Tom Andriola on the Role of Trust in Leadership

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The Integrative CIO | Season 1, Episode 7

Hosts Cynthia and Jack talk with Tom Andriola, Vice Chancellor for Information, Technology, and Data at UC Irvine, about building teams and implementing solutions based on mutual trust.

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Jack Seuss: Welcome to the EDUCAUSE Integrative CIO podcast. I'm Jack Seuss, vice president of IT and CIO at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Cynthia Golden: And I'm Cynthia Golden, associate provost and executive director of the University Center for Teaching and Learning 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 Seuss: Today, we're joined by Tom Andriola, vice president of data and technology at UC Irvine. Tom, could you take a couple of minutes and introduce yourself to the audience?

Tom Andriola: Yeah. I was trained as an engineer and I was a terrible engineer. Most people will tell you that, including my wife. Can't fix anything at our home, including the wifi. And so when you're a bad engineer, what do you do? You become a project manager and you manage work rather than try to do work.

After I got my master's degree, I went into management consulting, which gave me an opportunity to really understand how organizations work and how organizations transform themselves through technology, through things like ERP and those types of things. And it also gave me the opportunity to understand business development and how to sell business to customers. And that was a great training ground for me for when I became a senior member of an organization. Okay.

I was part of the internet bubble and became the CIO for the first time in 2001 and led an IT organization in terms of their support for the business and how to run the business efficiently and how to help organizations be more competitive in the marketplace.

Did mergers and acquisitions for a while as what they would call business transformation lead. That gave me an opportunity to live in Europe, because the role was a global role, was integrating global operation. Went from being that internal role to becoming a general manager running software businesses. So I did that for seven years in total, the last four on a global basis where I was actually given a portfolio and asked to start the businesses from scratch. And I was employee number one at needing to build a business in China, in India, in Russia, in Brazil and South America. And by the end of the journey, which took about four years, it was a $50 million business and had 650 employees around the world.

In 2013, I was living in China for the last part of that role. And then in 2013, hopped back to the United States, and that's when I joined University of California as the chief information officer at the system level. If you're out there in higher education, you understand individual campuses and having a system office. It was a lot of working with our campuses and also our medical center. With my healthcare background, I was able to play a role in helping the utilization of technology strategically at campuses and medical centers and coordinated an amazing set of CIOs who were really on the ground every day and really tried to be a resource to them.

About two years ago, had the opportunity to jump down to a campus and was able to define the role I've got today, which is actually not as a sitting CIO, because we have a campus CIO. We have a health system CIO, and we work together as a leadership team. My role is to really focus on technology, but as important, data. How do we think about the role of data in terms of how it transforms things?

So it's been a really cool ride. I tell people I've had a chance to experience different parts of the world, see organizations, and drive success from different seats on the bus. And from that, I really feel like I have a lot to draw upon whenever presented with the challenge of the day.

Cynthia Golden: Wow. That's a lot. You've really had an incredible set of experiences in industry, in healthcare, now in higher ed. And what are some of the lessons you learned in those other industries that you've tried to bring into your work in higher education, Tom?

Tom Andriola: Yeah, I think there's some things along the way, because a lot of people, they look at all this and they're like, number one, it doesn't fit together. But a lot of times when I tell hopping around, people kind of see, it's not climbing the ladder. My career's been like a rock climbing journey going from ledge to ledge. And sometimes it really has. You felt like being out there. But I think a lot of it comes down to some common things, which is really coming into situation and assessing the need. I mentor a lot of up and coming 2B CIOs. Success in one realm doesn't always mean that you can take that playbook into your next into your next swing to the ledge.

Part of assessing needs is to sit down and look objectively at the situation and try to figure out what's needed in this situation? And then what can I bring from my past to help? And also, how do I find the complementary people and talents to bring to what this [inaudible 00:05:11] needs? So I really try to hold back judgment.

