2675826564 7018fb9714 m Roles and leadership of the Chief Information Officer in higher education
by Steve Wilhelm

Roles and leadership of the Chief Information Officer in higher education

Roles and leadership of the Chief Information Officer in higher education
The CIO position

             Higher education is notoriously resistant to change, and if there is a trend toward implementing chief information officer (CIO) positions and aligning all technology units under these hierarchies, the entire organizational structure will be affected (O’Donnell, 1998).   Due to the extensive literature on the chief information officers’ (CIO) roles and leadership, this paper reviewed only those that empirical research and expert opinion deemed relevant to this research on business and higher education settings.  According to Horgan (as cited in Viswadoss, 1999), the term Chief Information Officer (CIO) does not have a clear operative definition in higher education. Either there are other titles that perform a similar executive leadership role for Information Technology, or the same title holds different responsibilities in different institutions. Horgan (1996) stated that a CIO could be a senior level administrator who participates in the institution’s executive council and who manages various information resources at an institution-wide level. A CIO could also be a senior information technology officer who provides high-level oversight for information technology-related operations and who works with heads or advisory groups of other information resources in planning for investing in technology, services, and information.  Kaplan (2002) stated, “The nature of CIO’s job is changing because many CIOs today will have non-Information Technology (IT) backgrounds, although this depends a great deal on the size of the company, the industry, and the markets they serve. The larger the company, the more involved CIOs will be at a higher level with top management team developing strategies. The smaller the company and industry, the more the job will have operational and technical responsibility, but the key point is that we will see more CIOs coming from non-IT backgrounds to the field.” (p. 72)

Another Point of View

       Another point of view about the CIO position is the officer as key executive, responsible for ensuring that the company’s information technology investments are aligned with its strategic business objectives; the position’s responsibilities have expanded beyond the traditional role to include both strategic and tactical duties as well as corporate policy direction (Bryan, 1999).  West’s (1996) research reported that the CIO position should be an executive level position whose portfolio encompasses all aspects of information resources and technology, computing, telecommunications, libraries, media centers, and instructional technology development (p.1). West also stated, that CIO position should provide executive with the leadership to integrate all the information resources and technology into the fabric of the institution.

     There is evidence to support the need for companies to manage technology differently than in the past (Lineman, 2005). There is also evidence that the gap between managing the business and technology was much too vast and that CEOs and governing boards had to do something in order to remain competitive as well as viable for the future (Kaplan, 2002). The development and refinement of the CIO position was one of the most significant strategies to address bridging that gap.  Woodsworth (1987) conducted an initial descriptive study on the CIO position in higher education. She interviewed 28 of the 32 CIOs who were found in a prior study (Woodsworth) among the 91 institutions that were members of the association of the research libraries. Information was collected concerning the levels of responsibility of the CIO for information technology units, the levels of participation in decision-making concerning the information technology (IT) units, the reporting levels of the CIO, and the biographic information. The results of the study indicated that CIOs reported equally to presidents and provosts and that they tended to have responsibility for academic computing, administrative systems, and telecommunications, with only minor responsibility for library automation.

 The CIO roles

      Synnot (1987) described a new high-level role for information managers and predicted that this role would gradually expand as technology is woven into the fabric of an organization. The use of technology in higher education has expanded beyond the administrative support function of accounting and registration to include teaching and learning-related activities such as computer aided instruction, electronic document access, and distance learning.  Lineman (2005) states that higher education CIOs must understand the role that information technology can play within the institution and be able to communicate that vision so that it is shared by others within the institution. This knowledge and ability can come only from working closely with others within the institution and vendor community.  Roan (2000) stated that CIOs must operate successfully in an environment where technology enables change. One option is to select staff from business functions to act as the front-line interface of the IT department. For this to be effective the staff chosen needs to be highly knowledgeable and respected in their group and able to communicate with the IT specialists. They also need to be good analysts (Roan).  One option is to pick the most articulate, engaging, and business-oriented of the IT staff to perform these roles (Roan). Perhaps they may have an MBA qualification or prior operational experience. This poses a great challenge to those staff members to let go of some of their technical knowledge to focus on the business areas. Stepping outside the comfort zone is not easy, and a trial period in the new role may confirm suitability (Roan).

     Kaplan (2002) found various fundamental roles in the CIO position. The first role is the strategy implementer, where IT management must understand the business terms, not just technology terms. As Kaplan stated,  “A big challenge for CIOs is that they have to be competent at both,  understanding technology and talking to their staffs about technical subjects, but when CIO is talking to the board or the CEO, they don’t want the conversation crowded with tech talk” (Kaplan, p. 10).

     Another role reported by Kaplan was the consulting role; the CIOs required more technical knowledge than business knowledge and with effective communication, they would play an essential part with clients. As a consultant, the CIO responsibility is to determine and measure the impact of IT within the organization (Kaplan). The role of strategy implementer helps the CIO to ensure the alignment with campus strategies and technology, while top management plays the role of strategy formulator, articulating the business strategies for the entire organization. The IT manager must implement and design the required IT infrastructure and processes to support the chosen business strategy (Kaplan).  According to Kaplan the more fundamental role of the CIO is to run an efficient IT department with a service or utility mentality. In addition, this individual must understand the economics of technology and must be a good negotiator with vendors. With the second sort of CIO, the utility mentality will disappear because IT operations are not the CIOs expertise (Kaplan). The expertise is in communicating to business colleagues the importance of IT, and more importantly, in getting the IT governance right. It’s a strategic mentality (Kaplan).

Prior Research’s

    The CIO role is associated with behaviors that are implicit for success for the leaders and the organizational subunits they direct. Applegate and Elam (1992) stated that the structure or chosen strategy of the IS department somewhat directs the role adopted by the CIO. When the function of IS is strictly a supportive one, the top IS leader may only be a technical expert and a merely competent manager. For example, Keen (1988) argued that many organizations choose their CIOs by promoting their best technical managers without taking into account their communication or business skills. However, when the firm makes the change to using Information Systems as one of the firm’s competitive values, the role of the top IS leader is necessarily extended. The CIO must begin to act as a link between IS and other executives in the firm. Earl (1989) suggested that successful top IS leaders see themselves as corporate officers and general business managers. The author argued that good political skills and a high profile may place them in contention for top-line management positions. Earl also delineated four leadership attributes for IT leaders: (a) business leadership, linking the use of IS with the business needs and strategy of the firm; (b) technology leadership, drawing up and implementing technology policies; (c) organizational leadership, directing and steering IS structures and performing the controlling managerial function to make them work, and (d) functional leadership, managing the IS function and the accompanying specialist sub-groups.

     A study conducted by Becker (as cited in Lineman, 2005) examines the degree of cognitive complexity that CIOs in colleges and universities brought to the role. The study was based on the conceptual model developed by Bolman and Deal which synthesizes theories of organizational leadership into four perspectives or frames: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. The methodology included a survey questionnaire, documented analysis of job descriptions, curricula vitae, and semi-structured telephone interviews of 12 randomly selected CIOs. The study found significant relationships between gender and the use of the