educationtechnologyinsights

The CIO of the New Digital Era

By Berhanu Tadesse, AVP for IT/Infrastructure Services, California State University, Fullerton

Berhanu Tadesse, AVP for IT/Infrastructure Services, California State University, Fullerton

The role of the CIO has drastically evolved in the past few years. CIOs are no longer just responsible for the data center and the IT infrastructure; on the contrary, they are now sitting at the top table of the executive leadership team. Businesses need many applications beyond the massive ERP system that is typically implemented and supported by IT to provide enterprise applications like HR and Finance. Many IT organizations used to be viewed as service providers and are usually part of operations. But, this trend is changing quickly as the dependency of the business on technology increases. In higher education, a third of the CIOs are reporting to the President and are part of the leadership team. The involvement of the CIO at the highest-level university leadership creates opportunities to participate in all aspects of the university business.

The CIO as an Educator

Implementing and managing enterprise systems are not the only responsibilities for university IT organizations. The impact of technology on teaching and learning is becoming increasingly significant. CIOs need to consider the fitness of educational technology in the classroom and also ensure faculty is trained on its pedagogical use. Also CIOs are responsible for providing business intelligence (BI) and artificial intelligence (AI) systems that provide many solutions that help with student success. There are many technological solutions that are implemented to eliminate educational barriers for many students. CIOs are no longer limited to just managing technology; rather they need to provide a comprehensive ecosystem that helps students achieve their academic objectives.

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is not something new; it has been going on for the last 40 years. However, digital transformation has meant different things at different times during the spectrum of those forty years. In the earlier stages of the transformation, having a static web presence was considered digitally transformative. Today the digital transformation of an online presence is expected to deliver adaptive streamlined services that can be accessed from various endpoint devices, anytime from anywhere. In higher education, the digital transformation began when PC labs were setup in schools and students used it for word processing. Today, many schools have implemented technology programs in classrooms and labs that utilize various online educational resources. There are many flipped and blended courses where students can learn part of the time in an interactive classroom and part of the time in an interactive classroom setting.

"CIOs are no longer limited to just managing technology"

The “Mobile Generation”

Students who were in first grade when Apple released the first iPad in January 2010 will graduate from high school in 2021. Many of these students have been digital learners with access to an abundance of mobile devices at home and school. By 2009, the number of high school students, who had taken an online course had surpassed 3 million. This can be attributed in part to the development of the high performing mobile ecosystem, with many mobile devices and lightweight laptops reaching the market in mass when digital learning content became broadly available. In addition, many elementary and high school students are taught with mobile devices with access to educational content in the cloud. With e-books being available for most courses, students hardly need to be printed textbooks.

Digital Learners

The Information Technology industry has been on a speedy journey of digital transformation for the past several years. At the same rate, society has been embracing technology aggressively and making it part of life. Many of the students we admit into higher education now and in the coming years were born in the middle of the modern digital era and have been exposed to many technologies throughout their learning years. They intuitively incorporate digital technology into everything they do. Many of the incoming students have attended schools that have a one-to-one student-to-device programs. Many of these students have been exposed to learning management systems (LMS) since elementary school. They have learned how to code using digital notebooks. These rich experiences will inevitably create enhanced expectations about what they will find when they reach colleges and universities. Higher education will continue to suffer from budget shortfalls and the delivery of the necessary technological solutions may continue to be a challenge. However, CIOs need to be innovative to deliver solutions that enhance the learning experience of these students. For example, the advent of cloud computing creates some opportunities to deliver solutions that scale up and down on-demand. Agile application development practices will streamline product delivery timelines while reducing costs. Centennials are digital learners that expect an enhanced digital learning ecosystem. They will expect an agile infrastructure in which learning activities are delivered in an engaging digital ecosystem. CIOs need to be prepared to not only accommodate but to revolutionize, the needs of today’s students and the incoming Centennials.

CIOs and technology leaders need to recognize that the solution delivery models of the past are not a recipe for success going forward. Failures of projects after a significant investment in time and money have been career ending endeavors for many in the past. The evolution of digital transformation will continue to dictate how IT organizations deliver products and services expeditiously in a very rich digital ecosystem. With the maturity of cloud and the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning being an integral part of many IT organizations, transformation through innovation is going to be the new normal for the CIOs of the new digital era.