Good Read: “The CIO Paradox”

As any Chief Information Officer can attest to, establishing and sustaining productive working relationships within the context of our organizations involves confronting a series of contradictions that seem to persist even as circumstances change over time.    And the process never ends.  Welcome to the “CIO Paradox”.

I just finished my “advance reading copy” of “The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership” by Martha Heller.   The book is one of the few I’ve read that actually goes beyond a really well articulated description of the shared experiences of CIOs.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s some therapeutic value in that.  No doubt about it.  But I don’t have the time to just affirm my experience.  I get it.  I’m not alone.  Well said.  Let’s move on.  Often after listening to or reading about the many challenges commonly faced by CIOs I’m left with the same lingering question:  OK, therefore what?  Thankfully, Martha Heller’s “The CIO Paradox” does an artful job of articulating the essence of the inherent contradictions associated with IT leadership and (therefore) what to do about it.

The book frames the CIO Paradox in a clear and concise way:

Viewing the CIO role through this paradoxical lens really gets to the core of what frustrates many of us most about the job, but Heller does more than just remind us of our frustrations.  She uses them to focus our attention on what we can do to cultivate our full potential, and the organizations we help lead, given what most of us truly have to offer.

One of the overriding themes from the book is how relationships and perceptions permeate everything we do as CIOs.   At the core of any productive working relationship is a shared understanding of the answer to three fundamental questions:  What’s my role in this?  What’s your role in this?  What’s our joint role in this?  The answer to these questions for CIOs and our counterparts varies depending on what “this” refers to specifically and the lens through which others view us; the inter-personal, structural, political and symbolic context of our organizations.  I thought the book did a remarkable job of capturing the nuanced relationships between situations, roles and context with the anecdotes and guidance that are provided for each paradox.

The final chapter of the book, “Breaking the Paradox”, concludes with a checklist.  If I were to add anything, it would be a few challenging questions that could be used to determine what from the checklist really matters when answering; “What’s Next for the CIO?”:

Most of the book stimulates this kind of thinking throughout.  For example, there is extensive use of CIO quotes from conversations, mini case studies that are used to illustrate the practical application of suggested approaches and some self-assessments (some of which were developed by CIOs).  In each case, what the author shared was helpful and did not come off as shameless self-promotion.  Much of the book can be thought of as lessons learned from one CIO to another.

Other astute observations and insightful advice could only come from the unique perspective of the author as an executive recruiter, columnist, and organizer of peer networks for CIOs.  And some of the analogies and humor interjected throughout the book could only come from a (fellow) parent of teenage children.  Heller’s writing style felt more like the friendly counsel from a trusted advisor than sterilized frameworks from a detached analyst.  That refreshing combination was enough to make reading “The CIO Paradox” for me both enjoyable and informative.  I recommend it for any current and aspiring CIO.  Someone looking to hire and/or retain a good CIO would be well served to read it as well.  I can also see how the book can serve as the basis for some interesting discussion among peer networks.  In fact, it occurred to me that reading a similarly well written CEO Paradox, COO Paradox, CMO Paradox and CFO Paradox would also be worthwhile.  It would be helpful to understand these paradoxes as well.  Are there any sequels on the horizon?


Chooser Support

Individuals are making their own educational technology choices.  What they select is based on a combination of how they want to do things, where they decide to do them, what they prefer to use and the amount of money (if any) they are willing to spend in order to address a need as they perceive it.  They are choosers, not just users, of educational technology.  And the number of choices can be overwhelming.

For example, the Tennessee Board of Regents’ “TBR eLearning Initiative” provides a resource to help people find and evaluate mobile apps for use in teaching, learning, workforce and professional development.  There are more than 40,000 educational apps to choose from.  This doesn’t even include the number of mobile devices to choose from that are used in conjunction with the apps.

