Working through Change (from the September webinar)

Q. How can project leadership assist during the organization transformation?

A. We will need the thought leadership and discipline of project managers to understand how to work within units, and how to track tasks and milestones. On a broader scale, everyone can find ways to be part of the process by providing feedback and asking questions. It is important for us to hear the questions so we can be sure the changes we implement are good for Penn State.

Q. What changes can we expect to see with Reimagining IT?

A. After we delivered the plan to the executive leadership of the University, we met with the deans, chancellors, and the academic leadership as well as with President’s Council. Between now and Thanksgiving, we are going to have conversations with deans and their senior leadership teams to talk about the plan, and hear their questions and the opportunities presented by reimagining IT. At the IT all-staff meeting on Oct. 3, we will preview the plan, provide some detail around where we are going and give our IT professionals insight into what impact it will have on them. On Oct. 10, we are hosting a Reimagining IT Summit for top leadership of the University to share questions and feedback, and help to advise us on steps moving forward. We will be piloting the plan with six units starting in January in a people, process and technology approach. There is a lot of opportunity for us to do amazing things for the University.

Q. Where will people go to get information and stay updated on what is happening?

A. The reimagining IT website,, will go live at the all-staff meeting, so information will be there. We also want to ensure the management of the organization is communicating what it hears from my office to staff and also passing information from staff up to my office. We recognize that we cannot communicate enough with the University community as we move through this change.

Q. For those less involved in enterprise projects, how do we contribute and prepare for this?

A. Continue to do what you’re doing. Nothing is going to change until you hear directly that something is going to impact you directly. Look for new opportunities even as you think about Reimagining IT from your perspective: How would you reimagine IT? What would you address that you see as pain points? We all have a voice in this and have the opportunity to communicate where these opportunities are and to be able to maximize the impact IT has on the community of Penn State.

Connecting with our Purpose (from the August webinar)

Q. How can we become more relevant to the student and faculty experience?

A. About 7 percent of IT personnel and financial resources support the teaching mission and less than 1 percent of our IT personnel and budgets support the research mission. Moving those figures to more appropriate numbers is the most practical way for us to become more relevant to our faculty and students.

Q. Where do you envision those figures being as we move forward?

A. They will vary over time. It is not something where we are able to flip a switch and all of a sudden we can position more resources to support the teaching and research missions. I would envision those numbers at closer to 20 percent as a goal. This is something we can measure and demonstrate how we support the University community.

Q. What steps are being taken to help faculty realize we are professionals and not just people in the basement keeping the network alive?

A. Building relationships is how best to enable that process to happen. One of my primary responsibilities as a vice president is to be the champion for IT among executive leadership, to help them understand how IT can be leveraged in ways that are more strategic and differentiating for the University. Building relationships with faculty, managing IT in a professional manner and telling those stories in support of teaching and learning that differentiate us as an institution are critical.

Q. Do we utilize focus groups of faculty and students to solicit what innovations are most needed or desired to facilitate their goals?

A. In the process of developing the plan for reimagining IT, we spent six months engaging with the University community through a series of focus groups. We envision this as being the future of the IT relationship with the University community. We will be introducing a new governance strategy, and relationships will be a critical part of that. All major service pillars within IT will have an advisory committee of faculty, staff and students who represent consumers of that service. We intend to make our relationships a more strategic part of how IT delivers value to the University.

Q. What do you consider the most challenging issues for IT transformation?

A. This is a big institution with a lot of complex change. Ensuring that we are moving at an appropriate pace, applying good sound rationale for why we are making changes, and engaging with the University community so there is a continuous feedback loop on the effectiveness of changes are some of the steps we can engage in to ensure we are moving the University through a fairly substantial change in the way that is the least disruptive as possible.

Q. How can we better engage with and listen to students and faculty?

A. It’s about building relationships with students and faculty. Get out from behind your computer and go and meet with faculty. Be very intentional. The Teaching and Learning with Technology staff goes out in the HUB and talks to students, asking them questions about how technology can better serve their needs. It Is affirming to get a sense of the impact IT has on the lives of students, faculty and staff.

