Category Archives: Consumerization Of IT

Preparing for a Career Yet to Be Invented

Even the most skilled and brightest futurists in the 1990’s could not have predicted the upcoming massive changes in the first decade of 2000 in higher education brought upon by consumer technologies such as web, social media, cloud, and mobile computing. I still remember a job interview in the late 1990’s for a university web director position in which I was asked to present on my vision of the university in the next decade and the role of web and other technologies. Nowhere in my mindset were the consumer technologies that changed how we in the universities and students now do our day-to-day activities and business processes. I am intrigued and curious as to what the higher education of 2020 would be like. I read predictions such as this “Higher education in 2020: three key forecasts from new report” and this (“College 2020”)  as well as Gartner IT Predictions for 2014 and Beyond to get a sense of what’s to expect, though the accuracy of these long term predictions obviously remains to be seen. However, even as I remain cautious about the validity of these predictions, what I know is that I better keep up with the trends, even if these trends are not part of what could be considered as part of my job.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours with some student affairs directors brainstorming about communications in our division. I’ve been told in the past that our role as IT is to provide the tools and the departments are the ones who communicate with students. Frankly, I’ve never believed in the idea that IT is just a tool/utility provider. I believe the value of IT comes not only from the infrastructure we manage but as well as from the innovation and transformation of business processes that became possible because of the partnership we have with our business units to develop new systems and new processes to do our business. It is with this mindset that I approach communication and the role of IT. It is also with this mindset that I view my role as an IT manager/leader. I personally believe, to be an effective IT leader, I need to keep up with the preferences and demands of our students, our staff and other customers, including the way they would like to communicate. I need to keep up with technologies and the mindset that come along with them.

I was recently asked if IT should be involved in communications and marketing, to which I responded “I don’t see any reason why IT should not be.” Traditional thinking of IT probably does not include communications and marketing as part of their responsibilities but the way I see it, given that technology is such a big part of communication these days (as it has been in recent years) as well as in the future, IT folks better start re-considering this traditional view.

The increasing convergence between IT and marketing/communication led me to think about what my career in the future would be. A few years ago, the idea of a social media/communication/marketing position and a videographer reporting to me in IT would probably not have been an idea well accepted. After all, that’s not what IT does. It’s probably not a conventional arrangement to have these positions in IT in many organizations, even to this day. Thinking a few years ahead from now, I wonder how the role of IT will evolve.  Will IT, as an organization, be combined with other departments, like marketing and communication and be seen as part of digital service organization? With this evolution, how will my role and responsibilities change?  Ten years from now, will I have a career I would never have envisioned as it does not exist today?

As I think about the possibilities and the uncertainties of the future, what I do know and what I’ve committed myself to, is to continually learn and understand emerging technologies, the changing nature of higher education, the changing demographics of our students as well as their preferences and demands. Learning is a process and it takes time. Learning is a journey that’s not always straight line. Along the way, I’ve been introduced to ideas, people that I did not expect to meet. So, while I do not know what my career holds in the future, I will continue to prepare and learn towards whatever the destination will be.



Lessons Learned as a “Change Agent”

I have experienced two major technology shifts in my career: the web in the late 1990’s and social media, cloud and mobile in the last few years.  In both periods, I have been fortunate to have been given opportunities in my organization to be an early adopter/implementer of these technologies.  Along the way, I learned some lessons I carry along with me and I share with my team  in how to have some success when it comes to leading change.

  • You need champions/advocates and adopters. You need allies.
  • Distribute the work AND accolades.
  • Recognition should be the byproduct, not the goal.
  • Don’t ignore detractors, but don’t let them stop you either.
  • Turn your detractors into your allies and you may have your strongest advocates.
  • Learn to know when to ask for forgiveness and/or permission.
  • You’ll need a plan, but don’t let the plan stifle progress.
  • Better to make mistake moving forward than stagnate and do nothing.
  • Embrace ambiguity.
  • Know that you will make mistakes from time to time. Don’t dwell on them.
  • Learn. Always Learn.
  • Politics do matter.
  • Develop thick skin. You will be criticized.
  • Speak in the language of those you’re trying to convince.
  • Ask why would folks want to invest time and resources.
  • “No” is not permanent.
  • Have fun. Hard to sustain energy for a long time if you’re not having fun.
  • Anticipate tomorrow’s needs and build solutions for them.
  • Look outside your organization/industry to gain perspective, inspirations.
  • Dream.
  • It’s more than technology. It’s about people and culture.


In your experience, what else would you add?


Student Affairs IT Should Be More than Utility

In any technology dependent organization, IT units provide the basic infrastructure and operations such as networking, productivity tools, security, and servers.  Given this role, IT is often considered a utility just like water and electricity. However, IT has to play a greater role in today’s world of student affairs and higher education. IT needs to fulfill a higher role of a driver/partner in an organization’s innovation strategy simply because 1) if we do not evolve, we will become increasingly irrelevant in this world of consumer technologies, and 2) the expectations and demands of our customers require that business and IT units must collaborate to provide solutions that deliver at the very least, a satisfactory user experience, in a timely manner.

Consumer-driven innovations require a shift in how IT organizations must approach our role or we may see ourselves increasingly irrelevant. Will IT organization completely cease to exist in the near future? I highly doubt it just because there are legacy applications that require maintenance and operations such as networking, and help desk will continue to be needed.  However, I wrote about the trends in student affairs technology and their implications to IT last year, including the business units’ increasing reliance/preference on consumer technologies like cloud, social media and mobile to do their business.  One of the complaints I generally hear in my leadership role within student affairs IT is that sometimes it takes too long for us to provide our customers with the solutions they need and sometimes we are seen as a department of ‘No!”. For this reason, some of them have found it more convenient to use external services that are often free and faster to implement, with or without IT involvement. The challenge for IT however is that the need to keep up with consumer-driven innovations is constrained by the need to maintain legacy systems and “keeping the lights on” with limited resources.