There have been some very useful blog posts and other reading on the “consumerization of IT” published in recent years.  Most focus on issues related to the consumer oriented adoption of technology within organizations that get characterized as “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) and “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT).  But there are some others that take an expanded view of the issue in terms of how value can still be added despite the diluted influence of imposed enterprise-wide standards and conditional end-user support policies.  The following EDUCAUSE Review article, blog posting (and both embedded videos) are good examples and well worth taking the time to go through:

  • EDUCAUSE Review article “From Users to Choosers” authored by Ronald Yanosky.  His writing examines “central IT and the challenge of consumer choice” and gives thoughtful suggestions on what could be done to encourage individuals to choose “certified resources” that help them make prudent decisions based on  considerations that go beyond features, functionality and cost.  The article is very informative, well written and provides useful ways to frame the issues.
  •  “Unlocking the Value of Choice in IT Decision Making” posted on The Higher Ed CIO blog.  The author, Jerry Bishop, raises some very insightful and leading questions with respect to the more general topic of choice and its implications for IT organizations.  He also shares two very interesting TED Talks by Sheena Iyengar based on results from research she has done; “The Art of Choosing” and “How to Make Choosing Easier”.

All of this taken together suggest that value can be added to the process of individual choice by introducing a “curator” and “certifier” function in between choosers and suppliers of educational technologies.

Value Added to Choice by Curators and Certifiers

Value Added to Choice by Curators and Certifiers

The combined value added by the “curator” and “certifier” functions could be used to generate recommendations that consist of the following:

  • Research and evaluation conducted by a review team that determines what qualifies as “educational technology” and the criteria for published recommendations (e.g. ADA standards etc.)
  • A high level taxonomy used to categorize educational technologies for browsing organized groupings of similar technologies[1]
  • A defined list of attributes used to “tag” recommendations for searching by characteristics such as sub-categories, typical uses, compatibility with other technologies, the level of support available, technology provider, and cost
  • Certified resources based on verified conformance with applicable interoperability standards, information security requirements and other risk management best practices

Providing a simple way for individuals to choose from a pool of certified resources can help improve the selection process based on the qualified recommendations of expert advisors and trusted colleagues.   However, there is a cost.  In order to implement this particular kind of support, organizations will need to determine (collectively or individually) how to enlist members of a review team and what methods and means will be employed to provide recommendations.  This takes time to plan and coordinate, it may involve expenditures, and participation takes time away from other important work.  But “chooser support” is more than an added convenience.  To quote Ronald Yanosky, it’s a way to “[…] assess vendor claims and sort out the institutional implications of what might be a confusing tangle of competing products and standards.  Influence of this kind could substantially reduce institutional exposure and improve the consumer computing experience for everyone.”

Practical solutions will emerge to address this unmet need that will go beyond app stores and educational marketplaces and will resemble simplified variations of Merlot and the TBR eLearning Initiative.  Even these valuable resources (and others) have expanded to the point where each can be cumbersome to navigate and making choices can be complicated.  This presents an interesting opportunity for a somewhat different approach.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) present a similar situation in many ways.  But that’s a posting for another time.

[1] A categorization system such as the Dewey Decimal System is not yet available for this purpose

Provision Alone ≠ Value

Information, technology and related support services employed by most higher education institutions are provisioned in a variety of ways.  Resources from centralized, decentralized, outsourced and self-provisioned sources are all used in combination.  They also overlap and change in relative proportion over time.  The diagram below illustrates one way to view these relationships:

The reality is that adopting a centralized, decentralized, outsourced and self-provisioned approach is rarely an all or nothing decision in the larger scheme of things.  But perennial debates about the comparative merits of each persist as if it were.  The options continue to often be framed as polarizing choices rather than optimal parts of a blended solution.

