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EV Blog

James Bradley | March 29, 2016

The Evolution from Higher Ed CIO to Chief Services Provider

This is the first of four blogs on the topic of Transforming the University with IT Service Management.

Higher Education’s IT departments are facing a shifting paradigm driven by changes in their customer base and in the capabilities of the market. Students, faculty, and staff have not been just users of IT services for some time—they are service consumers who obtain services themselves and are savvy enough to pull in outside providers if their internal IT organization can’t keep up with their requirements. Likewise, these service providers are capable of rapid deployments without extensive ramp up times and large scale capital investments.

CIOs: Evolution or Extinction

These two outside forces, service consumers and service providers, are combining to dramatically increase pressure on CIOs whose organizations are often stuck in outdated business practices. CIOs must be experts in the delivery of those legacy infrastructures and other services they have not (or cannot yet) move to commodity providers. They also need to be skillful at sourcing—negotiating, contracting, executing and managing service delivery—because their users don’t care where the service comes from, they just need everything to work. Furthermore, the need for new and better technology solutions, particularly those that improve customer service and success, is dramatically increasing demand on CIOs—creating virtually unlimited project portfolios.

To compound this issue, the pace of change has accelerated through BYOD, BYOA, mobility and consumerization. These trends have dramatically changed the model for delivering technology services from a centralized IT organization pushing technology decisions out, to working with users to define those same services. IT is racing just to keep up with savvy business units (and consumers), many that are now making their own technology decisions, using budgets once controlled exclusively by the CIO and IT.

We’ve all seen the changes in the CIO role coming for some time. CIOs have to become adept at strategizing what should be insourced and what should be outsourced. More importantly, they must become extraordinarily good at building, managing, and sustaining relationships with customers, vendors and their own teams. The IT engine they build now has no room for delays and failures as universities and colleges are completely dependent on technology. The thing that once made CIOs special—a unique understanding of technology—gives way to a shared understanding and reliance with sophisticated consumers. The ability to “control” technology and provide value by being the technical custodian of institutional computing resources and data is quickly diminishing.

All Hail the Chief Services Provider

All this points to a change in the core business of the CIO. No longer concerned solely with IT operations and technology management, the modern CIO is shifting focus to sourcing—balancing internally and externally sourced technology. This integrated services focus is less about managing the underlying technology infrastructure and more about matching technology services to service consumers. This role might also no longer be limited to just technology services. For example, why should the institution run multiple service desks if one group can do all of them really well? The more focused IT becomes on service integration, management and delivery, the greater the value it offers over its traditional services, which have largely become commodity services.

This new role of Chief Services Provider will retain many of the core CIO skills because many of the services needed will remain firmly rooted in technology and require an enterprise strategic view that transcends individual business units. Key integration points in providing services, and hence key efficiencies, can best be created by someone who can pull the threads together strategically and ensure each new integrated service is designed, developed, deployed and managed, faster and at lower overall cost to the institution using the right vendor or internal service unit. Skills such as relationship management are now paramount to the success of the CIO, along with a deeper understanding of both sides of the IT value chain—service providers and service consumers. The future of the CIO and the IT organization is to be the bridge between service providers and service consumers, aligning institutional goals, demands on speed of access, and service provider technology. CIOs now need to be able to take a dynamic set of resources from the marketplace (or internally), integrate them, and provide services on demand—within days in some cases. And provide those services within an easy to use, self-service style application, available to everyone, regardless of the device being used.

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James Bradley

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.