Skip to main content
Episode 29

transformed: Digital Transformation at Liberal Arts Colleges

Higher Digital has just published the next episode of its podcast, transformed. Every other week we interview experts on higher education, digital transformation, and the challenges and promises represented by both.

In this episode, Joe Gottlieb, President and CTO of Higher Digital, sat down with Carol Smith, CIO of DePauw University, to discuss how digital transformation differs at small, liberal arts colleges and the importance of fostering a partnership between the CIO and CFO.


Joe Gottlieb: (00:02)

Hello and welcome to transformed a Higher Digital podcast focused on the new whys, the new whats, and the new hows in higher ed. My name is Joe Gottlieb, President of Higher Digital, and today I am joined by Carol Smith, CIO of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, a small private liberal arts college. Carol, welcome to transformed


Carol Smith: (00:59)

Thanks Joe. I’m happy to be here. What would you like to talk about? 


Joe Gottlieb: (01:04)

Well, I’d really like to get into how transformation is different at really small schools. And I know we’ve talked in the past about various ways to think about that from community and consortia and how you might leverage those more so than usual, the importance of consensus, and also the importance of not only the CIO-CFO partnership to get things done, but all the partnerships that become so important in a small organization to have success with transformation. But before we dive into that, I’d love to get a little bit of perspective on you, your journey, what, what has shaped your path and your passion for the work that you do there at DePauw? 


Carol Smith: (01:51)

Well, thanks, Joe. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about that a little bit. So, you know, full disclosure, I actually am a DePauw graduate. I was a double major in computer science and English literature. So, you know, I, I went into college thinking that I loved English literature, and, at the same time it was a period in time when it seemed like there was probably a career to be had at computers. So I kind of took advantage of the moment being at a liberal arts college of having the opportunity to have sort of a broader portfolio. And I think to start with, it’s one of the things I’m sure has shaped my career in the long path. You know, my first job right out of college was a technical programmer. So I programmed a similar language code for devices for the nuclear industry. 


Carol Smith: (02:42)

Wow. It was an eye-crossing kind of job, but it was good, it was a good job and it was a small company. And I had the opportunity to be able to work, not just with writing code, but also to write instructional manuals and, and inter interface with company clients and answer questions. And so I think that was one of those moments where I began to realize that I really enjoyed the people part of it as much as I did the technology part of it. and then I went from there to a research institution. I was at Indiana university, for a number of years where I was a research coordinator for some data, large databases around hereditary disease, research. And, we were looking for genes for certain kinds of LA onset diseases, which again was another great experience where as I trans, as I continued, I was becoming less and less about the technology and more about what you were doing with it, but a story that reminds me of, of something that I, I realized when I was in college at the here. 


Carol Smith: (03:40)

I remember I was an English lit major and a computer science major. So in our science building where the computer center was because that’s where you went to use computers at that time. I was writing code and learning how to program, but in my literature classes, they took us to this place called the word processing classroom where I learned how to use a word processor to write the papers that I was writing for my class. And I remembered at the moment that it was sort of eye opening. It was changing for me because I realized that, Hey, these computers are useful. So, you know, not just for a program for me to be able to program it, but I could actually find utility for just anyone around computers. And that began to shape the way that I began thinking about my career. 


Carol Smith: (04:25)

And the funny story is about this. Years later, when I came back to work at Tepa, we were working on some renovation in that same building where that classroom was in the library, and we were changing the room. but the sign was still there. We were gonna change it. So I stole the sign. So in my office, I have a sign that says word processing classroom. That is kind of a reminder to me of, of, you know, why, why I’m here and, and how, how that experience really started to begin focusing in my direction further in life. and since I’ve been working at DePauw, I’ve had a lot of opportunities because I began user services, you know, working in that arena a few years later, we launched our first instructional technology program. And so I was a co-leader with that, with, with my, my senior colleague at the time. And then over the time, you know, began to sort of meander my way through my career into, into higher ed leadership in, in a, in technology. But along the way, I think all the, all along the way, it’s, it’s always been thinking to me about, you know, not just, you know, how, what does technology do for us, but what, how does technology enable us to do our jobs well and how it does enable us to learn well, and I think that’s really framed the way I approach what I do. 


