Technical Horizons in Education

By Becky Vasquez, CIO, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Becky Vasquez, CIO, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

The Expectations from Technology Providers

In general, affordability of enterprise solutions is a consideration. Many institutions face fixed or reduced budgets year over year. As leaders, we have to determine where our investments will make the most difference for our students. Uncomplicated licensing with fair models for enterprise wide licensing are attractive. I look forward to an enterprise wide customer relationship management system or CRM. Historically, we’ve viewed CRM as a prospecting system and leveraged primarily for our enrollment cycles. Today, we understand the transformational impact a CRM can have when implemented across the life cycle, including student retention, alumni and partnerships. Having a better understanding analytically and systematically as to what drives student success will be a major step forward.   

Technology touches almost every process and interaction we have

Additionally, having system footprint and protocol standards in place are helpful but don’t necessarily provide all the keys to success. Our success in this area can be contributed to having the right talent in place; staff with deep technical skills who understand our systems and how to best integrate them.

Technological Advancements: Pain Points and Potential Benefits  

Some of our enterprise systems are extraordinarily robust when it comes to the back end but not necessarily from an interface perspective which affects adoption and full use of features. These same systems also prove difficult and time consuming when it comes to timely upgrades. In fact, many upgrades turn out to be equivalent to new implementations which is huge resource drain and detracts from innovation. While it doesn’t keep me up at night, this certainly weighs on me.  

Besides, there are many technology trends that are having significant impact on enterprises. However, I believe big data will have the biggest impact. If we view this from the business intelligence aspect, the potential to be strategic and stronger operationally based on both data and instinct is a powerful proposition. In addition, analytics, including predictive and modeling, offered to the university in a visually compelling way have potential to set us up for success well into the future. 

Our learning management system (LMS) powered by Canvas from Instructure is a software that touches the heart of what we do; teaching and learning. Canvas is equivalent to a great background singer. Faculty can focus on doing what they do best and students can readily participate without technology getting in the way. The intuitive interface and ease of integrations have easily allowed the LMS to be one of the top tools that support our success.

IT’s New Act 

A decade ago, IT was perceived as the department who identified and informed the institution on our technical direction. Today, we are focused on partnering with all areas throughout the university and collaborating on our strategic direction. While we still drive certain core or backend technologies, digital leadership exists throughout our university and by partnering together, we’re able to identify a roadmap that is closely aligned and driven by academic and administrative strategies. Technology touches almost every process and interaction we have. My role is to market, communicate, collaborate, and stay visionary in regards to how technology and our team can support and enhance the institution. Many times this is an advisory or consulting role versus a ‘we’ll do it ourselves and tell you how to do your business’ role.    

Our technology strategic planning process is a good example of how we are driving the transformation of IT. The cycle starts by having conversations with and gaining feedback from all academic and administrative units. Then, IT reviews and adds additional initiatives to support our direction. These are then vetted by cabinet for buy in or deferment, which many times include funding. By implementing this as a collaborative process, we have taken IT out of being perceived as the ‘no’ department. 

The Role of a CIO or CISO  

This is extraordinarily significant. The criticality of cyber security awareness and programs are only going to rise continually. Having a specified CSO area outside of the CIO’s office is an organizational consideration and would depend on factors such as size, scope and support of the program as well as the ability to align tightly with the IT organization.

Realizing Your Passion 

Know what you’re passionate about and what drives you and then keep it front and center. Many days as a CIO are exhilarating and very rewarding, while other days can be taxing. I’m passionate about making a difference. That’s it. I just want to make a difference. Keeping this in mind helps me stay focused and even on tough days when it feels like I’m the Complaint Information Officer or things aren’t going as we planned. My passion to do the right thing and make a difference keeps me centered.



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