Q. How can we provide advancement opportunities for IT professionals?

A. It is part of the reimagining IT plan to review the IT job families. My understanding is most of the job families have not been reviewed since 2004. Do we have opportunities in the job families for people to move into the managerial track or the technical track? Can we recognize individuals who are the thought leaders but not interested in managing people? Understanding the professional goals of our staff is something I am encouraging our managers to think more about. Professional development of their staff is one of their primary responsibilities.

Q. How can we best serve the administrative staff of the University?

A. Not to diminish the roles of administrative staff in supporting the business of the institution, but it is important to understand staff are here to support the work of faculty and students. It Is critically important to recognize the balance in that relationship. As we look at the investments in teaching and learning, research, and the administration of the University, we want to have balanced investments across those portfolios.

Q. Have we considered being guest speakers in courses related to our individual skills and fields?

A. I know a number of IT professionals who are part-time faculty or have an opportunity to go in and share their perspectives in courses. I am not familiar with the processes, but those practices are in use widely. I would imagine your dean or chancellor or a faculty member you know could advise you on what those opportunities look like. It is a great way for us to give back to the student community.

Innovation: Whose Job Is It Anyway? (from the July 2018 webinar):

Q. Do you envision a time when Penn State IT could implement what Google does, allowing their employees to spend 20 percent of their time on innovation?

A. Many of you have heard me say that we are overinvesting in commodity technologies, and in many ways we are robbing our capacity as an institution to focus on the new and the things that are innovative. I can envision a day where we really do focus on innovation, when it becomes a core part of how we differentiate Penn State IT from other institutions. What that looks like and how and when that happens, I can’t answer at this point.

Q. What are your plans to minimize bureaucratic hurdles that strangle innovation?

A. Having a bureaucracy that gets in the way and having processes that are not about moving quickly and create a problem in the organization are critically important to address. A part of understanding change is knowing our faculty and students and where they sit in the change adoption curve, finding the innovators who are willing to get messy and willing to make mistakes and willing to see things maybe not deployed in the way we originally envisioned.

Q.How do we create an environment that is about continuous learning?

All of those things are critically important for us to be able to move to a point where we see innovation as an opportunity to excel and an opportunity to differentiate.

Q. Do you have plans for possibly moving IT at Penn State from dedicated tasks and positions in our locations and units to something more fluid that allows IT staff to work toward their strength and benefit other areas at Penn State?

A. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the way we are currently structured means we cannot be as agile or as responsive as our institution needs us to be to leverage technology. Whatever model we use for the institution, I think it’s imperative to make sure we can move at the speed and agility that technology is requiring of us and the institution demands of us.

Q. Our technologies and especially our learning technologies are sometimes far behind those in other universities. How do we remain competitive and innovative where we aren’t even current?

A. I met some professionals in a Coffee and Conversation session a couple weeks ago who every day fix data errors from one system to another. I am confident that these professionals have far more to contribute to this University than dealing with the sort of challenges that we have created in our technical environment.

Q. How can we take some of the amazing innovations that we have in parts of the University in support of our teaching and learning mission and scale those so they are available to everyone?

It’s shifting away from this unit-centric focus on innovation and thinking about these technologies that we know transform education and scale them in incredible ways to move the Penn State forward.

Building Bridges (from the June 2018 webinar):

Q. Can you share timelines for the next major structural changes to the organization?

A. The Reimagining IT plan is due to the President Eric Barron, Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones, and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business/Treasurer David Gray in August. Any changes to the organization will follow the recommendations of the Reimagining IT plan. The plan will then be reviewed by the executive leadership of the institution – vice presidents, deans, chancellors and others – and once we have an understanding and endorsement from the executive leadership, we will introduce those changes to the University. We are constantly going to be tuning the organization to ensure it is structured to best serve the University community.

Q. Do you feel that training can contribute to implementing these concepts with IT managers and others who are leading the organization?

A. Until you move into the realm of management and leadership, you are evaluated on your individual contribution and expertise. Once you enter into the role of leadership, there is a body of science on human behavior, change management, and organizational change that I would contend our managers and leaders need to understand. As leaders, their primary responsibility is to people first. Understanding human behavior and becoming a student of those sciences can help them understand how to become a more effective leader.

