Emerging tech: KCKCC CIO tells us why it's important to colleges
This CIO profile is part of the "Mobility in Higher Education" survey underwritten by Sprint Higher Education Solutions and conducted by the Education Dive editorial staff.
Founded 90 years ago this year as a junior college, Kansas City Kansas Community College commits itself to being the state's most progressive, forward-thinking community college. As Dean of Information Services, Baz Abouelenein plays a key role in facilitating the college's learning environment and ensuring the school is able to live up to its motto, "Making life better."
His work isn't going unnoticed. In October, he ranked 10th on the Huffington Post's list of the Top 50 Most Social CIOs in Higher Education in North America, a list Hendrix College CIO David Hinson also has some experience with. That same month, he also took part with six other higher ed CIOs in an Educause panel discussion on how those in the position can revolutionize their institutions. In the wake of our 2013 "Mobility in Higher Education" survey, we caught up with Abouelenein to learn more about the need for institutions to leverage social, mobile, analytical and cloud technologies and life as a CIO at a two-year school.
EDUCATION DIVE: How did you arrive at your current role?
BAZ ABOUELENEIN: I like to think of myself as a digital native despite the fact I was born prior to the '80s. Ever since I was a teenager, I tinkered with all things technology. I mastered different operating systems and some programming languages—Pascal, C, C++, and Assembly, just to name a few. When my dad gave me a computer for graduating with honors from high school, I felt like I was in heaven. I would spend 16 to 18 hours every day gazing at computers. I had found what I loved to do early in life. From that point on, everything fell into place and my careers revolved around technology in various industries. When I arrived at KCKCC in 2005, I got engaged early on and spearheaded many initiatives to transform the technology infrastructure on campus, bringing it to the 21st century.
What kinds of challenges and accomplishments have you experienced since you got there?
ABOUELENEIN: There is a quote I love by Ralph Emerson that says, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” I strongly believe that KCKCC’s biggest accomplishment is our ongoing commitment to excellence in serving our students despite the challenges and obstacles that face the nation’s institutions of higher education. That is what we do, and we do it best! Leading-edge technology solutions empowers institutions and can deliver clear, demonstrable return on investment. For that reason, I have always driven the adoption of advanced technologies to support institutional growth. In only one of many examples, when I first arrived at KCKCC, our Internet bandwidth was at 7 Mpbs. Currently, the institution is running at 100+ Mbps. This has enabled significant expansion in online services available to both students and faculty. On the side of challenges, I think disruptive technologies and new trends such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud (SMAC) come to mind. It will require an ever closer connection between IT professionals, educators and administrators to ensure that KCKCC's core mission can be consistently accomplished. The best institutions in the nation utilize, and sometimes alter, their technologies and processes to leverage the potential of SMAC, and this is how they win the competition.
Is there an example of how KCKCC has done this?
ABOUELENEIN: Within the Information Services division of KCKCC, we are adept at overturning the status quo. Technology evolves at a rapid pace and we need to ensure that we are moving as quickly as it does so that we expose our students to the technologies that they may encounter upon their entry into the workforce.
A good KCKCC example that comes to mind is the implementation of our current Enterprise Resource Planning system which embodies SMAC forces. We knew that by utilizing SMAC, KCKCC would create a huge business value and significantly enhance the learning-teaching experience for our students and faculty. But we were aware that it may be quite overwhelming to implement an integrated and fully functional SMAC model. We decided, during the initial stages of our implementation efforts back in 2007, to analyze the business objectives and identified a realistic set of initiatives to begin with. Realizing and understanding these business objectives, we were selective of what modules of the ERP to implement at the initial phase and what modules to put on the back burners. Not only did we actualize these technology forces—social, mobile, analytical and cloud—but we also knew how to integrate them so they were more aligned with the college’s strategic goals.
What is the best technology investment you have seen your institution make while you have been there?
ABOUELENEIN: When we made the bandwidth upgrade to 100mbps, we opened the door for more multimedia-based applications and better response time from our servers. Recently, we made the investment that really made a big difference for us by upgrading our core data switch. It enabled us to sail in the sea of technical possibilities: VoIP, prioritize network traffic, to name a few.
