The Role of the Modern IT Leader

Brian Cornell, CIO, Elmira College
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Brian Cornell, CIO, Elmira College

“Using the ICE concept to foster innovation and growth as a means of benefitting future skill sets and knowledge of the 21st century student”

Despite the advantages and benefits of obtaining a college degree, it is very common to hear of the struggles that new graduates experience in their efforts of finding adequate employment matching their newly acquired diploma. As educational institutions battle with shrinking enrollment, dwindling budgets, career placement challenges and fierce competition, many academic and executive leaders are changing their approaches and rethinking old and outdated models for overall student success. Like our graduates, many educational institutions face unique challenges as they seek ways of remaining competitive in lieu of today’s changing job market that only a few are able to accurately predict.

Today’s IT leaders of higher education institutions are often asked about the future of technology and what the future organization will look like. Although many similar answers and common trends occur, it is quite difficult to confidently predict the exact nature or the exact roles that future IT organizations will need to become in order to meet growing demands and needs. As an IT Leader, I view myself as both a teacher and a student and despite our changing landscape there is a simple approach that can be very beneficial in turning the dial and moving forward with innovative ideas and an advanced technology environment.

As a teacher, IT leaders must “push” technology in order to continually expose the members of the campus community to new means and methods of both doing business and also teaching within current and future learning environments. Pushing technology is an approach that regularly occurs in most organizations and it should remain a goal of any high performing technology department. On the other hand, IT leaders are also students and we must “pull” technology by partnering with those we provide services to as an important group who can teach us about new technology and new trends. It is those faculty and students that we typically provide support to that can often be our most trusted and valued teachers. By reversing our normal role from teacher to student, we can gather and harness new ideas and creativity we would not be able to imagine if working within the confines of our department structures alone.

  As a teacher, IT leaders must “push” technology in order to continually expose the members of the campus community to new means and methods of both doing business and also teaching 

“ICE” (Include, Collaborate, Engage) is a concept I have developed that can assist an IT leader’s efforts to successfully pull and push the campus for new ideas, creativity and innovation. If broken down into separate parts, the terminology is not much different than practices most of us commonly and regularly do. Most IT leaders are regularly including others in initiatives and we are frequently collaborating with others on technology initiatives within business and academic operations. However, the IT leader of today and those of tomorrow must ask themselves if they are truly engaging with the campus community? Engaging both our stakeholders and community partners is a valuable means of not only brainstorming and pulling new ideas, but also one of assessing what is in place and currently in use within business and academic operations. This is a critical piece of the puzzle that is often and too commonly left out of IT projects.

Each part of the ICE concept is important, but when they are linked and working in harmony, it can become a very valuable tool.

Include—all members of the campus community and all key stakeholders

Collaborate—we must fully integrate, include and view others as valuable information holders

Engage—we must circle back on closed projects, revisit strategic plans and continually assess our efforts

Within every aspect of the computing environment, the ICE concept can be applied in a comprehensive manner to fully engage and interact with individuals and groups throughout any organization. By including and collaborating with these individuals, IT leaders will realize the full potential in their particular environment, versus a single or narrowed solution. By engaging, we can monitor and understand the true value of our efforts to ensure we are meeting our outcomes and goals.

If fully used, the ICE concept will strengthen partnerships, spark innovative ideas and it will embed collaboration within the toughest of environments. Results will improve the overall technology environment, create new learning opportunities and it will help an institution broaden the skill sets of their students. As previously mentioned, higher educational institutions are seeking to remain competitive and to provide their students with the skillset they need to be successful in today’s work place. Technology-enhanced learning is a critical element in preparing students for the future workforce that is currently in high demand for competent technology individuals. These new initiatives should directly support the overall strategic plan and vision for your institution but indirectly, they can provide a means of supporting experiental learning initiatives.

What is it that can give the edge to one candidate for a job over another? What sets equal resumes apart from one another and how can a recent graduate better compete for limited job openings? Students who have been exposed to various technology software and tools through the establishment of a sound ICE approach are more likely to have the advantage over others in their field without the same exposure. Most IT leaders are not involved in formal teaching within a classroom environment, but they should serve as role models no matter what their job duties or responsibilities might be. We must take an active part in developing our students and improving their skills by sharing the information and knowledge that we have. IT organizations have an abundance of technical skills and expertise and this needs to not only support institutional assets, but it also needs to be spread in a manner that blankets the campus community by introducing and exposing students to opportunities they may not normally be exposed to.

IT organizations of the future need to engage and shift from indirect material support to a more direct material support approach. Using ICE (Include, Collaborate, Engage) as a model, IT departments need to make the jump and contribute directly in supplying their organizations with opportunities that, not only push opportunities for their campus communities, but also those that pull. IT Leaders must include and collaborate with all stakeholders to comprehensively build a framework that can readily and more easily introduce new tools and new software that directly enhance all aspects of the learning environment.

ICE, as a concept, allows the exchange of creative and innovative ideas to flow between users of campus technology and those departments that support the technology. If IT organizations are not serving as teachers inside the classroom, the future technology departments must take the initiative and work with the broader campus to expose our students and faculty to innovation, creativity and technology outside the classroom. The more we include, collaborate and engage with our students and faculty, the more we can learn and understand what the future will bring. We do not have to teach in a formal classroom to contribute to the learning environment and expose and privilege our campus community to innovation and advanced technology. This can become an everyday and common occurrence if true collaboration and inclusion exists within your technology organizations. This exposure and these learning opportunities can provide enhancements to our student’s skill sets and knowledge which could easily give them the edge as they move into a very competitive and challenging job market.

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