Joe Gottlieb: (05:37)

Wow, great background, really interesting. You know, first of all, the first observation I’d make is that I’m a programmer that can write documentation. Your boss must have loved you for that. because that’s a rare combo skill. And then you, you, you were, you, you were, I can remember these days too. You were part of that first experience that we started having around this planet where a, a, a, a consumer, a, a, a, you know, a person just attending a college was seeing the first applications of computers that would be widespread, right? So word processing really is one of those early, early applications, right? And I can remember waiting in line to get a Mac, at the library so that I could type out a paper because I certainly hadn’t lugged a typewriter to school. And, and wasn’t probably willing to go find one to borrow, but, amazing how, you know, our generation has seen the Dawn of widespread use of computers. 


Joe Gottlieb: (06:38)

You know, they’ve been around for longer in the back room, but their youthfulness for everyone, or at least for all those that are interfacing with that digital infrastructure, really has happened while, you know, during our lifetimes, which is exciting and fascinating. So you, you took advantage of your combo of skills and, and then the opportunities presented to you. You’ve now risen to a role where you really can apply these skills in a position of leadership. So I wanna jump right to that. So we can get into really from that point of view, from that vantage, how small schools are able to transform on the one hand, there’s a lot of things that are, I think, you know, are positive for small schools. They’re, they’re because they’re smaller, they’re, they’re inherently less complicated as organizations and that surfaces, I think some unique opportunities and aspects, of course, they may also have some disadvantages whereby they may lack the big budgets or, you know, some of the scale and economies that might only be accomplished, via a larger organization. And I think that probably highlights the consortium angle here. So let’s talk a little bit about that, right? How, how do you see community and consortium aiding in the plight of the small school, as it looks to learn what it can and evolve and transform. 


Carol Smith: (08:07)

Yeah. That’s a, that’s a, that’s a great, great segue. And, and I love the question because, you know, one of the things I learned many years ago really early was that, frankly, we can’t do it ourselves in techno in, in, in higher education, in, in, in any institution. But I would assume even if you’re a small institution, you rely on, you know, expertise of your peers and, but at small small schools, especially. And what I really find that I value quite a bit, just to kind of think about it from a personal level. And then I’ll kind of go into a, you know, a, a, a bigger picture view is that, you know, small schools have a lot of comradery and we may be, you know, we may well be competing for students on the, on the academic world or on the playing field, you know, under recruiting. 


Carol Smith: (08:55)

But at the same time, we are all there to do the same thing. We’re all there with the same mission, which is to provide a good experience for our students, to prepare them for their lives. And in order to do that, we need so many things, you know, to help scaffold that. And technology is just one of them, but it’s a, it’s a, it’s a core part of them. And, you know, we, we just, we have, the, I, I guess the, the, the opportunity and we take advantage of the opportunity across schools, schools, especially to, to work together on that. you know, a DePauw belongs to, well, we belong to a state organization called independent colleges of Indiana, which are the, you know, third one independent colleges in the state of Indiana which are private colleges. And, you know, there’s a very strong community of practice around the, it leaders in those, you, in, in those, between those schools. 


Carol Smith: (09:46)

And we often call each other, or we have annual regular conferences where we come together and just, just share stories and, and listen to one another and help each other, we belong to something called the consortium of liberal arts colleges DePauws, which is 76 colleges like DePauw across the United States. Again, cl or the consortium of liberal arts colleges is primarily focused on the CIOs and their teams. And what we do is we are able to build relationships across our institutions, amongst our teams with, with one another, so that we don’t have to solve the same problems over and over independently. Right. At one point there was a colleague and I. We used to laugh about it. It was like, after you, you got to the point where you, you could, you, you knew who you could call if you needed a cup of sugar, right? 


Carol Smith: (10:33)

Remember the old adage of, you know, you needed, you’re making a cake and you, you needed one more cup of sugar and you would run, run to the neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar. And, and a little bit like that fits into the, the sort of cl experience is that we share the successes around how we do things with technology. And we also sell, share the sort of learning moments or the war stories so that none of us have to, to trip on it again. And I think I can’t do that independently. We can’t do this alone. the, another end cause too is another one. And the cause is different in the sense that it becomes much broader. It’s not just small liberal arts colleges, it’s every higher ed institution in the United States, nearly everyone that belongs to ed cause. 