Value is not simply generated from how information, technology and related services are provisioned.  That’s why the provisional context at most institutions is not comparable to a utility like electricity or water.  There is far more to it than that.  One perspective on this was provided by President of California State University Northridge, Jolene Koester, in the EDUCAUSEreview May/June 2011  article she authored titled “Information Technology and Tomorrow’s University: A President’s Confessions and Advice”:

“For some time in my presidential role, I was comforted by the comparison of information technology to a utility.  Many of my colleagues in higher education told me that I simply needed to ensure that information technology, like electricity and water, was reliably available and functional for our faculty, staff, and students.  This seemed quite possible to achieve.  However, over the past several years, it has become clear to me that the role of information technology in my university is far more strategic, far more ubiquitous, far more integrated into multiple business practices, and far more integral to the core university functions of teaching and learning.  I no longer regard as valid the comparison of information technology to a utility.  And thus, disquiet occurs.”

President Koester’s disquieting reflections characterize the role of information, technology and related services as something that warrants “far more” consideration than an essential provision like a utility.

Ronald Yanosky expressed a similar perspective to President Koeser’s in his article titled “From Users to Choosers: Central IT and the Challenge of Consumer Choice” published in the November/December 2010 issue of EDUCAUSEreview:

“Though the utility metaphor may apply to some aspects of computing, it is a poor fit with others; computing involves processes and information regimes that cannot be reduced to the simplicity and fungibility of, say, electrical power.”

Apparently, the “Nine Core IS Capabilities” framework David F Freeny and Leslie P Willcocks developed from their research, which appeared in their “Core IS Capabilities for Exploiting Information Technology” article published in the Spring 1998 Sloan Management, still has relevance.  There is an overlapping dependence on an enduring core set of core functions and collective expertise that are vitally important to the organization – particularly as patterns of provisional context evolve.  An updated and modified version of the Freeny and Wilcocks framework might look something like this now, illustrating how core capabilities and competencies of the organization overlay the method of provision:

The following descriptions of the seven core capabilities shown within the provisional context above are derived in large part from the pioneering work of Freeny and Wilcocks as well:

  1. Consultative Support – The contribution of knowledge and expertise used to guide strategic uses of information, innovative applications of technology, development of organizational capability and evaluation of product and service providers.  (This value is added within a centralized, decentralized and outsourced provisional context).
  2. Information Resource Management – The application of agreed upon standards and obligatory controls for; the efficient capture, creation, use, transmission, retrieval, conversion, protection, and retention of shared information.  (This value is added within a centralized, decentralized and outsourced provisional context).
  3. System Design – The specification of an adaptive enterprise-wide technology infrastructure based on functional capability to support optimal performance as an integrated whole now and in the future.  (This value is added within a centralized, decentralized and outsourced provisional context).
  4. Making Technology Work – The resolution of problems disowned by product and service providers and the modification of prescribed solutions that for some reason are not fully adequate.  (This value is added within a centralized and decentralized provisional context).
  5. Supplier Management – The administration of contractual agreements to most efficiently satisfy demand, prevent cost overruns, ensure mutual compliance, and maximize the value of the relationship.  (This value is added within a centralized and outsourced provisional context).
  6. Service Management – The assimilation of selective best practices for; improving processes, developing software, providing customized training, delivering ongoing end-user support, ensuring adequate system performance, and coordinating changes.  (This value is added within a centralized and outsourced provisional context).
  7. Chooser Support – The promotion of compatible choices based on open standards and the personal responsibilities associated with the independent procurement and use of computational devices, software and online services that are not provisioned by the institution.  (This value is added within a self-provisioned context).

The seven core capabilities and competencies add value to the provision, regardless of the source, and they continue to distinguish the management of information and technology services as something far more strategic, ubiquitous, integrated and integral than an essential utility like water or electricity.

So what should the institution stop doing given the continual shifting of provisional context and the constant need to generate value from information and technology resources?  What should the institution start doing?  What should the institution continue doing?  What should be done differently?