Q. You mentioned at the last IT All-Staff Meeting you control only 40 percent of the IT budget at Penn State. Do you see that shifting, and how will it impact college IT units?

A. This is something that has to be discussed with University leadership. I can tell you there are numerous examples in which units have made decisions to overinvest in technology. It is critically important to take a look at this and ensure we have processes and mechanisms in place to ensure we are investing the University’s resources wisely.

Q. What does success look like, and how will it be assessed?

A. A lot of the insights we gained from Chris Lucas and Adam Caimi [from the Office 365 project team] is in many ways what success looks like. To my understanding, this was the first time that we brought such a diverse group together to try to accomplish a project that impacts the entire University. I can see us doing more of that as we come together as a team of teams across Penn State to serve the University. It is a little bumpy at first, but over time that will get better and better as we bring disparate parts of the University together to accomplish a greater goal.

Q. I appreciated hearing the perspectives today and that leadership is seeing a more cohesive IT community. Do you have a sense of whether staff “in the weeds” are seeing this as well?

A. I want to make it a priority to hear from your perspective if this message is getting to you and if you are seeing evidence of change within your respective organizations. The University values diversity and inclusion, and it is incredibly important to me as a CIO to understand as many perspectives as possible. I am looking forward to the conversations I am going to be having with staff in the Coffee and Conversations this summer. You can also send emails to I would love to hear your examples.

Q. Office 365 is a fantastic project, and very well led and managed. On the near term horizon, there will most likely be an Enterprise Active Directory initiative. Do you see a team being formed for this similar to the Office 365 project, and how we help move people to a central service?

A. I believe that we actually have folks working on an Enterprise Active Directory project right now. We have to continue to practice this discipline of bringing folks together from across the University and engaging students, faculty, and staff members so we have their perspectives. As a service organization, we have to understand the needs of the University in order to provide effective IT.

Q. This is an observation, not a question, on how this ties in to the new Penn State branding through storytelling. Each and every accomplishment at Penn State is a team effort offering support, creative opportunities, and celebrating successes.?

A. That is a great perspective. The value of IT at Penn State is a perception by the University community. It is imperative for us to influence that perception by sharing success stories and, more importantly, how they help the University achieve its strategic goals. I appreciate the comment and agree with it wholeheartedly.


IT Is All About People (from the May 2018 webinar):

Q. How do you see middle management’s role in the new proposed look for IT?

A. In many ways, it is where our strategy gets operationalized. As we re-imagine IT, part of the important role will be to serve as a communication conduit. Things you are hearing from your staff and things you are seeing across the organization, can that be communicated to leadership so that we can respond appropriately? In the same way, we need to take messaging from leadership and present it to staff and translate it so that strategy can be operationalized by the folks that have that expertise.

Q. How do we identify the gaps that need to be filled in with professional development?

A. We will have mechanisms in place. Professional development is a shared responsibility between us as IT professionals and those we report to. For managers across IT, one of their primary responsibilities is to their staff and to help their staff develop to their potential.

Q. Penn State has a mixture of cost-recovered and centrally funded IT services. What are your thoughts on a  future funding model?

A. I would like to see us get us away from billing for a service that should be our infrastructure. It should be funded as a utility. This is an opportunity for more efficiency and better resource management across the institution. It’s wthin the scope of what we are considering as we are re-imagining IT here at Penn State.

Q. What advice do you have for the newest members of Enterprise IT who wish to develop their leadership skills?

A. Three pieces of advice: Make yourself larger than your role. Share with those around you in your professional network your desire to grow as a leader. Become a student of leadership and pursue those opportunities as you can.

Q. Is there a strategy statement for IT at Penn State?

A. We are developing our strategy around re-imagining IT, which is something that will be presented to University leadership in August.

Q. IT staff have been through and will continue to go through a great deal of change. How do we make sure that staff stay engaged and feel connected as we continue to rapidly evolve?

A. It’s important to recognize that we need to get used to change as a regular way of doing business. We should constantly be willing to tune the organization to make sure it is aligned with the needs of the institution. It is incredibly important to explain why we are changing, what we hope to accomplish with the change, and how we will measure whether the change is effective. We need to have good communication and provide folks the opportunity to hear what is going on and ask questions.

