Information Technology

"Building Bridges"

What is a Chief Information Officer? The Chief Information Officer, or CIO, is the position to which I have been appointed at Butler University. Because I am Butler's first CIO, I want to share with you how I conceive of the CIO role in a university.

At Butler, the CIO leads the Information Technology (IT) area and, in cooperation with others, oversees the creation and implementation of the university's information technology strategy and policies. Our strategy and policies must ensure that we use technology effectively to meet the university's various objectives. But how do I, as CIO, plan to accomplish that? And how do I ensure CIO stands for "Chief Information Officer" and not "Career Is Over?"

colorBridgeI need to build bridges. Bridges can change the world we live in by allowing people to do things that before were impossible. Bridges speed the flow of traffic, cause people to take different routes, and link diverse groups. Bridges eliminate real barriers of geography and influence people's behavior.

For example, the 5-mile Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, connects the lower and upper Michigan peninsulas. The Mackinac Bridge changed the area forever, eliminating such nightmares as 23-mile lines of cars awaiting ferry passage between the two sections of the state.

Just as a bridge spans rivers and arches over impassable gorges, today's technologies can span the barriers of time and geography. This can only work, however, if we can also bridge the other barriers that divide us such as knowledge and special interests.

We need to build bridges at Butler. We need bridges between the various areas within Information Technology (IT) staff; between the IT areas and faculty, students and staff on campus; and between the faculty and the administration. Bridges must also be built between the staff and systems specialists within the various university departments, so that we can streamline activities between these units.

We must stay abreast of what is happening outside our own environment, so we must develop additional bridges between the university and others in and outside higher education.

We need to build, through training and other opportunities, bridges between the staff and faculty who are uncomfortable with basic PC technology and ever-changing new technology. And we need to build a bridge of understanding between reality and the unrealistic expectations which some have of technology.

I must help us find the right balance between the technology interests of the various Butler groups and the funds available to the University for all of its pursuits.

Bridges, both literal and figurative ones, can help shape Butler and its use of technology. However, a bridge alone is of no value. It must have roads or pathways that take people where they want to go. People ultimately make the world a bit different by using bridges. At Butler, it is the faculty, staff, and students working in conjunction with the people in Information Technology who will deliver on the promise of information technology, not the CIO or the technology itself.

As CIO, how do I help build these bridges? Well, if it were the kind of bridge that spans rivers or highways, one would call the best architects, engineers and city planners. They would collaborate to develop the bridge best suited to the specific site and the population's need. Then the planners would work to sway public opinion to obtain the funding needed to build the bridge.

That is exactly how the information technology "bridges" at Butler will be built: by calling together the best staff and "engineers" in IT and in the various colleges and departments: we have considerable talent at Butler. Together, we will address the issues at hand and work to gain support for our ideas. Some of the bridges I help create will be formal new processes, but many of the most useful "bridges" may well be the informal contacts between various groups.

As CIO, I must influence technology decisions by linking specific departmental objectives with university-wide goals. For example, we must select from the myriad of technology options those that are best for our institution. We can't create every "bridge" imaginable, and the "bridges" we do build will at times require Butler's constituents all to travel on a new route. I must provide leadership by making timely and sometimes unpopular decisions about where we do or do not choose to deploy our resources. I must also work with the Cabinet on what is realistic and get the IT staff to move in the direction that the university's needs dictate.

Constructing real bridges is a laborious, complex and often dangerous process. The Mackinac Bridge, which opened in 1957, took four years to build after having been debated for decades. Five workers died while constructing the bridge. Building technology "bridges" within Butler will also involve risks and take time, patience, and fortitude.

But once a good bridge is in place, it continues to serve its constituents long after the original builders are gone. And, over time, many bridges become works of art in their own right.

While the exact shape, size, and location of information technology "bridges" to be built at Butler is undefined at this point, now is the time to get them on the drafting board for discussion and action.

S. Kincaid, 8/6/2001