As IT evolves in the service era, CIOs need to focus on how to be brokers of services and to lead their teams to confidently embrace these changes. IT is at risk of losing its relevance if it does not meet the needs of business partners who can and will acquire services from other providers if IT is not on top of its game. For IT to stay relevant, it must be three things – an effective integrator of services, a fast provider of (often sourced) services, and an effective manager of service delivery. This implies that IT must be able to quickly juggle internal and external services and set the standard for delivery of services.
To be able to do all this, the CIO must have strong, trusted, two-way relationships with customers, vendor partners, and their own teams.
Close relationships with internal business partners
The relevance challenge requires close relationships with internal business partners. CIOs need to know in advance what services consumers need and prevent finding out about them after deals are already done. They must build trust and be seen as a frictionless bringer of additional value. If the only thing the IT department provides is additional process (even if it adds long-term overall value to the organization), the individual business unit will try to create work arounds, which means the trust relationship is already broken. What additional process IT adds must be vetted and approved by users or else it will be ignored and avoided by students, faculty, and staff. Moreover, end users must set the priorities—and again—if they do not buy into the process in advance, they will work around it when their priority needs are not met.
Selection and focus on key service providers
Strong, ongoing, relationships with vendors are critical to being able to deliver the outsourced part of the equation. CIOs need to work out the logistics of long-term contracts and the procurement process so they can deliver as needs emerge. This is likely going to mean selecting fewer partners because managing these relationships is a critical success component and CIOs do not have infinite capacity to build great relationships with unlimited partners. Involving those partners in strategic discussions must be part of building the trust relationship. Vendors will view that engagement as enormously valuable and—while their engagement must be managed—the CIO should be able to reap real value from that. For example, they should be able to ensure their partners are able to deliver more quickly when they have lead time to understand the needs, goals, and priorities across the university.
Put people first—both employees and students
A final major challenge in this transition is creating a culture of opportunistic service delivery on their teams. People will be justifiably worried about their careers in an environment that mixes outsourced and insourced service provisioning. Deep technical staff—who are critically valuable to the delivery of services—are difficult to replace and are also highly portable in the job market. Clear communications about how sourcing decisions will be made, training plans, as well as engaging employees in this effort, need to be a part of the process. CIOs cannot manage this transition as a planning exercise. The people who are affected by the change need to be engaged in the changes or they will disappear. To be successful, a strong focus on people is going to be required.
This focus is not just for the internal IT team. Service consumers also need to be engaged in managing change. They need to be part of the discussion within IT. Users need to be empowered to deal with service delivery quality and they must be trusted. People who are trusted and accountable perform at higher levels. The users must be able to advocate for their needs and engage in delivering great solutions. IT teams must see themselves as partners with the students and staff who are jointly responsible for doing great work for their university.
James Bradley has worked in information technology in higher education for 30 years including senior roles at three major universities. In addition to his work as a CIO and senior leader, he has worked extensively with national organizations and vendors to launch service initiatives to serve higher education and has spent most of his career delivering automated service solutions that meet the evolving strategic needs of his higher education customers.
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