During the seven years when serving as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at The University of Texas at Austin, I encouraged people across campus to continually learn about rapidly evolving
technologies, seek new ideas, and build collaborations by taking classes, joining professional associations, attending conferences, and participating in the Austin Forum on Technology & Society.
The central Information Technology Services organization was a proud Austin Forum sponsor for many years. It was always fun to interact with people from campus and meet new folks at Austin Forum events. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have served the University and as founder of Brad Englert Advisory, decided to again become a sponsor as a small way to pay back and pay forward.
I’m often asked about the evolving role of the CIO during those seven years. Here are some thoughts:
Information Security Leadership
Own it and lead by example. Set high expectations and accountability, and communicate to your constituents the urgent need to be continually vigilant and uncompromising. Someone is always trying to break in. Sophisticated email phishing and state sponsored hacking has mushroomed over the past few years, as evidenced in the probe of Russian election hacking. Russia, North Korea, China, Iran, and eastern European criminal gangs are always probing for weaknesses.
Ask your Chief Information Security Officer to test your IT organization, practices, and facilities to lead the way by example.
Focus on IT Workforce Hiring and Retention
In academia, we actually can commit to real work/life balance for the IT workforce. Being able to offer work/life balance is a definite competitive edge in a booming high tech city like Austin, Texas. And serving 52,000 students, 4,000 faculty members, and 21,000 staff at one of the top 25 public universities in the world is meaningful work.
Add collaborating in a fun environment with cool colleagues, training on the latest technologies, having plenty of stretch opportunities to build skills, flexible work schedules, and telecommuting is a winning proposition which speaks to all generations. The CIO’s prime directive should always be: Family First!
Moving IT Services to the Cloud
It’s inevitable. Focus has shifted dramatically from buying and managing infrastructure and technical resources to managing vendors and the services they provide. UT Austin has moved to a number of cloud services: UT branded Gmail for students and alumni, Canvas learning management system, Box for file sharing, Qualtrics survey tool, Office 365 for staff email, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure. Workday HR/Payroll implementation is in flight.
The most successful cloud offerings are designed for the web from the ground-up. The dark side of the cloud is when companies try to move applications designed for servers in your data center to the cloud. This panicky short cut by traditional product vendors simply does not work. Trust me, we learned this the hard way.
Changing IT Roles
With the transition to the cloud, we now need highly skilled vendor managers, contract negotiators, and service managers. We also need more specialists in data integration, security, and privacy. Data enterprise architects are necessary to successfully determine how to best take advantage of cloud services.
In the future, we will need fewer systems administrators and application developers.
This is the Holy Grail. How can we build data analytics to best support executive decision-making towards achieving institutional priorities? Since the late 1990’s we have a number of tools to make this happen. But these tools have been expensive and typically require costly, expert staff resources.
Big data portends greater insights, yet most organizations are not yet exploiting the opportunity due to the high barriers of entry. How will we break through?
Relationships Really Do Matter
The primary role for all CIOs is to build strong, trusting working relationships at many levels. This will never change. You must build authentic relationships with those you serve, executive leadership, your boss, your direct reports, your staff, peers, influencers, strategic vendors, family and yourself.
Best advice I followed from a 40-year faculty veteran soon after becoming the CIO at UT Austin was: “Get out of the office and let them know that you give a damn!”