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How the CIO’s Role Has Changed in Higher Ed

As technologies evolve, CIOs find themselves at the center of broader business strategies.

A common phrase attributed to the philosopher Heraclitus says “The only thing that is constant is change.”

And if I’ve learned anything from working with IT professionals since 1993, it’s that nowhere is that adage more true than in the technology space. CAT 5 cable took more than a decade to replace CAT 3, but the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard faded fast with the arrival of the speedier, more reliable 802.11ac. We’ve also witnessed the rise of comprehensive enterprise mobility management solutions as basic mobile device management platforms proved insufficient.

Although colleges and universities are not typically early adopters, higher ed has still seen its fair share of transformation. I’ve watched higher ed CIOs across the country lead their teams through cloud deployments, network upgrades and countless other tech initiatives. And at every campus I’ve visited, I’ve noticed something important: CIOs have evolved as much as (or more than) the technology they oversee.

Discovering the New CIO

Now that IT operations are largely automated and CIOs no longer need to monitor and manage campus infrastructure at a granular level, technology leaders have more time to focus on the concepts that really matter: agility, innovation and business value.

According to the 14th annual CIO Survey from CIO magazine, CIOs spend as much as 27 percent of their time acting as business strategists. And now that they’ve gotten a taste of the action, they want more: Survey results show that CIOs would like their functional and transformational duties to drop significantly over the next three to five years so they can strategize a full 72 percent of the time.

Personally, I see this shift as positive. Higher ed CIOs possess a wealth of knowledge about emerging technology, as well as deep insights into campus IT’s current capabilities and needs. Giving these leaders more opportunities to share their expertise with stakeholders can only benefit the institutions they serve.

Moving Toward Strategic Alignment

In this new world, the CIO can no longer act as an intermediary between IT and the executive management team, passing information in one direction or the other; the CIO is now forced to take a closer look at how the IT department aligns with the institution as a whole. That task requires understanding the institution’s key issues, strengths and weaknesses before proposing IT-driven opportunities.

Once the CIO is a true partner in serving the college or university, IT will be better able to determine which emerging technologies would best meet the goals and needs of faculty, staff and students down the line.

Future-Proofing Campuses

As CIOs visualize this future, they might be tempted to get lost in the “what could be” of campus IT. But, of course, no technology can meet performance expectations if it is not supported by a robust infrastructure.

For that reason, the most effective CIOs remember to upgrade campus networks and other backend systems along the way. They also work with knowledgeable technology partners who can help them balance current technologies with future developments, so colleges and universities always get the most out of their investments.

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

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Mar 01 2016