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Kevin Coppins | October 23, 2015

THE MARTIAN: Why Being a Higher Ed CIO is the Hardest IT Job in the Galaxy

In my role I get to spend time with all kinds of professionals across a wide array of industries.  It's why I enjoy what I do, always learning and getting to see "the real world" from the trenches of modern IT.  I always have to chuckle when I hear a Corporate CIO talk about the challenges of their BYOD policy and how they plan on dealing with "shadow IT". It's stressful and it's change and it's non-compliant and all that scary stuff.

But if they got to spend a week wearing the well worn out shoes of a Higher Ed IT professional they would get to deal with:

  • Incoming students who tote along 7+ wireless devices to freshman orientation."What's an ethernet port?" WiFi is all they've ever known.  "Hard Drives?" - that's what the cloud is for!
  • Students who only know Netflix as TV, believe that bandwidth should never be a constraint (it wasn't at home) and that peer-to-peer file sharing is "just what you do."
  • A University President that asks "why do students keep tweeting that our campus WiFi sucks?  Didn't we just spend $3M on a new network?"

"In Higher Education everything is BYOD"

While Corporate HR departments fret about how to deal with millennials, major universities get a newly 3D printed batch of them every 120 days. Onboarding and offboarding troubles? Try taking in 4,000 freshman in the fall and saying goodbye to 4,000 seniors every spring.  Security concerns?  HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEWS??? Campus buildings are being renovated and built everywhere, all the time. Oh yeah, they still have to support faculty members that prefer an overhead projector to powerpoint as well as those that only know how to present via AppleTV. For today's Higher Ed technology leaders, the traditional planning cycle no longer applies, being proactive has become an almost unreachable goal.

As one major University CIO said, "I can no longer be proactive, help me build competencies around being aggressively reactive."

And here's the kicker, the whole business of education is being completely reinvented; flipped classrooms, MOOC's, online degrees, micro-campuses and blended learning. Universities have to compete for every student and every grant dollar, and often technology is at the heart of competitive advantage.

Yet despite all those massive challenges, I consistently see amazing innovation every time I step onto a campus. Integrated security that combines GPS locationing, smart devices, IP cameras and badge entry systems to almost instantly lock down campuses. Laundry apps that not only tell you when there is a machine available but also automatically debit your student account. Uber-like shared services for student expertise, applying college credit for real-life value add.

So to my clients, partners and friends in corporate America that are feeling panicked at the interstellar pace of change, hop a trip to Mars and go visit the IT department at your local university. There you will find a resourceful bunch, rolling with the punches and "aggressively reacting" in ways that we can all learn from. Instead of managing IT, they are creating, fostering and improving services that, in turn, transform the student/faculty/staff experience. It is innovation adoption in real-time, and it’s something that all of us need to get accustomed to.

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Kevin Coppins

Kevin Coppins is a sought after sales and marketing leader. He is passionate about his family, his team and his clients and focuses his time and energy around serving their long-term success. A tech industry veteran, Coppins has held senior executive roles in enterprise networking, software and hardware companies including Novell, Meru Networks and NEC. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Penn State, a Masters of Business Administration from Loyola University New Orleans and a Certificate of Professional Development from The Wharton School of Business. Originally hailing from Rochester, New York, Kevin, his wife CeCe and his two children Cash & Macie now call sunny Tampa, Florida home.