I love to tell this story that about I was, by most definitions, a successful leader in the US, and then they sent me to Europe and I failed probably the first three to six months of my leadership of a mostly European based team. Why? Their expectations, the communication style, the understanding of culture was much different. And so I learned the hard way about how to not rally a set of people in the right direction, but quickly learned to listen better, not judge whether it was right or wrong, but just accept things as being different than how maybe I knew them to be from my experiences and upbringing.

Jack Seuss: Tom, one of the things that is really interesting in what you just described is you had an opportunity for five years roughly to be helping your institutional CIOs as a system CIO leader. How were you thinking of helping people gain some of those insights that it took you some failure to learn because we haven't gone through some of that cultural change?

Tom Andriola: It's interesting, yeah. I mean, you're part of a system in Maryland, right? So you understand this. It's a complex relationship between the system office and the campuses. Again, part of my let's assess the need is witnessing and understanding that dynamic and deciding very consciously I was going to play it differently. And that turned out to be a good bet, because where a lot of times you had this acrimonious relationship with the system CIO, I said, "Look, I'm not interested in trying to second guess how you're managing things. Let me be a resource to you. Let me be an additive voice to the challenges locally. When you can't get your provost or your chancellor to really listen, I can come in from a different angle and deliver the message with a slightly different messaging, with a little bit more of an advisor." That helped with things like cyber or how to invest in sustainable infrastructure for the campus.

And what that did was it set up a positive relationship where I wasn't treading on their turf. I had this analogy I used. It's like you always have to know who's Batman and who's Robin, right? And I never went into a situation with one of the campus or health system CIOs trying to be Batman. That's their job. That's their relationship capital with the cabinet. My job was to be Robin, understand where Batman was going to go and make sure I was covering the other side. And so that really created this type of relationship and trust that was everything from helping CIOs be effective to also helping campuses and health systems pick their next chief information officer.

So in my time at office of the president, six plus years, I helped pick 17 CIOs, future leaders to come in and help really build a profile for what we were looking for to play that role. In a way, that wasn't like, "This is the person you're going to get," but, "Let's think about what a CIO in today's world does." I wish I had the integrated CIO moniker to take into that. I would've been awesome. But I was dealing with what I had at the time, but we really did move from the profile of a CIO of someone who makes the trains run on time to someone who knows how to build the team to run the trains on time, but is also someone that you can partner with in conversation for where the institution is going. And that used to be the benchmark now of what you wanted your CIOs doing. Now, I think you're all taking it with integrative CIO to the next level. So that's how I try to [inaudible 00:09:20].

Jack Seuss: So one thing that I'm going to take away from this is that your analogy of Batman and Robin, and I find myself often playing Robin more often than I play Batman to my other vice-presidents and leaders on campus. But by doing that, helping them achieve success and take the lead, me being there to cover their flank and make sure everything goes well is really the key to institutional success.

Tom Andriola: Absolutely. You know where I learned that from? I didn't learn it from a higher ed CIO. I learned it first from the CIO at William Sonoma, who shared with me. We were at one of these inter-industry CIO round table vendor things in San Francisco, and he said, "My most successful year as CIO of this place was the year when three of our executives made presentations to the board for investments through technology where literally I stood at the back of the room while they pitched why technology was critical to their business's success." And when he told me that story about he didn't have to be the one making presentation. It was more effective for him to be Robin in that, that's when I realized that I could learn something from that approach that would help me be a more effective contributor to organizational success. Not just the technology person at the table, but a contributor to organizational success through the lens of technology and data.

Cynthia Golden: Well, I'm going to have to remember that Batman on Robin's story, too. Tom, I wanted to just circle back a little bit to the comments you were making about your global experience. And you talked about the European culture and how you learned to listen better. And I was just wondering, very few have had that kind of international experience. Can you give us some examples of things you think can we learn from our international colleagues?

Tom Andriola: You can always learn a lot. I think learning is a mentality, right? We adopted this in our own household, especially when you live internationally and you operate within a community that has a set of cultural norms that are different from yours. You have a tendency to come home at the end of the day and go, "I can't believe how they do things here. Just wrong." And we adopted a phrase in our house of, "It's not wrong. It's just different." Because they're successful. It was a very different type of experience for me. Back to your question of what do we learn? I think we learn different ways of approaching problems, ways of getting groups to work together, to get things done. We understand deeper why.

