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5 Higher Education CIOs: InformationWeek's Chiefs Of The Year

Learn how these CIOs in higher education drive critical change -- in an industry ripe for disruption.

Young Combines Tech And Finance Roles In Pursuit Of Better Student Experience
By Chris Murphy

Joanna Young, CIO
University of New Hampshire

There's only one way to describe students' appetite for Internet bandwidth: "It's insatiable," said University of New Hampshire CIO Joanna Young. UNH sees bandwidth demand increasing 30% or more per semester, with hard-wired use dropping and WiFi soaring.

As student mobile devices, online video, data-intensive research, and, yes, online gaming in the dorms soak up ever more bandwidth, UNH is one of a handful of organizations testing TV white space for wireless access. The conversion to digital TV freed up that spectrum, allowing for what the FCC has called "super WiFi" hotspots.

Young is executive sponsor of a broadband research effort led by UNH that's testing ways to improve broadband access and pursue grants to extend bandwidth into rural areas. The university has one dorm trying out TV white space today, and UNH's Broadband Center of Excellence is helping test it at several New Hampshire libraries. Such hotspots might be a cheaper solution to the last-mile problem for broadband, especially in rural communities. "We're not called the Granite State for nothing," Young said. "Any time you have to get into the ground, it's very expensive."

Young came to UNH as CIO in 2009 after 20 years in private industry, nearly five of them as CIO of Liberty Mutual Group. At UNH, she's trying to apply the cost-saving automation and business practices of the private sector to areas where they make sense in higher education. "We have to figure out ways to make" higher education "more accessible without sacrificing quality."

One tactic is implementing a CRM platform, which UNH is using for processes such as reaching out to would-be students and tracking them from interested to applicant to admitted. UNH, "has really been relying on high touch in that process," as many other universities have. "That's certainly good and fine, but it's not very scalable."

Young treads carefully around the issue of cost cutting, emphasizing automation for simple tasks such as processing a student transferring from a community college or switching majors within UNH, so that counselors can help people with more complicated issues. But she's also practical about the need for a business focus. "When I use the word sales, a lot of people flinch. But that's what it is."

She wears two hats -- one as CIO, the other as associate vice president for finance, a role she has held since fall 2011. When she was asked to fill the interim role, she asked to do it for at least a year to make it meaningful. In that role (which the university made permanent this fall), she helps the executive team make investment decisions, including technology ones.

For today's students, technology is inseparable from the college experience. Everything they need to know -- from when's the next bus to what's for lunch at the dining hall to what their class schedule is -- they expect to get not just online but via smartphone. "In their expectations around time to response and time to resolution, their framework is the timeframe."

Young, a UNH alumna, said she was drawn to the university's CIO role because of the diverse experience it offered. The IT team is expanding broadband access, implementing CRM, building mobile apps for students, and helping researchers who are working on everything from rockets to lobsters gather data. The university environment is behind the private sector in the use of some enterprise software, but "higher ed has an opportunity to do some leapfrogging."

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User Rank: Strategist
12/16/2013 | 5:31:06 PM
You're doing fine, University of Oklahoma
Five interesting profiles of leading CIOs in education. Especially liked Curt Carver at the University System of Georgia, and how all five are pursuing greater student service, engagement through improved systems. OpenStax and MOOCs come to the U. of Okla. You're doing fine, Oklahoma.
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