Technology enhanced learning environments aren’t ubiquitous yet.  Not in a literal sense anyway.  However, pervasive access to networked information within overlapping spheres of educational context from a diverse range of human-computer interaction is creating a habitat for more ubiquitous learning environments.  That’s at least one conclusion that could be drawn from the 2011 Horizon Report.

The annual Horizon Report is collaboration between the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) and the New Media Consortium.  Each year, the Horizon Report is published based on research used to identify and describe six emerging technologies with considerable potential to both enter mainstream use and have a significant impact on higher education within one to five years.  The full report can be downloaded from here.

The following key trends, critical challenges and technologies to watch are taken directly from the executive summary:

Key Trends

  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.
  • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want.
  •  The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured.
  •  The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.

Critical Challenges

  • Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.
  •  Appropriate metrics of evaluation lag behind the emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching.
  •  Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university.
  • Keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools, and devices is challenging for students and teachers alike.

Technologies to Watch

Electronic books continue to generate strong interest in the consumer sector and are increasingly available on campuses as well.  Modern electronic readers support note-taking and research activities, and are beginning to augment these basic functions with new capabilities — from immersive experiences to support for social interaction — that are changing our perception of what it means to read.

Mobiles enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity, and much more.  Mobile devices continue to evolve, but it is the increased access to affordable and reliable networks that is driving this technology now.  Mobiles are capable computing devices in their own right — and they are increasingly a user’s first choice for Internet access.

Augmented reality refers to the layering of information over a view or representation of the normal world, offering users the ability to access place-based information in ways that are compellingly intuitive.  Augmented reality brings a significant potential to supplement information delivered via computers, mobile devices, video, and even the printed book.  Much simpler to create and use now than in the past, augmented reality feels at once fresh and new, yet an easy extension of existing expectations and practices.

Game-based learning has grown in recent years as research continues to demonstrate its effectiveness for learning for students of all ages.  Games for education span the range from single-player or small-group card and board games all the way to massively multiplayer online games and alternate reality games.  Those at the first end of the spectrum are easy to integrate with coursework, and in many institutions they are already an option; but the greatest potential of games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration, problem-solving, and procedural thinking.  

Gesture-based computing moves the control of computers from a mouse and keyboard to the motions of the body via new input devices.  Depicted in science fiction movies for years, gesture-based computing is now more grounded in reality thanks to the recent arrival of interface technologies such as Kinect, SixthSense, and Tamper, which make interactions with computational devices far more intuitive and embodied.

Learning analytics loosely joins a variety of data-gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance, and progress in practice, with the goal of using what is learned to revise curricula, teaching, and assessment in real time.  Building on the kinds of information generated by Google Analytics and other similar tools, learning analytics aims to mobilize the power of data-mining tools in the service of learning, and embracing the complexity, diversity, and abundance of information that dynamic learning environments can generate.

I read the 2011 Horizon Report while on vacation at a Disney resort in Florida.  It provided an appropriate backdrop in many ways.  The Disney theme parks employ a variety of computational devices and information systems simultaneously in order to provide distinct entertainment venues.  Sometimes patrons may not necessarily even be aware that they are doing so.  At other times the interaction with the technology is the entertainment.  Some of the experiences offered by Disney are also meant to both educate and entertain (a.k.a. “edutainment”). 

There’s another interesting concept referred to as “u-Learning” or ubiquitous learning.  But what does a u-Learning environment consist of?  How does it differ from “edutainment”? 

The College of Education  Ubiquitous Learning Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one organization that is focused on exploring the concept of u-Learning.  Dr. Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University, gave a presentation titled “The Evolution of Ubiquitous Learning: Semi-Smart Objects, Intelligent Contexts, and Cyberinfrastructure” at the Ubiquitous Learning Institute launch on April 7, 2010 which provides some interesting insights and visionary possibilities.  A 48 minute video of Dr. Dede’s presentation can be viewed here.   

But we’re still left with the question posed by Dr. Dede, “What would an expert model of ubiquitous learning look like if we saw one?”