Jack Seuss: Well, it's an amazing background that you've had, but I'm going to jump onto the next question and that is your title is unique, at least as far as I've seen. I have a sense that you had a chance to be thinking about what that title would be when you took the position at UC Irvine. Could you talk a little bit about that and how you chose this title and your duties and how you see it evolving over time?

Tom Andriola: Yeah, so I think it is a couple of things. First of all, I had a chance in my system wide role to get to know the chancellor and the provost in different settings, in jobs that they were in before they were in their current roles. And so I had some rapport with them. And actually, the conversation with UCI started as a phone call to me that basically said, "We're just feeling as like we're missing the strategic opportunity of technologies when you think about the future of this institution."

And what I ended up organizing was a set of advisors to come in. It was a little program that I built to provide advisory services to our campuses and net centers, a couple of UC CIOs and a couple of external CIOs. We come in, we drop in for a week, and then we have a conversation with leadership. Much cheaper than hiring one of the consulting firms to come in and do that, and much more from a real perspective. When you bring CIOs to come in and assess what's the state of your organization, you're talking to people who live it every day and understand the complexity of shared governance and all that stuff.

So I got to know them, and that's how the conversation started, and that led to a further conversation of so how do we get to think about positioning technology as a strategic lever for what the institution is going to evolve into next? And that included the health system.

And then they actually brought the idea to me of it's like, "We're thinking about this kind of CIO that goes across both the health system and the campus. What do you think, Tom?" And I smiled and I'm like, "Well," I said, "you've put me in a hard situation here, because the CIOs that you have sitting in place are there and are going to tell you this is a horrible idea. It will never work." Because they are two very different industries, very different cadences. And I said, "There's only really one person in the country I know who has that role, Jack, that you probably know her, Stephanie Real." I had a vision for the role. I had this really intimate knowledge of what the campus was struggling with, what the health system was struggling with, what this new thing called the College of Health Sciences that sits in between was needing to grow up into. I was able to come in and tailor, "Here's how I would do it."

Now, the data part was something that I believe is part of the integrative CIO's future, which is technology generates data. Data is what we use for better decision making. If you have a student success program on a campus, it's not your student information system that's making decisions. It's the data you're typically pulling out of your SIS and combining it with your LMS and other pieces of information and how you're then turning it into information that you're delivering to advisors and departments. So it's the data that's valuable, right?

So I really wanted to get across the point that data is really where the impact of value is coming from. We can always change out the technology. We can flip from Oracle to Ellucian or from Ellucian to Oracle or from Blackboard to Canvas and Canvas to Blackboard, whatever is good for the moment. But the data's really what we want. The data is what we spend a lot of time trying to make sure it's in a form that we can actually make good decisions out of, make faster decisions out of.

So that's what I wanted to get across in the role, was less about technology and more about data. I spend a lot of time really thinking about aggregating and curating our data assets and doing not only good things with them, but novel things with them. And it was a way to give me a space that wasn't necessarily within their direct purview so they don't feel like I'm impeding upon them in any way.

Cynthia Golden: Tom, what is something that you've been able to do at the UC in this role of chief data officer that might not have been possible if you weren't in this role?

Tom Andriola: Yeah. Two years into it, there was no playbook. The thing that I've been able to accomplish so far is I've launched this program called the collaboratories at UCI, and really it's our strategy for how we use data by building intelligence into our data assets and putting them to work. And it allows us to tackle the boldest research questions. It allows us to make the best decisions to run our organization and drive to the best outcomes, like student successes is the first example we did. And it's also using those same data assets to work with external partners to create the future, looking through a lens of public good and social equity, or more health justice in the way that patients are treated, and undoing some of what we've seen during the pandemic where the disparities in healthcare have hit us directly in the face.