Carol Smith: (11:16)

And so that even creates a larger environment where, you know, you can learn across the different scales and scopes and share those experiences. So, you know, we watch what the large schools are doing and, and look for ways to scale it because that’s who they’re, they may be leading. We may be leading in other ways, cuz you mentioned the fact that we’re smaller. And so we have maybe a, you know, more latitude to explore and experiment with some things than the larger institutions might. So those communities of practice are really critical from a, from a just information sharing perspective in many ways. 


Joe Gottlieb: (11:52)

Do you think that I, I often ponder the notion of competitiveness in the higher ed arena and I just wonder if, you know, if, if I, it as a Guild, a lot of the, a lot of the consortium you mentioned are related, right? And as a Guild, do they do it together and help each other out. And does that have any relationship to the fact that they’re less involved in the cutting edge of the unique orientation of the university, which is sometimes a downside, right? To not be directly involved with the business as much, a little bit of a throw over the transom, help here, figure this out, enable us with the we’re often fighting against that. And I’m just, you know, I know that I just wonder sometimes about whether or not there’s any hesitance to share because of competitiveness. And is that changing in the, in the, in the new world order as, as higher ed gets a bit more disruptive by new players? 


Carol Smith: (12:53)

Let me think about that question a little bit. I would say I’m gonna answer your question maybe in a little bit of a sideways way to do it. but as I think about this, yeah, yes, of course. If, if, if we were, you know, schools like lake mine, if we were building technologies that were a part of our bottom line, they, they were revenue generating and it may, you know, it, it, it was gonna be some distinguishing factor that, you know, really led the bottom line to, you know, higher enrollment, different kind of student segments, that sort of thing. Mm-hmm yes. There might be some concern about that. However, what we do so much of what we mean it is maybe it does directly. And I would, I would push back a little bit to the sense of it doesn’t really directly connect to the education because it does. 


Carol Smith: (13:43)

And I don’t think that’s exactly what you meant, but I think the point is that we’re all trying to build an infrastructure and an environment where students can thrive. And the challenge that we have to gather is the, you know, we are, we, our teams are, we are leaner teams, we’re working with smaller teams, we’re looking with limited budgets or restricted budgets. And so we’re constantly looking for ways that we can, I talk about focusing on doing the critical things that are important and that we have to get it done, but also carving time away so that we can do those things that are core that are institutionally specific. So one way we do that is, through another group that I’m engaged with called the HES consortium just HE’S it’s called HES stands for higher education systems and services. 


Carol Smith: (14:34)

And the HES consortium is an organization that, myself and about a half a dozen other colleagues from other institutions, kind of started grassroots about six years ago with the goal. We come together with the idea around particularly administrative systems like E R P student information systems. Is there a way that we can work together to work with our corporate partners who provide these, these tools to lower the costs for our schools and, and look for ways for us to, to find creative ways to do shared services across our schools, in that arena, with the idea that a we could lower costs, we can lower expenses for our universities, ultimately, which would then hopefully, you know, fix the cost for our students, right? Cuz we’re always trying to meet, you know, manage the costs for the students who are coming here. But also because if we looked at things like shared services that we all do, why are we all doing it differently? Right? There’s some things that are very standardized that we should continue to do that way. And if we could find creative ways to adopt standard practices, share practices where we need to, we can preserve resources that we’re using for those sort of run offs and put into the core things that are, that are distinctively unique to our universities. 


Joe Gottlieb: (15:56)

A and that actually brings it back. I think, into a practice that we’re seeing, that is for sure ideal, but sometimes hard to adopt. And that is how you develop forms where you’re taking advantage of the baseline automation provided by vendors. And then on top of that, differentiating yourself with the way that you run your process, the way that you orient your people, the way that you lead and manage and prioritize the way that you, the way that you connect your community to your purpose and, and tho these higher level things that aren’t gonna necessarily be programmed in the utilities you’re using to run the organization. Right. And so I think back in the day, when we thought that maybe many things would be customized to such an explicit point, that it was the epi, you know, it was, it was capturing exactly how we were being competitive and different more and more, I think we’re adopting platforms and that’s the hard stuff. So getting that right and taking advantage of what can be known and what the practices are and even shared services, even sharing some of those things, right. I think that’s a great opportunity. And then you build your brand on top of that, right? That seems to be the way that we balance this world of, of needing eating utility on and, and best practice to manage utility while distinguishing oneself above that. 