Vision for Penn State IT (from the April 2018 webinar):

Q. One of our greatest challenges has been managing our project portfolio. How does the Senior Leadership Team decide what does or does not get worked on?

A. I don’t believe it is the Senior Leadership Team’s role to decide what we do or do not work on. This is where governance comes in – engaging the University and establishing governance that helps us to decide as an institution what our priorities are and leveraging the University’s strategic plan as a framework. Under Jen Stedelin’s [senior director of Strategic Operations] leadership, we are putting together a new approach to governance. Part of that will be a structured process for decision-making on IT projects that will help us make sure we have the right resources to ensure we can start the project moving forward.

The other part of this is how we execute projects. There is no reason why we can’t leverage consultants and contractors outside the University to help us move faster and more efficiently. I want us to be able to think with a more open mind about ways to leverage resources outside the University to accomplish our tremendous workload.

Q. Can you elaborate on innovation on the individual, team and department level?

A. At the individual level: Are we looking at our skills and our contributions and continuing to strive to become better at what we’re doing, learning and understanding better ways in which to do our jobs?

At a team level: Let’s say a team is responsible for a firewall. Is that team on a regular basis asking if this firewall is running at its maximum efficiency? Is there anything we can do to make it more efficient, to make it easier to manage, to make it more effective on behalf of the University? Having that conversation and implementing those innovations and decisions is continuous improvement: setting a mindset that we will always try to think of ways to do things better.

At a department level: If there is a suite of services the department is responsible for, does that department have the appropriate engagement with the University community to ensure the services are always meeting the needs of the institution?

Q. How can we do a better job at showing the value of the data we have access to but which we have not thought through its value to business intelligence?

A. One of the reasons we can’t leverage data as a strategic asset is it is disorganized. It doesn’t follow a common definition; it doesn’t follow any kind of data governance. It’s not accessible to the people who need real time access to it. Jon Crutchfield [senior director of Business Intelligence], Betty Harper [associate vice provost for planning and institutional research] and the Business Intelligence steering committee are beginning to develop a strategy around data governance, which will include an institution-wide data dictionary. Once we have the data organized and structured in a way we can leverage, we can begin to use modern tools to tell a story and leverage the institutional data to help differentiate us.

Q. Is hiring outside consultants an option to temporarily deal with critical vacancies?

A. Yes, absolutely.

Q. How do we balance innovation and security?

A. It is a question of risk. One of the things I appreciate with Don Welch [chief information security officer] and his perspective on institutional risk is framing this appropriately and making sure we are applying the right level of security to the appropriate risk. Ensuring that our level three and level four data is secure according to regulatory standards is our first priority, because that data is of the highest value to the institution. Whether it is sensitive research data or personal data, that has to be our priority. Finding a balanced approach to ensuring that the University is secure while enabling innovation is the job of IT professionals. It is not our job to decide whether we are willing to take on the risk on behalf of the University. That is why have an Audit and Risk department and an Office of Information Security, to establish those policies. Our job is to empower and to help our faculty colleagues to innovate, yet have enough knowledge and understanding of what they are trying to accomplish so we can make sure the University is protected appropriately.

Q. What is the status of the Data Summit and next steps?

A. We have been working since the Data Summit [in fall 2017] pulling together the data governance and data framework strategy. We are going to be socializing that to a number of business intelligence leaders around the University. We are planning a second Data Summit. We fully intend to engage that community and continue to position them to help us with what is critical work on behalf of the institution.

Q. Do you have any strategies to share for improving communications between leadership and the rest of IT staff?

A. People need to understand direction and strategy. It is the role of management to provide insight into strategy. We need to make sure communications are circulating from my office through the organization, across Penn State, and from IT staff to my office as well. This webinar is an example. We recently launched a new Penn State IT website. I have a new website that is designed for communication. We are going to be sending out a newsletter and updates regarding changes and plans that are underway. So it is a multipronged approach. You may have heard that we had our last meeting of the ITLC. One of the critical aspects of that group was building a sense of community and collaboration. We will have another opportunity for the management of IT to get together and communicate and solve problems together.