What we all in higher ed still struggle with, which is how to balance the different types of student populations that come to us and provide the best opportunities for social mobility. So the collaborators at UCI have really been our strategy for that, and it's something I've been able to own at my level and has been applicable to the health enterprise, the student success initiative. And my role in that is to say, "I think we can use the data in a way that's really different and novel and in a way that impacts us, but also can impact everyone else out there the way that a public institution should." So that's been the big one.

There's a lot of other things that always come up. I help with the cyber topic, right. I help with really thinking about different ways to maintain and fund our infrastructure differently. I mean, our infrastructures have become so critical through what the pandemic has forced us to adapt to and now reinforce and pivot more permanently into. So I do, but I'm Robin on this conversation. When it comes to how do we use our data intelligently and in a way that makes us different, that's the space that I [inaudible 00:19:12].

Jack Seuss: Tom, who are the senior leaders that you are finding you are best able to play Robin for? And who are the leaders in the organization that you've needed to be Batman and help them be a better Robin?

Tom Andriola: Yeah. With the CIOs, I would say the place where I've been Batman is on this whole data, on the data topic, about don't think of data as just a byproduct of what you've implemented and what you're supporting, because from a leadership perspective, data is what's going to make us an amazing organization, whether it's a health delivery organization or a public university. So I think that's a place where I played Batman within our own community.

It might be if I'm in the health system executive team, it might be a partnership with the COO for what does digital health mean to us and how are we going to start to deliver more virtual care, more remote patient monitoring? Again, I don't own patient delivery, but I bring a lot of expertise from my background and relationships for how are we going to be the first one to really roll out a hospital at home program in our region, the first to deploy a mobile urgent care with branded vans in our region, seeing patients in their home? And guess what? There's about 30% overlap between those two innovations around delivery care, right?

It might be with, this is one that we're a little behind on, but with our vice chancellor for student affairs on the concept of a one-card program. Not just as simplified services for students, but I'm thinking of all of the data flows off of that that are not included today in how we're thinking about our student success initiative and connecting student affairs in with enrollment management and our dean of undergraduate education. And our dean of the education school looks at it as a research topic, building them into a coalition of the willing, this data asset, right? It's like a lot of them only see the single use. My Batman role becomes, and that's why I had to come up with a pithy name like the collaboratory, is, "Hey, this collaboratory serves your researching, your student success, and your student experience need."

It's all one, not just a pot of data. It's not just a data warehouse. It's a curated set of intelligent data that we're putting to use, and we're going to put it on supersonic speed. And we're going to get known for having great scores from our students with respect to their experience and their time here. And oh, by the way, we're not going to lose sight of them after they leave here. We're going to build a relationship for life. It's that integrative view, like you all are talking about at EDUCAUSE, is that the CIO can see everything if they choose to, because they look through a lens of technology is now being used everywhere.

Cynthia Golden: Well, I think that's true. And I think that one of the skills that speaks to for CIOs is to be able to be collaborative and lead collaboratories like the one that you're talking about. Makes you think a little bit about CIOs and about career paths. And most people go from working at an institution to working in a system, and you've done the system part first, and then you're now at an institution. Are there any benefits that you might think of to starting first at the system and then coming to an institution?

Tom Andriola: Well, that's a really interesting question, because here's what I learned coming in. The reason that it usually follows that path is because the system office tends to be the last position before you retire. It usually pads the pension plan in one way, shape, or form. And I guess I understand that. I didn't understand higher education well enough to know that was the game, so I was like, "Oh, crap. I started at the wrong end. What do I do now? I have all this runway left." So I didn't understand. So that was the lucky part that I was able to do this pivot.

But when I was at Phillips, Phillips had an approach towards talent development. They used to call it the two by two by two matrix, which is they wanted you to be in their top leadership cohort, the one that got the most investment from standpoint of opportunities to develop your skills, they wanted you to have experiences in two different businesses, two different functions, and in two different regions. And they literally thought about where you would move next based on that, because the mentality was that only someone who had that much diversity in their understanding of the way business worked, understanding the way the world worked, and the way markets work, and then could build a set of successful experiences, could really lead something on a billion dollar level. So that was your grooming. Let's call it succession training. And so I was steeped in that model.