The needs of our technologically dependent customers require collaboration between IT and business units to provide a good user experience delivered in timely manner. Our primary customers, the students and our staff are predominantly within the “Net Generation” or the “Millennials” generally characterized by their use of technologies. Studies by Pew Research on their use of social networking sites and Educause’s ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology 2011 provide some statistics and insight on students and technology.  Along with these new technologies come expectations and needs that are different from even a decade ago when mobile, social media and cloud computing did not exist. For example, the ability to work remotely, for some of our staff, is no longer a convenience but a necessity. In addition, as we recruit more out-of-state students (including international students), the need to communicate and how we provide services for them have also changed. The use of web conferencing tools for group webinars and individual advising has increased at our university in the last year.

For IT to stay relevant in student affairs (and in any organization), we need to realize that the systems we design and build need to evolve from systems of transactions to systems of engagement. We need to design systems that go beyond automation and efficiency. Because of social media and mobile computing, our customers now expect real-time two-way communication conducted in multiple channels.  In addition, how we do business within IT and in student affairs in general must also change. I wrote this blog post last year about student affairs as social business. It’s a post about how the use of social media in student affairs will evolve so that it will no longer be limited to communication with our customers. Social media will be used for internal communication and collaboration to enhance the business processes of student affairs.

I do not know what new technology will be introduced three to five years from now so building systems based solely on current technology and what we can only guess to accommodate a few years from now is a challenge.  However, creating an IT organization that is agile and responsive to the dynamic business needs is required for student affairs IT organizations to go beyond its role as a utility to a role of  a driver/partner in student affair’s innovation strategy. To be agile and responsive requires IT organizations and its leadership to take full advantage of the collective knowledge of our staff and customers.  It is imperative that we recognize their creativity and provide a culture that rewards innovative thinking as well as processes that promote free flows of ideas from all levels of our organization.


[Related blog posts on technology in student affairs/higher ed]


Future of Work, Policies, Technologies

Colleagues who telecommute from northern California and Oregon are in town for a two-day visit starting today. I only see them in person two or three times a year now, though through technology, I can interact with them every day.  Their visit reminds me of how the IT organization I work for has grown significantly since 1996 when there were about 6 of us to about 50+ today. The way we work has also been transformed significantly as well.   Their visit also reminds me of several things:

  • When two of my colleagues needed to move out of Santa Barbara maybe four or five years ago, human resources told me we had no policy regarding full-time telecommuting and I was further told there was not a single employee in the entire University of California system who had this work arrangement. My department had to create our own telecommuting agreement which was then approved by HR. This leads me to thinking that just because there is no policy or that something has never been done before does not mean that will always be the case. Organizations need to evolve to meet the changing business demands and using the absence of policy or lack of precedence to hinder progress does not make sense.
  • Dependence on technology in how student affairs conduct business is evident by the investment and commitment our senior management towards our IT department. There is not a single unit in our student affairs organization that does not rely on technology as evident by the number of systems we have implemented the last decade and a half.  The emergence of social media, cloud, and mobile computing has introduced new opportunities for the organization to further utilize technology in how we serve and communicate with students, parents, other customers as well as with our colleagues.  However, consumer technologies have also brought challenges to IT.
  • Telecommuting and working in distributed environment has become an accepted arrangement and this became possible because of technology, an indication of the future of work. We are no longer located in the same physical building and the way we communicate changed from just telephones and face-to-face visits to now using video conferencing tools, emails, and other forms of social media. I remember how I had to drive to campus at night to work because technology to access my workstation and servers did not exist when I started working in my department in late 1990’s.
  • Approach to leadership, management  and community-building needed to evolve to accommodate the distributed nature of work and teams. Communicating via instant messaging, email and even through videos have led to misinterpretations and physical/emotional reactions do not often get communicated as clearly compared to face-to-face conversations. While tasks and schedules can easily be communicated, building relationships and communities take more effort. When we hire new employees, they may not meet their colleagues whom they work with remotely for months and so even setting up a wiki profile page with personal information and outside interests can start the introduction and build connections based on common interests. Soft skills, including emotional intelligence, is more than ever required for leadership and management. Even for someone like me who is relationship-oriented, I sometimes fail to think about how my emails or what I communicate electronically may be received by my teams because I don’t see immediate reactions from my staff.

The importance of these visits go beyond work as these are the only few times a year when we can socialize in person. Those few hours when we go to a local restaurant and just catch up are what I certainly look forward to and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels the same way.

Student Affairs as Social Business

“Even though we’re operating with the best of intentions in social media, we are still operating from silos. The customer however, does not see silos, they see the company as one.” – Brian Solis, The End of Business as Usual.

Social Business graphic

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I have only been active on popular social media sites like facebook and twitter the last year or so and much of what I have read about how organizations use social media in that time revolves around marketing, communicating and engaging with customers, those external to organizations. However, in the last few months, I have noticed more mentions of social business, which Michael Brito describes as “any company that has integrated and operationalized social media within every job function (and process) internally.” IBM describes social business as “one that embraces and cultivates a spirit of collaboration and community throughout its organization—both internally and externally.” Several companies have already embraced this concept per this report Research Summary: Introducing The 43 Use Cases For Social Business (Social Enterprise) by Constellation Org. Advocates of social business including Mr. Brito, Mr. Owyang, Mr. Solis and Mr Bradley/Mr MacDonald all emphasize the following points in some form: 1) social business goes beyond technology, it involves people, processes and culture 2) embracing the power of collective wisdom from internal employees and customers and 3) holistic approach – no single unit owns social efforts and customer service belongs to everyone in the organization.

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