IT Forum Perspectives

Is 2015 the year of the true chief information officer?

by Kevin Danchisko

As we’re fully into 2015, it’s time to think about what “new year’s” trends or resolutions will shape the year ahead for chief information officers in higher education.

We’re currently preparing to prioritize topics for our next CIO Roundtable series, and one input to our topic poll is a team review of industry thinkers’ recent opinion pieces. I reflected on a recent article from IT World titled, “The CIO’s Top 3 Priorities for 2015,” by Dr. Rado Kotorov, the chief innovation officer at Information Builders (a business intelligence firm). Although the article is mostly targeted at CIOs in private industry, I couldn’t help but think that all three of these priorities will be top-of-mind for the IT Forum members as well:



Priority #1: The CIO role will transform from a technology leader to a business leader

In the past, many CIOs played more of a chief infrastructure officer role, predominantly focusing on hardware and software. At most of our member colleges and universities, this limited scope is no longer sufficient as technology pervades all aspects of campus—from smart buildings in facilities to adaptive learning platforms for student success.

With a hand in operations across the entire institutions, CIOs have a unique bird’s-eye view of the organization. CIOs have the ability to increase efficiency in business processes, whether through digitization or simple redesign. The technology choices that CIOs help make have widespread impact across campus. It’s critical for the CIO to be a business leader with a seat at the executive table to understand institutional needs and assist with institutional transformation.

With costs continuing to increase more quickly than revenues, and declining or stagnant revenues for many institutions, the status quo of intuition-driven decision making is no longer sustainable. As campus leaders look to make smarter decisions about topics such as program prioritization and space utilization, CIOs will be called on to support the transition to the data-driven institution.

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Priority #2: Manage data as the enterprise's most valuable strategic asset

As Peter Aiken points out in The Case for the Chief Data Officer, Data are an organization’s sole, non-depletable, non-degrading, durable asset.” One of the central tenets for our 2014 research is that data is a strategic asset and should be treated as such. Some universities have followed the example set by many private sector firms, hiring chief data officers, and we’ve seen some institutions put this idea of enterprise data ownership into their overarching strategic plans.

CIOs are the de facto managers of institutional data. Campus members hold CIOs responsible for ensuring that the institution sees value from this asset, and CIOs must enable data-informed decision making to improve internal operations. These essential activities, therefore, are current missions for many CIOs: sustainable data governance, strong data quality, and appropriate data access. We anticipate they will be high on the 2015 to-do list for many more, and have assembled frameworks for approaching these challenging tasks.

Learn strategies to overcome data denial and increase analytical capacity



Priority #3: Make BI pervasive and ubiquitous

Data-informed decisions cannot be made without a reliable reporting and business intelligence platform. CIOs play a central role in maximizing end-user adoption by ensuring that reports and dashboards used by campus members are as relevant as possible.

When we started our research into higher education business intelligence, we considered the possibility that colleges and universities might be wastelands of data-informed decision making, with only some pockets across campus leveraging data to improve academic and management outcomes. What surprised us was the proliferation of tool purchase and use, as well as the rise of the data analyst position not only in administrative units like enrollment management but also in academic units, with individual deans hiring their own data analysts.

But our research revealed that despite their prevalence, these efforts are often uncoordinated, with staff using disparate databases for analyses and failing to leverage expertise across the university for cross-functional studies. Can 2015 be a year when CIOs break down the silos and coordinate true enterprise analytics, enabling analyses that could never be done before, and helping unearth new insights for campus operations?

The good news is that our research revealed many instances of successful BI adoption, and my colleagues and I have been sharing best practices into the necessary inputs—governance, data quality, access rights, report adoption—with IT Forum members.

Learn the major roadblocks to successful data governance initiatives—and how to overcome them

We’d love to hear from you—are the three priorities that Dr. Kotorov named some of your top priorities? What else will be a top-of-mind issue for you across 2015?


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