How did 3 higher ed CIOs reimagine their institutions' IT organization? [Educause 2017]
IT leaders from Davidson College, Colgate University and the U of Richmond discussed their challenges and successes
During a packed Wednesday afternoon session at last week's annual Educause conference in Philadelphia, Davidson College CIO Raechelle Clemmons, University of Richmond CIO Keith McIntosh and Colgate University CIO Steve Fabiani discussed the strategies and goals behind their efforts to rethink their schools' IT organizations.
Among the topics discussed were where they saw the greatest successes with their plans and what they might do differently next time. For those who couldn't make it, we've recapped how these leaders moved their institutions toward "IT 2.0" below. (McIntosh, to his credit, admitted to us after the session that he held back when it came to discussing what he did during his time at Ithaca, as he had more painstakingly detailed those efforts at last year's show and wanted to give Clemmons and Fabiani more of the spotlight.)
What observations led to the shifts, and what processes were followed in redefining the organization?
Fabiani said the organization at Colgate was “splintered interestingly,” as was the set of services offered. Some things were offered to faculty but not to staff members, while others were offered to staff members but not to faculty or students. He wanted to make sure every member of the community had access to every service IT offered, noting also that every client who used the service desk had their “favorite person.” To accommodate this, for example, they restructured a group of IT support professionals who’d rotate through a set of roles like phones, dispatch and student worker leader.
McIntosh says at Ithaca, he arrived following an assessment of changes needed in IT. There was a serious lack of trust between leadership and staff members and different departments, which made it hard to get things done. There were also operational challenges because much of the infrastructure was seven years old. “A lot of things came together at the right time that we could do something differently,” McIntosh said. This led to his “four cornerstones” philosophy.
Clemmons said she had a lot of presumed open positions when she arrived at Davidson. Requests or problems that were more complicated or required consultation had a missing element in IT, and project management was “a little bit of a black hole.” At the same time, she was thinking about what a next-gen IT organization does, what services it provides, and what structure enables that. “I didn’t come into Davidson intending to re-org,” she said, though she did later self-identify as someone known for "blowing s--- up." She didn’t think a reorganization was necessary, but later saw how it impacted the campus. Layoffs were part of the process, but the directors all participated.
Fabiani added in that Colgate got rid of an academic technology silo because staff feedback pointed out that everything they do is technically academic.
How were the changes received by (and how did they impact) the department and the campus?
McIntosh says a lot of the changes at Ithaca were underway when he arrived, and he’d like to think they were well-received. He said he made sure he shared with the team the challenges that we face as an institution, adding that he was very transparent about how they were assessed and what they’d do to address it. There was an institution-wide staff reduction program, and the four layoffs made were to positions that were obsolete with no opportunity to transfer them into the current environment.
Clemmons added that transparency is really important, noting the difficulty in having cases where people are let go without a wider breakdown of trust in the department. She said one director was let go and shared the news with the team the night before she came in to start implementing the changes, and people were "shellshocked." But there was a “cautious optimism” because the IT team knew change was needed.
Goodwill and trust can be engendered and built with transparency, she added. Around three to four months in, she said she started hearing that things were more responsive or that some employees who were unhappy before became more positive.
Fabiani said that what they’re re-imagining when rethinking the IT organization is people’s jobs. “This is their livelihood,” he said, adding that sometimes you’re hamstrung when those decisions are pushed down from the top.
What was most successful, and what would they do differently next time?
Clemmons said that while the silos aren’t 100% gone, Davidson has a totally different IT organization from a year ago. They’ve brought the services to campus that they meant to bring, and they didn’t previously have strong leadership in place. The biggest mistake, she said, was to tell people they were going to the end zone without explaining how they were going to get there.
McIntosh said Ithaca has a well-articulated effort that works good so far. There were five departments in IT, and the organization collapsed a couple times both horizontally and vertically. The network when he came in, however, was in "a horrific state," and he had to make change happen at a rapid pace. He only felt initially that there were a few team members he could have a trusted conversation with. He’d approach that differently today, but felt like he couldn’t at the time.
“Change should be implemented in bite-size chunks,” McIntosh said. There’s a certain size and speed people can handle, and he feels he chopped too quickly and it cut too close to faculty.
Fabiani said he might move a little bit faster in retrospect. Colgate started going through in September/October with talking to people, and nobody knew what it’d look like til around January or February. “Getting the speed of this sort of change right is tough,” he said, adding that he wished it was clear in his mind what “really, really, really good” looks like.
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