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From Triage Specialist to Trusted Strategist: How the Cloud is Transforming the Higher Education CIO

From Triage Specialist to Trusted Strategist: How the Cloud is Transforming the Higher Education CIO

By Marcia A. Daniel, Chief Client Officer, Ferrilli

Not long ago, the Chief Information Officer at a small private institution told me something I never thought I’d hear. “Marcia,” he said, “I can’t get our president to leave me alone. Every day there’s another call about asking what we can do to try and make things run smoother in another department. It’s everything from admissions to the library to housing. I need a break!”

I just had to laugh – because there was a time when every higher education CIO I knew would have begged for the same level or attention. For decades, the only time presidents or their VPs would engage IT leaders was when problems arose. The network is down. Email isn’t working. We have a security problem. IT was essentially a triage center, where maintenance and crisis management were the central responsibilities once a system was implemented.

Today that’s all changing to the point that our CIO from that small private college certainly isn’t alone. Over the last decade, cloud technology has been replacing on premise systems on campuses across the country – and with solutions providers now responsible for ensuring baseline services and “keeping the lights on,” the CIO role is evolving into what it always should have been from the start: a truly strategic partner to institutional leadership

This phenomenon was front and center in EDUCAUSE’s Top IT Issues of 2020 survey, which called for “repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner of institutional leadership in supporting institutional missions.” It went on to note that “The role of the CIO has never been more significant to the institution,” and that “CIOs can help develop and attain digital transformation objectives if institutional leaders are ready to involve them at the most strategic levels.”

The CIO role is evolving into what it always should have been from the start: a truly strategic partner to institutional leadership.

This was the first time that the issue of what’s known as the “Integrative CIO” had ever made EDUCAUSE’s annual list – and the timing makes perfect sense. Because the advent of cloud technology in higher education coincides with an era in which technology is being infused into nearly every aspect of institutional operations – and that makes getting to know the CIO a top priority for not just the president, but each and every member of his or her cabinet.

Take today’s chief financial officers. Their technology wish list has grown from systems that ensure accurate and timely reporting to solutions that drive efficiency and cost savings across the institution. They want to know how best to modernize business processes and automate tasks that have been manual for too long. They want to create faster, more effective workflows for the many administrative procedures that span multiple offices and departments. And they want to be able to make data-based projections about what the future holds and how best to prepare.

Or take today’s Provosts and chief academic officers. They want to meet digitally native students where they live in everything from enrollment to advising to degree auditing. They want to find ways to reduce the administrative burden on students so that they can focus more time and attention on coursework. And they want to build more robust remote and online learning platforms – not just for the COVID-era, but for a future in which distance learning is likely to play a larger role.

From the registrar to the bursar to the VP of development and alumni relations, today’s institutional leaders need the CIO like never before – because where they have problems, technology more often than not presents a solution. And thanks to the cloud, today’s CIOs are able to put more time and energy into those relationships and truly act as the strategic partner that campus leaders need to meet their most pressing objectives.

So, when my CIO friend lamented all those calls and emails from the president, I had one simple piece of advice: get as many of your systems to the cloud as you can. Because you’re only going to get more popular moving forward – and when you’re spending days in cabinet meetings or the president’s office, there’s a lot less time to grind away in the trenches.