Michael Zastrocky’s One Thing
Many of us who went into IT in the 1960’s and 1970’s had background and training in the natural sciences. My background was mathematics. We were drawn into computing because of our problem solving skills and our desire to be able to do something with computing that hadn’t been done before. When I was asked to move into the CIO role (at that time there wasn’t a title of Chief Information Officer) I was challenged by the changing role of computing and using IT to help our institution do a better job of supporting faculty, staff and students. Measurements of success were often gauged by how long students stood in line to register. For example, when we brought up our first integrated information system in the early/mid 1980’s our first registrants went from an average wait time the year before of 3-4 hours down to 35 minutes. By the time voice response and then web registration took over, we were down to 15 minutes. This provided significant improvement to all involved.
However, one thing that I had to learn was that as a problem solver, I often would listen to a problem being discussed in the President’s staff and I would immediately begin to think about how I could solve the problem and make things better. I often spent too much time thinking and not enough time listening! I can recall one heated discussion over the desire for some of our adult education degree programs to have different tuition rates. I began to think about solving this and during the heated discussion I remarked that with our relational tools, we could add as many tuition rates as needed through the use of tables. This settled the discussion but unbeknownst to me and others on the President’s staff it created some very real long-term problems. By the time I left the institution, we had more than 30 tuition rates and when students took courses from different programs to meet graduation needs and requirements, it became a real nightmare from both a practical and public relations perspective to decide which tuition rate should be charged for a course, the rate for the course from the student’s primary program or from the program which offered the course the student actually registered for. In the end, the institution spent even more time arguing over such issues than the original issue I had hoped to resolve. My advice to a young CIO is to listen very closely to issues and put your problem solving hat on after you have had a chance to think . Make sure you have thought out as many possible ramifications of the use of IT as possible. You may find that sometimes manual systems for resolving an issue are better than complicating life through IT.
From Mark Legg, CIO emertus Flinders University, Australia
What I wish I knew that I know now ……
The first thing I am sure I did not know to do (or even how to do) was to become very involved from day one with the highest appropriate level of authority in the University and to keep regular lines of communication with the other senior execs. I was very young (31 in fact) at the time and felt pretty low down in the pecking order even though clearly this was not the case. My advice for a younger person taking on a senior role is that it may feel strange for a while but you have to exert authority early on or it will take a significant time to achieve it.
Which brings me to another aspect – the culture of the organisation. You need to do some homework to establish what the culture is (preferably before you accept an appointment) so that you can quickly understand just how the organisation works – who are the movers and shakers and who are the luddites. It took me several years to really understand Flinders but whether that says more about Flinders or me is difficult to determine!
Had I known about the incredible rate of change of technology I may well have have chosen a different career – maybe growing roses where things don’t change quite so quickly. I actually made an earlier choice between math/physics and becoming an orchestral string player!