And so when I was at the system level and saw this amazing system that we have at University of California, realizing that when you looked at the entire system, we had 8,500 IT professionals, but I heard the same argument from the CIOs every day, which was, "I can't attract talent. I can't keep talent. We're losing the talent war because of X, Y, and Z in higher education." Actually, healthcare says the same thing.

And so I just got outside the box a little bit drawing on some of those playbooks, and we started what is now today known as the UC IT Leadership Academy. I personally don't think it's a very novel idea, though people tell me they think it's novel. I went to the best business school in our system, which happens to be Haas in Berkeley. I asked them to build a leadership development program for technology professionals that we could actually identify people and get them through.

And I thought that there were a couple of real benefits to that. One is this concept of growing our own talent for succession planning. The second is what I have seen and I think CIOs everywhere, not just our industry, is we're underpinning so many conversations across our enterprises now that we cannot be in every one of them. There's not enough hours in the day. And so you need your next level to be able to go and join that conversation in your absence and run it and influence it in the way that you would. You have to build that competency in them, and it doesn't happen really. It happens a little bit in the day-to-day, but they need that leadership development, those influencing skills, those soft skills.

So we use the academy to identify those people and get these CIO minus one levels to have the skills that we want CIOs to have. That's been great, because I think it's expanded our pool of people to go help drive change in the organization. We also have several, and I'm losing count now. I want to say we're at four or five of people who've been through that academy who are now sitting CIOs. So the succession plan aspect of that worked, and this is from an institution that told me, "We don't do succession plan. That's not something we do. That's a corporate thing." Well, isn't it really nice that we have all these ready people who have stepped into CIO roles. And I even count them if they've gone to another institution and taken a CIO role. Because you know what? I'm pro growth. I like to see people grow and succeed, because none of us are at the end of our journey.

I mean, so that's how we've approached it is really think about giving people different experience. For myself personally, I started at the system office, but that doesn't mean that that's where my UC career was going to end, nor do I think the role I have now necessarily needs to be the end of my career. I mean, being asked to co-lead an institute on campus right now, because it has a huge data component. Who am I to be a co-director of an institute, right? I don't have the traditional credentials. But I'm adding value into the situation, and so they want my leadership engaged in it. And so I'm like, okay, maybe this is a new ledge somewhere down the road. Not yet. It might be five years from now, maybe 10 years from now, but this might be a new ledge for me, running an institute or something institute like. So it's about adding value into situations and then seeing where the road takes you next.

Jack Seuss: So, Tom, I just have to say, though, I love the idea of universities building their own training. It just seems like it's something that we should be able to do. I'm going to ask you about integrative CIO. Whether you're a CIO or not, you're an integrated leader. How do you think about that term? And what is any advice that you would give people listening to the podcast who want to be that type of leader?

Tom Andriola: It's a great question. First of all, I love the term. I love the positioning. And to a certain extent, though, silos, they're necessary, because we have to organize things in certain ways, helps people put boundaries around things to help them execute. But the integrative CIO is horizontal. It looks across all of these things. It sees connections that most people can't because they're looking at the whole playing field.

One of my network contacts in the private sector said to me probably two years ago, "A good CIO, if they want to be, can be the second most influential voice in the organization after the CEO, because it's the only role that gives you the combination of being able to see the entire field and being at the point of being able to drive change." But the person has to want to do that, has to have the skills, right? It's not a [inaudible 00:29:50] of complete.

And so I think the integrative CIO is very much that, which is now that more and more we have a seat at the right tables, and I say tables, because I don't think it's one. I think it's I have a chancellor's cabinet I go to. I've got provost cabinet I go to, the health system. And so it's being able to know what everyone's talking about and be able to say, "Well, we're talking about this from a research perspective, also. It's not just patient care delivery. It's a research perspective." So it's being able to see across the whole field, and then bringing that perspective into individual solution. Right? So I think integrative CIOs know how to set themselves to be good Robins, because you don't want to upstage the provost on something or the vice chancellor of student affairs or the office of inclusive excellence. You want to be their partner, but sometimes you want them to be your partner on things, too.

