Stevens Institute's CIO Advances InnovationBy Peter High
Stevens Institute's CIO Advances Innovation
Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) is a New Jersey-based private research university with 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students. It has more than 290 faculty members who collaborate in an interdisciplinary, student-centric, entrepreneurial environment to advance the frontiers of science and leverage technology to confront global challenges. The school is home to three National Centers of Excellence, as well as dozens of joint research programs, facilities and centers focused on critical industries, such as cyber-security, defense, energy, finance, healthcare, homeland and maritime security, STEM education, and urban and coastal resilience. David Dodd is the CIO and vice president of information technology at Stevens Institute of Technology. In that role, he tells CIO Insight contributor Peter High, Dodd oversees an organization that is responsible for all technology and systems, including academics, administration and research.
Peter High: You have focused on developing a fully integrated customer-centric, service-driven organization. What steps have you taken to achieve this?
David Dodd: Steven's motto is the "Innovation University," and innovation is in our DNA. We've taken many steps to ensure we're continually identifying new systems and technologies, and deploying initiatives that support our student-centric organization. To start, we created a new user support organization that is more than just a standard help desk, and we selected TeamDynamix as our unified incident tracking and project/portfolio management system.
We recently hired a number of highly qualified employees in our division and now have a world-class team of talented professionals. In addition to our new staff members, we have a dedicated change management function, and we have opened a new technology support center on campus called the Technology Resource and Assistance Center (TRAC).
Finally, by moving to the cloud with Workday, we're able to operate using what's called a flipped-service model. [With this] we're able to free up IT and functional area staff and resources to proactively focus on more high-level analytical projects that greatly benefit members of our community.
High: SIT has a number of leading IT executives among the alumni, including Paul von Autenried of Bristol Myers Squibb, Ken Venner of SpaceX, Darko Hrelic, formerly of ADP and Gartner, and Chris Gibbons of Prudential. Do you and your teams engage this community in a meaningful way?
Dodd: Stevens has an impressive and large alumni network of more than 40,000, including several alumni who sit on our board of trustees. Stevens alumni have made incredible contributions to science, technology and engineering.
We are increasingly engaging with our alumni network because we realize what a huge opportunity we have to partner on knowledge sharing. A statue in the center of our campus is called Torch Bearers, and it says it all: passing the torch of civilization to the next generation. This symbolizes exactly what Stevens is about—our alumni are eager to help shape the next generation of IT leaders.
High: Given this alumni network, do you counsel current students who aspire to become CIOs? What advice do you give them?
Dodd: I have dedicated my career to the education and professional development of students, as well as internally supporting the development of leadership and professional skills within my own organization. When speaking with students, I provide them with the following advice: You need to have a great education, but that's not always enough. It's important to have practical experience that could and should be volunteer-related. No matter what you do to become a CIO, remember that it's never about the technology; it's about people and what any given technology can do to help them.
High: I imagine that in many cases, students are more progressive than professors in the use of new technologies. Are there ways to engage them?
Dodd: Our students display a great understanding and appreciation for new technologies. Whether it's virtual reality, the concept of the cloud or mobile technology, they just get it. As they have already internalized many of these concepts, it's a top priority for us to take student preferences into account when adopting new technologies.
We facilitate regular student surveys to understand their preferences, and we employ them in our user support organization to test different solutions and to do proof of concepts. A central pillar of our mission is being student-centric, and remembering that we are here to better serve our students and provide them with the best education possible. We did a lot of work to understand what is important to them, especially with regard to mobile capabilities.
Stevens Institute's CIO Advances Innovation
High: What do you think corporate CIOs can learn from academic CIOs?
Dodd: What's unique about higher education is that we have multiple generations among our constituents, and those generations accept and embrace change in different ways and at different rates. Higher-ed CIOs are constantly balancing the needs of digital-native students with the systems that faculty and administrators have become familiar with over time.
The key for any organization is to move away from thinking of things as "a change" and wondering when that change will be over. Instead, it's important to look at change as a continuous process and an opportunity to evolve, adapt and grow.
Another thing to remember is that it's almost never about the technology, and it's always about the person it impacts. When you change technology, individuals want to understand, 'What does it do to me? What does it do for me?' Every person is different. Every person will have his or her needs that must be considered, and you need to do your homework to identify what those needs and concerns are.
It's also important for corporate CIOs to recognize that there are different forms of fulfillment. It's easy to get single-minded about profit-taking, but that's not the only form of enrichment for people and organizations. By investing in people, you will create a stronger team that is more willing to dedicate themselves, resulting in greater success as an organization.
Corporate CIOs should strive for more than just an operational team> They must create a strategic team of people working for more than just money.
High: What trends particularly intrigue you as you look to the future?
Dodd: I'm intrigued by the growing strength of technology as a global force. Technology has enormous power for good, and equal power for things that are not good. We need to think about how we'll deal with the enormous power that technology brings in a responsible way, such as curing disease and making the world a better place.
I'm also extremely fascinated about moving away from a data model to an information, intelligence and knowledge way of looking at things. With the incredible amount of data that exists in the world, how can we take that data and transform it into knowledge that can serve our global society. How do we go about helping people assess information, sift through it critically, and assign it as having authority or no authority.