focus on technology to one of information. Early in my career IT infrastructure was a preferred area of expertise in many leadership roles in IT. While infrastructure continues to be a foundational function, demand for integrated and online technologies is part of most strategic initiatives— requiring stronger soft skills and broader technical knowledge. IT is now an integral part of almost every administrative and academic department at an institution. A dynamic-hybrid environment has been an accepted strategy but the balance of on/off premise resources will continue to change in upcoming years. CIOs today must rethink the structure and skills within an IT division. Lines of separation between IT teams are being blurred as cloud and hybrid applications require different skills and stronger collaboration of all IT experts. IT staff with a primary background in communication and public relations play a key role in building partnerships and bridges between IT and the campus community. Although IT is still a service division providing support to the institution, we have also become a close partner in business discussions that shape the direction of the institution. With this in mind, IT staff must become more aligned with the strategies of the organization and have a deeper understanding of business processes, not just the technology.

Examining the Effective and Proactive Use of Data

The strategic use of data and information is critical in achieving academic, financial, and operational goals at an institution. It is very difficult to use data effectively in higher education due to the high number of applications, both local and cloud, at each institution. Business processes are not only unique at each institution; there can be very different processes and rules between departments. This complexity of information resources cannot be solved with an off-the-shelf technology solution. It requires planning, research, a strong data governance model, and a strategic vision for success.

"BI allows an organization to gain better insights into key performance indicators and identify opportunities for improvement"

Leveraging business intelligence, BI, and integration technologies provide a platform to allow an institution to transform data into valuable insights and business drivers. BI allows an organization to gain better insights into key performance indicators and identify opportunities for improvement. Organizations may feel they are not ready for a BI solution until their data has been cleansed and business processes are updated to record more accurately. BI however is even more essential when there are huge amounts of data cleansing that need to occur.

Recent advancements of integration platforms provide a realistic and easier approach for IT to support a hybrid environment of on premise and cloud resources. Integration platforms provide a simple, fast, and automated approach to implement, monitor, and secure the transfer of information between various resources.

Steps to Foster Innovation or Growth

Encouraging employees to be creative is essential for increasing innovation, productivity, and value. Employees are the most valuable asset at an organization. Executives including the CIO must set a clear vision for the organization and support the talented staff as they make the vision a reality. Having the right people focus on innovations that support mission, values and strengths of the organization is a recipe for success. Allowing IT staff to spend a small percentage of time experimenting with new technologies and strategies will increase speed of innovation without sacrificing daily task. Instead of promoting a positive and rewarding environment many institutions let the challenges of being understaffed or underfunded choke the culture of innovation. Creativity, innovation and inspiration can grow in the toughest droughts. Inspiring a culture of innovation at the institution will generate ideas from many departments, improve job satisfaction, and increase performance.

Many institutions have academic programs in computer science, business and communication arts. These and related majors provide a good talent pool for student jobs. Leveraging student workers can build talent early, improve retention, increase graduation rates, and give students a higher chance of landing a job after graduating. Leveraging students in non-IT related majors will help improve the diversity in IT and incorporate additional skills needed to be successful. A successful IT department will understand and leverage the diverse academic programs offered as they will generate new innovative ideas and improve collaboration across the institution. Service to students should be an ongoing effort. Private sector companies are constantly finding ways of improving customer service which lead to higher revenue and loyalty. Higher education is similar except we are servicing students and helping them navigate their academic journey. Service to students may seem broad but the application is not complex. Mapping out the student journey comes first before identifying ways of automating services and reducing roadblocks. A common roadblock is call wait times. Students and parents may wait up to an hour before speaking with someone about financial aid. Implementing a centralized call center to support all student services can cut hold times over 50 percent and require little funding to implement. Institutions should also improve and automate communication to students about important activities that impact their academic journey. Being innovative with student services will also help improve innovations in online technologies, mobile, and classroom technologies.

Advice for Budding CIOs

Strive to be excellent at everything you do in life both professionally and personally. Pursue your goals and have a strong work ethic. Celebrate every day and make small steps toward your goals. Do not let barriers and negativity affect you. Focus only on things that are good and positive. Negativity will drain you and cause you to think about everything except your goals. I was once told the only thing that comes to a sleeper is a dream. Instead of dreams have action plans to achieve your short and long-term visions. Every morning I think about what steps I can do today that will move me a little closer to my goals. Keep printed reminders of your goals at home and the office. Reminders ensure your goals are always in front of you.

Time and effort can catapult one from average to great. Making the most use out of every 24 hours is the key to being successful. Wake up early to get a head start. By the time most people wake up I have completed many tasks. Starting my day early began 5 years before getting a CIO job. It allowed me to have the highest productivity and extra time to create new innovations. Focus on being great and put in the time to stay ahead. It is easy to be average but requires an enormous amount of work ethic to be one of the best. Comparing your work ethic to sports is an easy gauge of your effort. Playing little league sports as a kid only required about 1-2 hours of practice each week. High school sports required about 6 hours a week. Olympic athletes put in multiple hours every day including holidays. How much time and effort are you willing to put in?

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