And so I think positioning yourself, and that takes time and energy and talent. That's why I think the integrative CIO needs to have a really strong operational, either single operational leader or set of operational leaders who are keeping the trains running on time and keeping that as a small percentage of their agenda, because that kind of navigation of the organizational components of politics is a huge consumption of time. So I think that's what the integrative CIO is doing. I think the impact is certainly felt. I mean, when I look at the leaders in our industry and I look at the impact that they're having and the things that their names get associated with, it's the important stuff. It's the important stuff. And again, not everyone wants that job, but I think more and more of the people in our community who are investing into development see the opportunity for that and are trying to position themselves to get there.

Cynthia Golden: The UC has been one of the more progressive systems I think in advancing DEI across faculty and staff and students. And we were just wondering, how do you help your chancellor and your leadership team use technology and data to advance DEI on campus?

Tom Andriola: Yeah. First, thank you for the question. No discussion today, no interview cycle today is complete without really getting into this topic. And I really do appreciate the question. And you may or may not know. I'm very active on the topic, because, and I'll talk a little bit about why I am and why I think it's very important. Here at UCI, I have an incredible partnership with our vice chancellor of inclusive excellence. It is both Batman and Robin. It's both ways. When he launched his initiative with three pillars, he came to me and asked me to be a sponsor and a spokesperson for one of his pillars, which he called that one happened to be thriving. So ensuring everyone has the opportunities to maximize their potential. And so I said yes immediately, because I wanted to be a very good partner to him and show him and show the entire camps community that I was all in on this.

At the same time, he's my Robin on what we call the UCI, the inclusive excellence portfolio within the UCI technology, and it's a portfolio, because we have a range of activities that are going on. Everything from a women in IT chapter, a cultural work group, really talking about cultural values, implicit bias training that goes everything from the way we recruit, interview, hire, and onboard people coming into the organization. Something that he launched under his program that we've created a Vanguard approach, which is called the climate council, which is bringing together a group of people who really talk about the climate that we're creating and whether we're positioning and creating an environment where people can excel. A gender recognized name. You may have seen recently, and EDUCAUSE is helping us get out the word around an inclusive language guide that we developed within the IT community, just to make greater awareness of the language that people use that can, one, be offensive to people, but also create an environment people feel safe and understood and able to express themselves.

Well, there, he is full Robin to me, as I try to get ourselves organized, create the right type of conversations. He's taught me to be a sponsor of this conversation, you need to meet people where they're at is what he's taught me, and that you need to create an environment where people feel safe to step in and learn something new and maybe behave differently tomorrow, and I learned from him.

So it's been a great journey for me. When I was the office of the president, the person who taught me the most about this topic, because I have to say, in corporate America, we just didn't have the same level of focus and conversation around this. But I had an executive assistant who was the community activist in the African American community in Oakland. She was my assistant, and she used to just put this topic in my face and saying, "With your leadership position, you need to be more engaged. You need to be more visible. You need to be more vocal, Tom." And she stayed after me and she held me accountable, and I think that was great because it's allowed me to play the role that I play now because she didn't let me off easy. And I think sometimes we try to find ways to [inaudible 00:35:44] off easy on this topic.

And especially when you're my demographic. I mean, think about it. I'm the demographic that's the problem. I tell people that all the time. So I know where the start of the problem is. I'm the problem. I'm white. I'm male. I'm middle aged, and I'm in a position of power. So I'm the problem. I get it. Now let's start.

Jack Seuss: That's just great advice, and I've really enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you so much for coming.

Cynthia Golden: Yes. Thanks so much.

Tom Andriola: Thank you for having me. Big fan of EDUCAUSE. I love that you all are putting this podcast together. I love the topic of integrated CIO. Looking forward to your other guests.


This episode features:

Tom Andriola
Vice Chancellor of Information, Technology and Data and Chief Digital Officer
University of California, Irvine

Cynthia Golden
Associate Provost
Executive Director of the University Center for Teaching and Learning
University of Pittsburgh

Jack Suess
Vice President of IT & CIO
University of Maryland, Baltimore County