The CIO of the future stays focused on people through the transformation

Two students sitting at a table with laptops, looking behind them.

Published February 10, 2020

What are the unique opportunities and challenges facing the CIO of the future in higher education?


This was the focus of a recent event I attended, where CIOs from higher education, government and private industry got together to compare notes from their rapidly evolving sectors. The goal was to improve services for students and citizens through digital transformation.

Even if the phrase “digital transformation” doesn’t mean much to you, you may be experiencing it right now. If you save your documents to the cloud, or stream your favorite music from a subscription service, then you intuitively understand this concept: digital transformation is about the new and radical ways technology is solving our problems in work and life.

That’s critical for entertainment and other commercial industries—but it’s just as critical (if not more so) in higher education.

I attended a presentation by the CIO of film production company DreamWorks, where he spoke about the process behind producing films like Shrek and Abominable. The company first reviews pitches and selects the one most likely to make an impact at the box office. Then they set a release date—often years in the future—and get to work.

DreamWorks prioritizes the most impactful projects, and makes sure the entire team is on the same page. At UB, the services we provide work the same way: we prioritize the IT services that will provide the most value to our students, faculty and staff.

This is the purview of our new assistant CIO and Director of Project Management, Kelly Duran. Kelly is coordinating our approach to ensure that every unit under the VPCIO area at UB acts in concert to implement only our best, most impactful ideas, in the best possible way.

Creating a digital animated feature today looks a lot different than it used to. Not surprisingly, a process that once involved drawing individual frames by hand looks more like software development today. But the importance of the creative, passionate people driving this work is no less paramount.

UB is no different: the way our creative, passionate people work and study has been likewise transforming, and that transformation continues today. That’s why we’re shifting our focus in IT, away from mainframes and “boxes” and toward the services we deliver to people via data and software, and the networks that connect and empower them.

In recent years,UBIT has collaborated with the campus community to build a new biorepository, a robust new suite of communication tools and even exciting, future-focused new spaces that blend digital and physical learning. I’m proud of these projects because they strive to match the big thinking of our campus collaborators, faculty, staff and students alike.

In higher education, our people are the bottom line: we need to meet their needs, or we will be left behind. They are our customers, and they drive everything we do. To me, that is the primary focus of the CIO of the future. Despite the transformations, my job is to never lose sight of the people driving what we do.

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