Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
Commentary
1/9/2014
03:00 PM
Wayne  A.  Brown
Wayne A. Brown
Commentary
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Top 10 Myths About Higher Ed CIOs

Higher education CIOs are doing fine, thank you. Let's dispel some falsehoods.

In the spirit of the numbered list popular this time of year, I thought I would add something from the world of higher education CIOs. 

There has always been a wealth of negative assumptions about higher education CIOs found in the higher education press and technology trade publications. These anecdotes are usually based on a sample size of three or four CIOs or an isolated conversation. The data I'll be using to confirm or rebut these assumptions is based on research conducted by the Center for Higher Education Chief Information Officer Studies since 2003. Hundreds of CIOs, technology leaders, and institution management team (IMT) members (the other school presidents and vice presidents) respond to the CHECS survey every year.

[In the battle for tech talent, small colleges and universities have a lot to offer. Learn Why Young IT Pros Should Consider Higher Ed.]

Here are my top 10 assumptions about higher education CIOs gathered up over the past decade, along with the survey data that disputes them.

No. 10Higher education CIOs change jobs frequently. In fact, CIOs spent more time in their current position than other members of the IMT.  In 2013, higher education CIOs had been in their position for an average of seven years and six months versus IMT members, who had spent an average of six years and eight months in their positions.

No. 9CIOs must have a technical degree major. There are a few different ways of looking at this assumption. The first is by looking at which degree higher education CIOs actually believe a CIO should possess. The single largest answer, 37%, was from higher education CIOs who did not believe a technical degree major was important for the CIO. However, 51% of IMT members indicated the CIO should possess a technology major. So there's a disconnect between what CIOs and the IMT view as the major needed for the job. But because CIOs actually do the job, I presume they know better.

No. 8Higher education CIOs must report to the institution president in order to be effective. As someone who served as a CIO for a number of years, I think it is important for the CIO to report to the president. However, the results of my own survey research over a 10-year period have not revealed a statistically significant difference in effectiveness – measured through a series of survey questions -- between those CIOs who report to the president and those who do not. In 2013, 32% of the CIOs reported to the president, according to the CHECS survey.

No. 7Higher education CIOs must serve on the IMT in order to be effective. Over the 10 years that the CHECS research has been conducted, there have been three years when there was a statistically significant difference in effectiveness between those CIOs who served on the IMT and those who did not. In 2013, 55% of the CIOs served on the IMT.

No. 6 Higher education CIOs are being hired from the faculty ranks. While this may have been true when the profession was much younger, it is no longer true. In 2013, only 6% of higher education CIOs had been faculty members in their last position.

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Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
1/10/2014 | 5:11:41 PM
University CIOs and tenure
I would have guessed (correctly) that university CIOs have longer tenures -- if only because a college town typically offers an appealing place to live, and being around people who are learning can be quite energizing.

Of course, academia has its own special brand of politics. Any former university CIOs care to chime in on that factor?
WB1234
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WB1234,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/9/2014 | 4:12:13 PM
Re: The CIO's boss
Good question Shane. In fact, there has not been a statistically significant difference in effectiveness between CIOs who report to the President and those who do not. As a former CIO, I do believe there are lots of good reasons for the CIO to report to the President.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
1/9/2014 | 4:03:10 PM
The CIO's boss
Good information here Wayne. I'm wondering if CIOs who report directly to the university president (or the CEO) are more effective in their roles. Having a good relationship -- or at least a relationship -- with the king would be an asset, no?
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