IT Services are Expanding More Quickly than Ever

By Chris Kielt, CIO, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Chris Kielt, CIO, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Earlier in my career, I was an administrator for a University-owned, health maintenance organization (HMO) caring for 40,000 faculties, staff, students and their dependents. My boss would hold weekly senior staff meetings, often for upwards of two and half hours each week. We were an organization focused on re-shaping itself and I was responsible for the administrative side of the house—Information Technology, member services, human resources, communications, finance, claims and purchasing.

What I learned during those protracted meetings changed the way I think about almost everything in my life as a CIO. Meeting topics were numerous and wide-ranging, and everyone had their say. After we were all finished laying out our views, my boss would circle back and point to an empty chair in the room and ask us: if a patient were sitting there in that chair, what would they say? That empty chair was our reminder that every decision we made was in some way going to impact patients and had to be informed by what we felt was the right thing to do by our patients.

These days I hold my own weekly senior staff meetings from an office overlooking the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, one of our many fine professional schools here at Carolina. It is a great vantage point to observe the energy of our University’s enterprise: the teaching and learning, the research, the patient care and the administration that supports our Carolina’s key missions. Just as I sat with colleagues trying to do what’s best for patients more than a decade ago, each week I now sit with my IT leadership team and try to do what’s best for our faculty, students and staff.

And it is a challenge. Driven by many of the same circumstances as health care systems, the Information Technology services required in eminent research universities are evolving and expanding more quickly than ever. They serve a continually broadening spectrum of needs and interests. So, what chairs do I point to when we have our weekly senior team meetings?

One chair certainly belongs to Carolina’s faculty, who deliver an extraordinary academic and research experience for all of our students. Our faculty deserves consistent, capable technology in their classrooms, labs and offices. Sometimes that means a lecture hall wired for interactivity, live polling and video conferencing. Other times, that means facilitating the introduction of MOOCs in Coursera or the upgrade to our learning management system Sakai. It, of course, means reliable hardware and software in their offices and labs. We can’t forget the support needed to help faculty feel comfortable and confident with the technology, and up to speed with their use in these emerging technological and educational settings.

Our brilliant and diverse researchers also have a seat at our table. From a marine scientist studying rising sea-levels to researchers studying the long-term effects of pre-K education in North Carolina, to a neuroscientist creating a new microscope that allows the unprecedented study of the human brain, our researchers are at the forefront of their fields. What does this mean for IT? It means a continual assessment of our research computing storage capacity and compute clusters’ performance. Improvements made in 2013 drastically improved computing wait times while also decreasing the cost for use. Our research computing resources allow our distinguished researchers to focus on what they do best—and to help support their contributions to the Carolina community, our state and the world.

“We need and want to employ efficient strategies for service that enable us to focus on meeting the distinct needs of our most important constituents”

There is a featured chair at the table for the student body. Our students are smart, motivated and informed consumers of around-the clock mobile connectedness that expect their University IT experience to mirror the commercial services they enjoy in a non-university setting. In the past year alone, we have moved student email to the cloud with Microsoft 365, brought wireless internet to all on-campus residence halls, improved cellular coverage across campus and collaborated on an official University mobile app created by the students themselves. As students experience and experiment with emerging technology, it drives us to stay on our toes and remain current.

Finally, our staff has a seat at the table. All of the technology initiatives previously mentioned exist with the underlying expectation that we can continue to register students, pay bills, secure our systems, manage programs, keep the network operational—all the fundamental capabilities associated with the mature operations expected of any IT organization. As private companies have adapted and strengthened their service differentiating technologies by sourcing less strategic aspects of their business, so too have we looked to the cloud and key technology partners for services best suited for their expertise. Whether it is cloud-based call center applications or email, we need and want to employ efficient strategies for service that enable us to focus on meeting the distinct needs of our most important constituents and partners: Carolina’s faculty, students and staff.

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