The Evolution of IT Through the Eyes of a CIO

Contributor: Robbie Westacott
Posted: 05/03/2015
The Evolution of IT Through the Eyes of a CIO
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Recent developments and trends within the mobility market have caused people to examine how IT professionals are adapting to serve business needs in more agile and reactive ways, based on the prevalence of technology in virtually all modern workflows.

To gain further insight into this, we had the pleasure of speaking with Paige Francis, CIO of Fairfield University, who was recognised as one of 2014's top IT leaders by Computerworld, and was one of only four higher education executives to make that list.

Paige shared her thoughts with us regarding how mobile technology has caused a shift in the focuses of CIOs, and how mobility is transforming education specifically. Paige also touched on what she has learned from her experience working in IT for over 15 years, and what modern IT professionals must do to approach mobility correctly.

When speaking exclusively to the Enterprise Mobility Exchange, Paige made it clear that over the past few years, she has felt mobility have an enormous impact on her role as a CIO, at every level, from obvious to latent.

For decades, technology management was comprised of the protection and secure maintenance of on-site systems, connecting to controlled user environments. That landscape then evolved to accommodate controlled connections and their handshake with the World Wide Web.

Since the introduction of the first iPhone in 2008, less than seven years later, the United States now boasts a staggering 75% smartphone saturation rate, and that is just phones.

This is evidence that mobility has become an expectation today, whether in shopping, business, negotiations, communication or virtually any other pillar of daily human interaction. As a result, CIOs have an overarching "ownership" of that accessibility and perpetual connectivity within their organisations.

"The CIO's role itself, thankfully, has morphed its service aspect to match the speed of mobility saturation and expectation, but with that came an exponential increase in responsibility and facilitation. Mobility has proven to be a game-changer in a great way for the CIO role" said Paige.

In light of this, Paige explained that dramatic and consistently increasing use of wireless connectivity and bandwidth by mobile devices is one of the technology trends which are currently affecting her specific role as a CIO in higher education.

For Fairfield University, this is requiring fast and reactive reallocation of budgeted funds, and shining a light on how funding models of the past do not nurture the necessary levels of innovation.

"Technology will continue to get better, faster and stronger, but the challenge lies in accommodating the required accessibility" said Paige.

Even on a more acute level, mobility is deeply ingrained in Paige's work at Fairfield University, and often plays an important part in her wide range of responsibilities on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.

"Between requesting capital funds for wireless upgrades, revisiting security strategy moving forward on almost a 'continuous improvement' basis, and ensuring that almost everything we offer is served seamlessly regardless of choice of device, I would say mobile technology plays a significant role. The entire technology landscape would be different without mobility, so in a way mobile technology at Fairfield University is everything" added Paige.

This is an interesting notion, although perhaps slightly unsurprising when considering that digital technology is embedded with the curriculum at Fairfield University. Mobile technology is apparently the largest delivery channel on the campus, and consistent access is absolutely essential for both learning and teaching to be successful.

It is crucial that the University ensures that their digital solutions are integrative, adaptable and easy for the users to interact with, whilst retaining the flexibility to upgrade or migrate to a superior solution, should the opportunity emerge.

In terms of mobility, as with any enterprise deployments, the security and the responsiveness of the technology are both paramount. Paige suggests to constantly ask the right questions of solutions, like are they safe, and can they accommodate today's needs, while being mindful of tomorrow's demands? These questions will not go away for CIOs while the mobile landscape they operate in continues to develop and shift at such a rapid pace.

It is also important to see the bigger picture when working with technology, and use the experience of any mistakes to learn and improve. Regarding important lessons Paige has learned from her work with technology in higher education, she explained, ã??Many moons ago I listened to a former CIO rant about how we as a department did not need to support Macs. That supporting PCs made the most sense long-term, and we as a department would only fund and support PCs, unless there was a strong academic reason for a user to need a Mac.

"The key word there is 'former' CIO. When I was awarded his CIO position, for about one month I stuck to that mantra until I thought about it and came to the conclusion, then there and forever, that IT must purely supply and serve. We don't tell users in this day and age what they should use; we let them decide what they want to use and simply figure out how the most efficient ways to help them use it."

Additionally, Paige reiterated that the days of approaches such as "let's just make the best use of what we have to improve", are well and truly gone thanks to mobility. Fairfield University purchased a fairly limited mobile app, prior to Paige's arrival, almost for the sake of having an app rather than looking to progressively learn to mobilise.

Once it was in place, the app offered additional valuable integrations to existing systems, so the University leveraged it to make the most of the investment. However, it quickly became apparent that the app wasnã??t suitable within their strategy, and was abandoned.

"Thankfully we vetted [the mobile app] twice and realised, long-term, not for us. It is imperative that, moving forward, an agile environment is the goal. The key lesson here is that a poor investment does not transition into great investment over time. The future will support cutting losses and simplifying transitions to better solutions."

In terms of looking ahead, there are of course many emerging trends on the horizon in the mobile space, and many which will inevitably develop to the surprise of even the most in-tune experts. However, regarding the presence of mobility and its improvements to higher education, Paige sees more classes offered online, from hybrid to full programmes, as well as more learning resources being offered in a mobile context.

"I believe types of classes will be extended to serve all students' traditional through certifications through workforce gap solutions" Paige said.

It appears that mobility is set to continue on its current course of proliferation regardless of industries or verticals, with customers and businesses making more and more decisions based on the ability to function and consume online and in a mobile setting.

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Paige will be speaking at the Enterprise Mobility Exchange, East Coast, taking place 7 - 9 July, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. This unique, invitation-only meeting will bring together over 80 senior-level practitioners working in enterprise IT and mobile technology, for a wide range of innovative and exclusive sessions. Each attendee is given a personalised itinerary fully tailored to their relevant and most prominent business goals, to ensure that the three-day event provides as much value as possible to everyone involved.

Thank you, for your interest in The Evolution of IT Through the Eyes of a CIO.
Contributor: Robbie Westacott