Tuesday, 8 January 2008


I'm at a UCISA Directors Forum in Cardiff at the moment where the subject we're discussing is Leadership.

Interesting first session, given by a VC and a Director of Information Services from a prominent Russell Group University, about the relationship between a CEO and a CIO.
In industry the concept of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO) is well established - not so in many Universities. Today’s session focused on whether there was a direct correlation in this area between industry and universities, and if so, what did an “IT Director" need to do to become a CIO. Both speakers had worked outside the sector, and were in general agreement that successful Universities would be those that understand the critical nature of IT to business success and where the CIO worked in partnership with the CEO.

The first speaker - the VC - addressed the issue of whether the VC was in fact a CEO. There are many similarities between Industry and HE in this role, the key differences being the role of governance in HE (rule by committee and consensus) which is much higher than in industry, and the number of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) which is much higher in HE, industry concentrating on far fewer.

The VC emphasised the global effect of IT as a major agent of change. There are currently 2.5 billion mobile phones in use, and 1.6 billion PCs. 991 million mobile phones were sold in 2006 – that’s 1/6th of the world’s population buying one. These two items have way overtaken the ownership of TVs, credit cards and cars. The changing expectations of the future student population need to be taken into account in University decision making. In summary, his view of the role of a CIO in HE was:
  • Information within the University is fundamental to the University purpose and information about the University as an aid to management is an increasingly important requirement
  • IT in Universities is less well-developed than in many businesses – but it’s a much more complex environment, with too much regulation and a legacy of IT under-investment. Universities must increase IT investment
  • The CIO is business-critical and business-enabling and should be a member of the senior management team able to participate in and influence all University functions
  • Complexity will grow. Pervasiveness will grow. The power of computing will grow. Unless the CIO is part of the top management team the University will lose out totally.
The CIO's view was very similar – he began with an illustration of how IT had changed. In the 1970s it was “Fortress IT - a specialist function, disconnected from the rest of the University. In the 1980s and 90s, IT was an internal supplier, a technical realiser, but was mainly passive and reactive. In the 21st century IT is a solutions broker, a change partner, and is proactive and innovative. A transition from Doing IT, through Managing IT to Leading IT. Softer skills involving communication, change and management skills are becoming more important than technical skills.

In conclusion, he believed that a 21st century CIO should be an agent of change and should be striving to be the organisational leader responsible for IT, a corporate officer of the institution – not the IT guy! They should be a partner of the CEO and a Board member. Their impact should be positive, and wider than IT. They should be proactive, an expert advisor, strategist, and change deliverer. A bold decision maker who accepts responsibility and manages risk.
Lot of soft skills are needed including effective communication, developing people and skills, getting the best from people, even suppliers.

Phew – lots to think about, and put into action!

No comments: