Hosts Cynthia and Jack talk with Lois Brooks, CIO and Vice Provost for Information Technology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison about using professional relationships to accomplish more goals.
Jack Suess: Welcome to the EDUCAUSE Integrative CIO podcast. I'm Jack Suess, vice president of IT and CIO at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Cynthia Golden: And I'm Cynthia Golden, associate provost at the University of Pittsburgh. Each episode we welcome a guest from in or around higher education technology, as we talk about repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner in support of the institutional mission,
Jack Suess: Today we're joined by Lois Brooks, vice Provost for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Lois, it's wonderful for to have you on the air today.
Lois Brooks: Well, it's great to talk to you both, jack and Cynthia.
Cynthia Golden: Welcome to the program, Lois.
Lois Brooks: Thank you.
Jack Suess: So could you take a few minutes and introduce yourself to our listeners and talk a little bit about your career path and how you've gotten to your present position?
Lois Brooks: Sure, I'm glad to. I've had a full career in higher education, year 39 this year, which is hard to believe. I took my first entry level job at Stanford in 1984. Not in IT, but it was coincidentally the year the personal computer came out at the university that launched Silicon Valley, and I ended up spending 25 years there. And you have to think about what happened in the eighties and nineties that everything was new for all of us, the first desktop computers, the first networks, the first enterprise applications, the first learning management systems, you name it, there were so many firsts during those years, and each one, we all had to figure out what it was about, how to launch, and how to provide the service. So career-wise over 25 years, it meant that I had a lot of opportunities to learn and grow, and spent the last 10 years of my time at Stanford as the director of academic computing.
So from there, I moved on to Oregon State University as the CIO, spent eight years at Oregon State, and that's where I really learned about public education, about land grants, about statewide service, and I really came to have this strong love and appreciation for the mission of public education. So just capping off my career, I moved to Madison in 2018 as the CIO. This is a wonderful, massively large complex university. We've got 50,000 students, 25,000 employees, a statewide presence, huge research portfolio, and so it's this massive complex organism, and when I look back at my career, I think that every step along the way led me to where I am now. I didn't dream of being a CIO, and frankly, I don't think there are even worse CIOs when I started my career, those came later, but now looking back over four decades, I can really see how each step got me to be in this place at this time.
Jack Suess: Oh, it resonates so much with me, what you said and with your background, because for myself, I also started in what would be called academic computing, and the richness of the relationships with faculty and watching them as they were beginning to infuse technology in both research instruction and other things has been such a fascinating activity and so rewarding over time. So it just really speaks to me as well. Before we jump into the technology side, could you talk a little bit about what you enjoy outside of work?
Lois Brooks: Sure, glad to. I love being outside, and over the years we've done a lot of hiking. We still do. When we lived in Oregon and California, we did a lot of road cycling as well. Now here in Wisconsin, I haven't really been cycling, but I walk all over Madison and just get my energy, my, I don't know, wellbeing from being outside. My partner and I have done a lot of traveling, except for the last few years, but we really enjoy the performing arts museum, hanging out with our friends, things that are, I guess, just interesting. I've got a wide variety of interests. More recently, I have become an absolute dotting grandmother, which is very fun, and then I'll just share one fun fact about myself is that I am a crossword puzzle junkie.
Jack Suess: The last one I can expect.
Cynthia Golden: Well, congratulations on the grandmother part too. That's really cool. Lois, we thought we might frame some of the rest of this conversation around the EDUCAUSE Top 10 IT issues for 2023, the ones that came out earlier this academic year, and the way EDUCAUSE has been talking about this, they've grouped the top 10 issues into three what they call foundation models, and the first one was is around leadership or leading with wisdom. The second one is around data, the ultra intelligent institution, and the third one is around work and learning. So they call it [inaudible 00:05:11] is anywhere. So we'd like to start today and talk about the leading with wisdom category.
You have been in senior leadership roles, as you just told us, for some time now, including not only in your campus and in your university positions, but you've also been a leader in professional organizations and associations, and last year, you received a Wisconsin ORBIE Award for Excellence in leadership. So this leadership pillar in particular, one of the things that talks about is about IT leaders having a seat at the table, and I just was wondering how has that kind of seat at the table idea been manifested in your various roles, and do you think it's important?
Lois Brooks: No, I think it's essential to be able to get the job done, and the way I interpreted your question was really a seat at the leadership table because I also have seats at many tables around the university, including with the IT teams, but let me just talk about the university leadership table. So I'm a vice provost, which means I attend a lot of leadership meetings and a lot of governance meetings, and these are really essential to being able to get the job done, and I want to just talk about three key aspects of the seat. First, when you're at the table, it allows one, to know what issues are going on, what priorities are, what people are debating, and which gives you a little bit of a lens on the future about what's coming, and those discussions of participation really allow me to align my thinking, align resources to what's coming ahead to, and to be able to really think about what those issues are, and how I can help. The second piece, and this is might actually be the most important, is you build relationships.
Relationships are the currency of the university. It's how you get things done, it's how you influence, and don't underestimate not only being at the table, but being in the hallway before and after the meeting. I get probably more work done in the hallway than I do formally, building relationships, doing quick check-ins, just furthering things, and then the final way that the seat of the table matters is it allows me to contribute. That's where decisions are made, and sometimes that's about IT or what it might do to serve others, but just as often it's around people, or opportunities, or process, or other aspects, perhaps influencing universities leave policies or the way the funding structures are going to be developed. And so that's really kind of what the table is about, about the front mirror to be able to see... I guess mirror is not the word there. I guess the front window to see what's ahead, building relationships, and contributing back to the university.
Jack Suess: That really resonates with me, and the idea that it's not just being at the meeting, but it's all of the benefits that accrue from the collecting. And we've seen a little bit of oddities with as we went hybrid, and how we're dealing with the fact that more of these were virtual, and we've lost some of that. And so among at least here at UMBC, the senior leadership team has become more face-to-face as we're trying to meet just for that reason of being able to get five minutes with people and get a question answered.
There are institutions though where the CIO doesn't have that level of visibility or engagement with most senior leadership, and sort of thinking about it, that may also sort of reflect what it was like early in your career where when at Stanford, I know myself in the early to middle nineties, I wasn't in senior leadership, but I may have been running the IT organization, and there were other types of leadership. Do you have advice for people as to how they can be managing the relationships and building themselves to be able to be sort of positioned to move up into other forms of leadership?
Lois Brooks: Sure, a few things. One is it might sound odd, but don't talk too much about IT. Talk about the business, talk about education, talk about research, if you're at a research institution, talk about kind of the emerging problems and issues, and how you can provide solutions. I know when I talk to my chancellor, sometimes she'll want to know a little bit about technology, but mostly she wants to know that she's been heard, and that I'm just going to go figure out how to make the technology solve her problems. So don't talk too much about tech.
I'll say the other thing is learn the art of a very brief update. Be really efficient with other people's time, and they'll dig in more if they want to, but you don't want to monopolize the time at the table as much as contribute. I talked about relationships earlier. I'll probably keep talking about relationships because that's how everything gets done, but building the relationships that allow you to be seen as a person who would be a valuable seat at the table is really important, and I guess the last piece of advice might be a little bit harder one, but if you're at an institution, and you've done what you can, but you're not perceived in the right way, it might be time to consider whether it's time to move institutions to a place that's a better fit for you and what you're able to contribute.
Jack Suess: No, that's really important advice, and appreciate all the good thinking. I'll just sort of add, I always tell people who are thinking about leadership, read The Chronicle of Higher Education. You really have to know what's happening in higher ed today, and how people at your institution are thinking about some of those different issues that are getting reflected in The Chronicle in different ways, because it's never about the technology, so thank you.
Lois Brooks: I would just add hot topic of the moment is artificial intelligence, AI, and I'm asked about that in some odd way in every meeting, "What are the ethics? What are the bias? What are people doing with research?" And so I've been reading a lot myself just to be able to give a 30 second response in a meeting. So you're absolutely right on just staying up with what's happening around you.
Cynthia Golden: I agree that that's really important because you're seen as the IT leader on campus as somebody who should know what's going on, even when something just happens the day before. You've got to be prepared. So Lois, sticking with the leadership theme for a minute, how do you think our current leaders should be thinking about succession planning and about developing the next generation of leaders?
Lois Brooks: Oh my gosh, this is so important, Cynthia. So think about how each of us knows what we know, and we got this through a mix of formal learning, things like going to school, professional programs. We might have done leadership programs. We got it through a mix of informal learning, conferences, peer engagement, communities of practice, and we get a through hands-on work experience. So just a couple examples of things we're doing here. We do a lot of formal learning through MORE, the leadership program, which is terrific. We also have used EDUCAUSE which is equally terrific. They offer different things that benefit different people in different ways during their career. So we invest formally in people's growth and education.
The informal learning is probably the one that we do the most. We're engaged in EDUCAUSE, Internet2, The Big Ten Alliance, 1EdTech, and a lot more. Our staff are in these communities of practice. They're engaging, which allows them to hear peer ideas, have opportunities to present or develop ideas, and these are really important for their professional development. And then finally, hands-on work and experience, there's no substitute for it. So when you think about which of the people in your organization might be ready to take the next step, they need to have experiences like leading big projects and big efforts, designing new services, those kinds of things, and they need a chance to do them and to iterate them to maybe make some mistakes, to need to tweak to take it to the second level, and so if you're really intentional about all of these things, about formal opportunities, informal engagements, and work experiences, and then I try not to micromanage, but to let people open the door, and let people explore their own potential and iterate.
What you've got then are people that are progressing in their career and ready to take the next step. And the one last piece I would add to this is that succession planning is allowing other people to do more, which means you're lightening your own burden, which is a nice silver lining.
Cynthia Golden: Well, you're also talking about investing in people.
Lois Brooks: Yes.
Cynthia Golden: And I think that's really important, and I think when individuals know that you are investing in them, they appreciate it, and that's part of their development.
Lois Brooks: I think so. Well, keep in mind that people do the work of the university. If you've got one priority, it must be the people, and everything else will follow.
Cynthia Golden: I agree.
Jack Suess: Yeah, that's so true. So I'm going to shift a little bit, and we're going to go to talking about the second foundational model, the ultra intelligent institution, and how you work with data and analytics and provide cybersecurity and other mechanisms around that data. One of the top issues in the ultra intelligent institution is Cybersecurity and Privacy 101, embedding privacy and cybersecurity education into the curriculum and the workplace. Could you talk about some of the initiatives you have helped to champion, and the results you've seen, and where you hope to be going over the next few years?
Lois Brooks: Sure, I'm glad to, and I'll just have a caveat here that I'll talk about work that other people have been doing in the organization that I haven't been as involved in. So I can't take any credit here, but it's really terrific work. Three different examples on this, one is that we are working directly in computer science classes with our students. Our cybersecurity team is working directly with students to give them real world experience, and this shows up in a couple of different ways and gives them context for the kinds of problems they'll face as they enter the workforce. First, we're just exposing some of our real world problems to them and letting them work on them, some of the things that we tackle every day in our cybersecurity practice.
We've also gotten cybersecurity stakeholders across government, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Wisconsin National Guard, and others working with our students to help expose them to some of the organizations and challenges in the broader cybersecurity landscape, and then we just got the US Cyber Command Engagement Network involved, which has given our students opportunity to hear from government leaders as well as get access to hiring events and internships. So we're using our reach and our leverage with these organizations to directly benefit the students.
Second example is our CISO, our chief information security officer, actually teaches cybersecurity at our local technical college, and he's really focusing on a mix of privacy and cybersecurity, and then he has also championed and put many of our cybersecurity staff through their certification. We're giving them funding. We're giving them mentoring and study time, and right now about half of our cybersecurity team is professionally certified. And then finally, a really, really cool thing that we're doing, we have a pre-college program we've been running for about 20 years, the Information Technology Academy, which serves high school students in traditionally underserved sections of Madison as well as the Oneida and Lac du Flambeau Nation.
We have augmented that curriculum and now include a cybersecurity curriculum directly in our pre-college programming. Nearly all of the students, about 95% of them go on to attend college. They're eligible for tuition assistance and then move into the workforce, and in fact, we hire them. So it's been a really fantastic pipeline and opportunity, and then recognizing that cybersecurity is kind of a highly desired skill in the marketplace. We're building that into our own curriculum to prepare people for the workforce.
Jack Suess: It's really fabulous what you're doing to be building broadly the human capital in the region and state around this. I'm also curious what you might be doing at the institution to be helping people recognize that good cybersecurity practices are protecting everyone's data, including your own, because the data that we collect is often data of employees, of students of others. Are there any sort of activities that you're doing to really be advancing broadly cybersecurity training on the Madison campus?
Lois Brooks: There are, and this is again one of the most important things we can do because one little crack in our cybersecurity armor on a personal device or out in research lab really can harm the whole university. So we've done a couple of things. One is that we do have required cybersecurity training for all employees of the university and have opted for a training program that's pretty kind of common sense, plain language, practical things that people can do. It doesn't get into a lot of the jargon, but really helps them focus on how to do things like recognize the phish, and what to do about it. So we do annual cybersecurity training.
We've also done a lot of work in developing a very wide cybersecurity community of practice at the university that hundreds of people are involved in, that we talk about regular practices, we get engaged on what's happening at the university where we might be involved with more cybersecurity language, or where we can ensure that being cyber secure doesn't get in the way of academic freedom, in the way of research, and the way of teaching, which it can be, so really trying to build it in from the beginning. We also have a very, very active practice. Because we're a research university, we have requirements around cybersecurity for federal agencies, and so at any given time, we're engaged with 50 to 60 researchers, looking at their projects, and helping them become more secure at the university. Some of this has led to developing more centralized secure infrastructure, so that people can meet their grant requirements much more easily, but it's really part of the broader vocabulary at this point.
Jack Suess: Yeah. No, those are all essential, and thank you very much.
Cynthia Golden: Lois, we know that that students were impacted in different ways by the pandemic. Are there initiatives underway at your institution that are trying to use data and analytics to personalize your interventions with students, and if there are, how has this helped? How have analytics helped this effort?
Lois Brooks: We learned a lot during the pandemic and a lot of our historic practices were exposed during this time. Students, like all of us, were thrown into a time of transition. They found themselves learning in environments that weren't very conducive to learning. The playing field was not even. We had students doing their assignments in McDonald's parking lots because they didn't have access to network at home. We had students with so many roommates or in areas that didn't have adequate bandwidth that they didn't have access for work and study. Others lacked hardware. Others lacked software. Many had a hard time finding a productive place to study.
During this time, we saw a marked increase in reported mental health issues. Those trends persist today with our students dealing with new levels of stress, but through all of this, what it really enforced for us is that students are more than just learners. They're holistic beings that have competing schedules, diverse needs, and that made us stop and think about what the real opportunities were to help support students become better learners, and because our digital learning tool use skyrocketed during this time, everything went digital, all of a sudden we had a lot of data to work with that could help us. So we've done several things during this time. We really prioritize what we call a DEEP mindset, data empowered educational practices, across the university, and we're actively working to find ways to efficiently and ethically leverage data about students in the learning environment to help us more fully realize the value of that data to better serve our students.
We created a center, The Learning Analytics Center of Excellence, during this time, leading the way for the university. We've got a team of data professionals with expertise in leveraging teaching learning data, working to drive actionable intelligence for student success. We launched this is a really fun one. We launched a micro grant program for faculty where faculty can apply and get grants for learning analytics, specifically focusing on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and we provide guided support to help these faculty develop personalized metrics to optimize the practices.
And then finally, really focusing on student facing learning analytics. Learning analytics have traditionally focused on instructor, and advisor, and other kinds of stakeholder groups, which we do, but we've also expanded that now to directly empower students as agents of their own learning. So we work through several cycles of student engagement to discover what information would be useful to students about their own learning or the learning environment to allow them to better manage their own success. So we're giving analytics directly to the students.
Cynthia Golden: Boy, this would be a topic in and of itself for a whole hour of discussion. I think that these sound like really impactful initiatives, and I, for one, look forward to following them as your team progresses here. That sounds like great work.
Lois Brooks: And may I give credit? This work at our university is led by Dr. Kim Arnold, who is very active in the EDUCAUSE community, frequently speaks and writes.
Cynthia Golden: Well that's great. if we had more time, I'd like to keep going, but let me switch a little bit to talk about that last area of EDUCAUSE Top Ten Issues, which is, everything is anywhere. The idea of this foundational model really acknowledges, I think, the effect of the pandemic, and the fact that our campuses now have both physical and digital entities. So we know that staff are working at home and on campus. Students are learning almost any place you can think of. Our institutional data is stored, and transmitted, and accessed on campus computers, and portable devices, and cloud servers. So essentially everything is anywhere.
Jack Suess: So we'd like to explore these three issues that are underneath this topic, and the first one that we really wanted to be getting your thoughts on is around the new era of IT support. As we're dealing with remote and hybrid workforces as well as students that are now probably more hybrid than they were in the past, how is that sort of influencing the way that you're thinking about support practices, and how you're trying to plan for the future?
Lois Brooks: Well, Jack, like everywhere, it's mixed and it's complex, right? So our classes are primarily in person, but our students want social and co-curricular engagement, so they want to be in person. However, we do have a higher number of students requesting accommodation who also then request remote accommodation for their learning. What we found during the pandemic is that remote mental health services, remote advising, other kinds of student services were highly popular with our students, and so as we've kind of moved back into a more place-based experience, we continue to have both place-based and hybrid options or virtual options for students across student services, and I think that's just the way it will be in the future.
Within central IT, during the pandemic, we lost about a third of our office space to the growth of computer science, which is great because computer science is growing here. As we started coming back to work, we were not able to get that office space back. The university required us to go partially remote, and that actually worked out pretty well because a lot of our staff preferred to be remote, and we've been able to start hiring more widely than just in the Madison area, which has really been a help in a tight hiring market for attracting and retaining talent. So we're kind of forced into this. The university is back, but IT is not back in-person.
And the strategy then has to be how do we ensure that we're vibrant, that we're engaged, that we're connected wherever we happen to be? So many of us spend all day together in the virtual world like we are now in Teams, or in Zoom, or other tools, hanging out, talking, collaborating. We've had to be really, really purposeful about things like onboarding, like making sure every staff member is connected to somebody else every single day, that nobody becomes isolated, and so we've really doubled down, are actively working on a lot of climate issues, forced in part because of the new modality we have to work in. And I'd have to say I think this is the norm for the future. The challenge in leadership then is to make sure the important things like mentoring and human connectedness are not lost even while we all work in what is now the normal of being in-person or virtual at any given moment.
Jack Suess: No, I think you're exactly right, and part of it that you can see is that in some instances, if people are using the technology to the way that it can be, it can actually be more engaging. Instead of being sort of in your office and away from others, you're interacting more through tools like Teams, or Slack, or whatever, but we also have to be intentional, and so your really sort of it's key in training your leaders, training your staff to be reaching out and connecting with people is so right.
Lois Brooks: And just a quick anecdote, if I could. I worked offsite for a couple weeks this winter, and it was absolutely fine, didn't miss a step at all, not being on campus for a few weeks. The only thing that was hard, and this is what I mentioned earlier, is I didn't have hallway time with people after meetings, and after about three or four weeks, I had some things I needed to get done that needed to happen in those five minute interactions, and so I needed to get back to campus.
Cynthia Golden: We've had that conversation at Pitt many, many times about missing those opportunities, and how can we be more deliberate in figuring out how to engage informally in this kind of world. Lois, you talked a little bit about students and about the learning experience already. Is there anything else you'd like to add about how UW Madison might have experienced fundamental change when it comes to how courses are offered online, in-person, hybrid?
Lois Brooks: You know what's interesting, Cynthia, is so we've pretty much pivoted back to our pre-pandemic normal in-person instruction. We're a residential campus, and that's our norm, and hybrid learning is actually not an approved teaching modality, although some of it certainly happens. What's interesting though, so the use of the technology hasn't really changed, although what we have seen is that people are continuing to use the technology that they started using during the pandemic. The use of tools are up even with both classes being online. What's been interesting though are the fundamental changes aren't technical, but they're about the teaching, that DEI is much more a topic that instructors bring forward than ever before, and this is likely rooted in the social justice movement that's been happening over the last few years, and it manifests in a lot of ways, in questions about our proctoring, academic integrity tools, learning analytics. Perceived bias in these tools became really hot topics and remained so. Our Center for Teaching, Learning, & Mentoring has been asked to develop new faculty development programs for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, and are prioritizing that as part of our programming for teachers.
Related to this, issues around wellness, mental health, how to have difficult conversations, how to manage the political polarization that's so present in so many of our conversations have all been exacerbated during the last few years. So the fundamental shift we've seen isn't actually in the use of tools or modality. It's in this focus on what happens in the classroom and how to manage that.
Cynthia Golden: Yeah, we've had a similar experience at Pitt, and actually the teaching center at Pitt is similarly spending a lot of time on faculty development in areas like creating an inclusive classroom, or this year's Summer Institute is about LGBTQ issues, [inaudible 00:33:26] in the classroom. So there's a lot of the similar things happening on other campuses too.
Jack Suess: So I'll shift to issue 10, and this is around SaaS, ERP, and CRM, an alphabet soup of opportunity. And I'm curious how you're thinking about managing cost, risk, and value of these kinds of investments at an institution as complex and large as Madison is.
Lois Brooks: Well, we get to talk tech a bit. So we've been on this cloud trend for a long time, all of us as applications have moved to the cloud, and we've certainly done so here. Right now here in Wisconsin, we are migrating from PeopleSoft on-premise to Workday in the cloud for finance and HR across all 13 universities in the system simultaneously. There are risks and costs, of course, to this, but there are also benefits, and one of the things we've done is we're actively working on business process redesign down to the detail level because we're undergoing this transformation and taking it as an opportunity to optimize our operations in light of what we can do in the cloud. We're talking actively about how to manage in an environment that will constantly be changing, where we have less local control over new features and functions, and there's a lot of benefit to this. I think that we're pretty excited about the fact that there will be a lot of new features and functions coming at us.
There's going to be a lot of change management as well, and so really thinking through the differences in how we manage to those kinds of services. Stepping back from our Workday project, but more broadly, the big risk in all of this is vendor lock-in. The recent cost increases in usage caps from Box and Google have been really challenging to manage and put IT, frankly, in an uncomfortable position as we've had to go out and tell people they couldn't use as much of what we told them to use, but these tools are so deeply embedded that sun setting them is just not palatable, so we've really been navigating some of these changes, but I think all in all, the move to the cloud is actually one that's enabling us to spend more time, more effort, more money on benefit and service to the university and less on the running of the technology itself. So I think that there is benefit.
Jack Suess: Oh, no, I would agree with you wholeheartedly that we're able to do so much more so much faster than if we were trying to continue to do it ourselves by leveraging these that would be there. I am curious around do you have a governance process that you've put in place to be evaluating this? We've tried over the last few years. We're sort of required by our security policy to be reviewing all of the SaaS purchases that are going to be made, and so we need to be looking at contract terms, data, risk, security. Do you have processes that you've put in place that you think are working really well, or is it still sort of coming into focus as you're trying to manage the complexity of so many different moving parts?
Lois Brooks: Well, some of both, Jack, we do cybersecurity review of all systems that will touch or handle certain classifications of data, and we've been doing that for quite some time. Some of the more modern tools, frankly, are helpful because other people are asking the same questions, and so the vendors are able to respond with the information we need and have attended to security in their tools. The challenge there, to be honest, is that there's so much going on that finding ways to do that more efficiently in a more cost-effective way is always on our radar, but we do have a robust process for review. I also have a growing and maturing data governance process, and it feels like data governance is part of everything, supporting the interoperability, supporting the analytics, or expanding across systems as we bring new systems online, making sure that their security levels are set appropriately. So we've got a couple years into growing that, and I think doing a really good job in that area.
The other thing I would just mention is shared governance is really a deep part of our culture here in Wisconsin, and our faculty are generous with their time to help us navigate issues that impact people. One of the practices I've done, which has really been helpful is we bring things to faculty governance very early. When we're tackling a new problem, and we're actually not sure what to do about it, we'll take it into faculty governance early and get really good feedback from them on the student and faculty perspective on an issue like having to top cap usage for Vox, for example, and using faculty governance as a thought partner rather than a rubber stand at the end of the process has really been helpful for us in just kind of tackling some of these vendor lock-in clients and issues that we have.
Cynthia Golden: So pulling back for a couple thoughts on big picture from you, Lois, this has been a particularly challenging time for higher ed over the last few years, and from your vantage point, what do you think some of the biggest challenges our IT organizations are going to be facing, particularly IT organizations at large research institutions, and challenges and opportunities over the next few years?
Lois Brooks: Well, I think the challenge for many is budget, that at a big institution, our enrollment is staying strong, so that helps a financial stability, but this is a concern at many institutions, financial stability or budget cuts, and I'll just say IT is expensive. And so there are things like cybersecurity, or enterprise systems, or learning support that we can't do away with, but these dollars are competing for other precious dollars, and so I think that's going to be an increasing challenge to find ways to do everything the university needs us to do, but to do it in ways that are affordable. On the more fun side, kind of everything is a challenge and an opportunity both, right? AI, big topic right now, kind of navigating the possibility and the promise of automation, and data mining, and all of those things while kind of navigating through bias, and misinformation, and ethics, and all of those other issues that are coming up with new technology. I think we're going to be talking. It's a hot button now, but I think we'll be talking about this one for years to come.
Like we mentioned earlier, I think a challenge and opportunity is continuing to thrive in a hybrid and virtual world, navigate our way through, and make that work really well, and be mindful of not losing important things like mentoring. One that I think about a lot, it's [inaudible 00:41:10] related to the cloud conversation we just had, but shifting the IT organization from an organization that focuses on technology to one that's in a service mindset where the focus is on how people use technology and on the users, and not as much on actually delivering the technology. I think that the IT organization we have now is different than it was five or 10 years ago, and it will be much different five or 10 years in the future.
And then finally, this is really a problem at a big research university, and a massive opportunity is just keeping up with this sheer volume of innovation coming our way. The volumes of data, the computational need, the need for bigger networks and more data center, the need for technology infrastructure that keeps pace with the innovation done by our researchers, it's, I will say, a really cool problem to have, but the pace of innovation in the marketplace and the pace of innovation of our faculty continually challenge us to deliver infrastructure that will meet their needs.
Jack Suess: I think you succinctly summed up why working at a higher education institution is such a wonderful place to work. It's a mix of wonderful problems, challenges, and opportunities.
Lois Brooks: Well, [inaudible 00:42:36], Jack, being the CIO at a research university is perhaps the most cool job there could possibly be because of so many interesting things we get to work on
Jack Suess: And people you get to connect with from students to faculty. Yeah.
Cynthia Golden: Yeah, you touch almost every part of the university.
Lois Brooks: Exactly.
Cynthia Golden: If not every part.
Lois Brooks: Yeah.
Jack Suess: So that's a perfect lead in to our last question, which is we like to end with the question, "What does the term integrative CIO mean to you?"
Lois Brooks: Integrated CIO? So you think about the job of a CIO, we are uniquely situated because we work with all parts of the campus. We're in everybody's business. We're highly connected. We know about the needs, and the goals, and the challenges that everyone is working on because they're asking us to support that. Because of the jobs we have, we're thinking deeply about people and their wellbeing, but we also have to think about funding structures, and money, and buildings, and the physical plant, and compliance, and just a whole wide variety of issues. So we're thinking very, very broadly about a lot of things, and so I think the integrative part comes into the fact that we're bringing all these complex conversations, and issues, and perspectives together into a single conversation. And at any moment, finding links between people, and opportunities, and business needs, and processes, I think we become an integration point for a lot of the complexity around us at the university.
Cynthia Golden: Well, Lois, this has been a fantastic conversation. Are there any last comments or thoughts you would like to share with our audience?
Lois Brooks: Well, something I tell my staff every week in office hours, it's a highly complex world and sometimes challenging times, and so it's especially important to be kind to yourself, take care of yourself, and take care of the people around you.
Cynthia Golden: Well, thank you so much for joining us.
Jack Suess: Yes, thanks again, Lois.
Lois Brooks: Oh, it was fantastic to see you both. Thanks for asking.
Cynthia Golden: That was a lot of fun.
This episode features:
CIO and Vice Provost for Information Technology
University of Wisconsin, Madison
University of Pittsburgh
Vice President of IT & CIO
University of Maryland, Baltimore County