From an IT perspective, how have smartphones and tablets impacted your daily work?
ABOUELENEIN: The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has had a huge impact on our daily work. They can do most of the necessary tasks that you can do with a conventional PC or a Mac. So, in a sense they have transformed “work” from a physical location to a state of mind. My team is now connected 24/7 and able to offer a more responsive technical support service than in the past. These devices also raised expectations among our users. They now expect us to be more knowledgeable, more resourceful and quick. Students are bringing their personal smartphones and tablets to campus at an incredible rate. This is the reason we are initiating many projects to transform our computing platforms to become more mobile-friendly. Thanks to the creativity and commitment of the mobile app team, we were able to release a remarkable new mobile app that works on iOS and Android devices. We are also starting a new project to redesign and implement a new website that is more responsive to the screen size of mobile devices.
Does your school have a BYOD policy right now?
ABOUELENEIN: At this time, we do not have a documented BYOD policy. However, we do have an acceptable use policy that explicitly states what users can and cannot do when connected to the college network. There is zero-tolerance for WiFi users on our network who may attempt to engage in illegal online activities or violate our policies. Before we have a definitive BYOD policy, we need to have the platform to enforce these policies. I do not think it wise to ask users to comply while systems are not properly equipped to monitor and report violators. We are currently exploring three device management solutions, but a final decision has not yet been made.
Do you see any particular device creating more problems than others?
ABOUELENEIN: Unlike computers running Mac OS and ChromeBooks, laptops running Windows OS have caused some trouble for some users who were not aware that they had to launch a web browser to complete the authentication process to connect to the college wireless network. This issue has been remedied in Windows 8.
If you could change one thing overnight to make your life easier on campus, what would it be?
ABOUELENEIN: Professional development! Learning new skills through certification programs or just simple continuing education courses are vital in the field of information technology. It should be mandatory for information technology staff to successfully complete a certain number of CEUs or PDUs every year.
What do you think KCKCC’s biggest technical challenge will be over the next decade?
ABOUELENEIN: Consumerization of information technology! It is a new and powerful trend that promises many consequences, some of which are positive and some are negative. Most information technology professionals understand the importance of forging a two-way collaborative relationship with end users, allowing them to participate in the decision-making process in the IT organization without jeopardizing the integrity and security of the college’s most important asset—data. It is also vital for end users to understand that IT professionals are still the subject matter experts in this area and their advice should be taken seriously. Having this understanding on both sides will ensure that institutional and IT strategic goals are aligned to bring maximum benefits to students.
Do you think there are some IT issues you face in the role that a CIO at a four-year institution might not deal with and vice-versa?
ABOUELENEIN: I think it is fair to say that the economic challenges of the past few years that have faced higher education have transformed CIOs and how they conduct business. We have become more innovative and cost-conscious while trying to create value for our institutions. I imagine that we all have the same challenges in terms of daily operations, but I always get the impression that four-year universities are more adaptive to new technologies than community colleges. Consequently, CIOs in these institutions may not be challenged by users who are resentful to the evolution of technologies.
Do MOOCs have you concerned about anything from an IT perspective? If so, how?
ABOUELENEIN: I am cautiously optimistic about MOOCs. I wholeheartedly believe that MOOCs could potentially help community colleges with poor and minority students. That said, a masterful plan that takes into account institutional resources and academic rigor must be in place to meet academic competence.
If your LMS provider could change one thing to make everything easier for you, what would it be?
ABOUELENEIN: As I mentioned earlier, technology is constantly evolving, and in doing so, it is changing the way we do business. If I had a magic wand to change one thing, I would add a reliable biometrics-based authentication method to verify students’ identities while attending classes online. I believe this should be a basic module in all LMS solutions.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more CIO profiles from Education Dive as part of our 2013 "Mobility in Higher Education" survey underwritten by Sprint Higher Education Solutions. Download the full survey results here.
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