Joe Gottlieb: (17:23)

So let’s shift gears then and talk about consensus. consensus is an interesting term. and I know that there are other things that are involved here, but at the end of the day, it’s easier to achieve consensus at a smaller, smaller organization. And ultimately consensus is very useful for alignment and, and, and pace in terms of particularly if you’re gonna go through some change. So talk a little bit about your experience with consensus at, at DePauw. 


Carol Smith: (17:57)

Yeah. So, you know, I always, we, we often say, you know, DePauw and maybe schools like us, you know, much of, much of what we, everything we do is built on relationships, right? So you, you know, it’s, it’s really interesting because we are, you know, we are, we are small, we still do lots of things, but, but, but it becomes like, you know, you don’t call, maybe you don’t call the help desk. You call somebody whose name it is that works at the help desk. You might call Bob, you know, you need help calling Bob, you know, you need furniture put in there, call Sally, right. it becomes like you, you really become on this first name basis with the individuals who lead different services. And, and those relationships that you build are, are the way that, that we often, you know, run day-to-day business and, and, and, and build that consensus. 


Carol Smith: (18:43)

But at the end of the day, at the end of the day, we still have, you know, a whole subset of students who are out there depending on us to get the work done. And, we have a, I’m sure, I’m trying to think where, where, where to take this at this point. You know, I think about change management, we are going through, you know, quite a bit of, of, of the beginning of some, some huge transformations here at the university. We just completed and announced our strategy, our new, our next strategic plan. We have a new college CA, a new college president who is finishing her second year. Who’s just doing amazing things with, you know, bringing campus together and, and helping us to, to create this strategic plan that focuses across a number of areas. 


Carol Smith: (19:35)

First and foremost, it focuses on the academic experience of the students. we’re launching a new school of business. We’re going to take, our, our school of music and kind of mix it to get mixed it. Together is not the right word, but combine it together, strengthen it by, by, by mixing together the communications, journalism, art, and art history, video film, things like that together, those creative arts, if you will, to create a new school. And at the same time, building the, and amplifying and celebrating the liberal arts underpinning the entire university and putting those togethers to, to really take the academic experience and the needs of our students to what the next step is that that they’re needing. We are also looking in companion to that is the, the efficiency and what we’re calling flourishing university, which is the, the, the, the underlying infrastructure sure. 


Carol Smith: (20:32)

Of the faculty, the staff, the processes, the finances, all of those things around the college that help amplify the student experience, along with of course, diversity, equity and, and inclusion. And, there’s a lot of change going on. The point of the story is there’s a lot of change. It’s really exciting because it’s a, it’s a bold, it’s a bold step for us because it’s so clear and it’s so, so compelling yet. It’s a lot of change that’s gonna have to happen. And so from a technology perspective, while none of this leads with, and we’re going to do this with it, I, technology is clearly a, a, a core piece that’s gonna support and enhance and, and, and create that, that innovation that’s gonna help transform the university towards getting to those missions. And so it’s critical for us to build those relationships and have open communication. 


Carol Smith: (21:27)

When we’re thinking about looking for business efficiencies, we may be going to adopt some technologies that will enable us to do things in a more consistent way and change the way people do some of their jobs. So they’re more efficient, they’re more effective, but it’s changed. And so, you know, the key is building communication, having transparency. I often use the word authenticity versus transparency because authenticity really speaks from the heart. A transparent seems to be more of an adjective where authenticity to me feels like, like I said, it feels like it’s coming from the heart. And, I’m a little bit of a vocabulary geek. I, I apologize. I often think about what vocabulary you use and how, how important that is. but, but I think, you know, for, for me as a CIO, it’s going to be even more crucial to look for the listing posts, you know, through the faculty advisory groups, the strategic planning committee, various, you know, various staff groups, and just the campus at large listening to them so that we know where they’re at and communicating back with them in an authentic way so that we can get, we can build buy-in to the changes that we’re going to bring to them. 


Joe Gottlieb: (22:43)

You know, it’s interesting. You make the distinction between authenticity and transparency. I like that. I, I, I agree with you. I think transparency feels while the opposite of transparency feels very bad. transparency on its own feels quite neutral. Whereas authenticity really speaks to the, the, the, the alignment with one’s compass, for example, and the, and the, you know, it just really is authentic. It’s speaking from the heart, like you say, and with change, no matter what size of the organization, but with change, having authentic voices that are able to understand each other’s point of views that creates enriched perspective a share, you know, a collaborative perspective, including particularly diversity equity inclusion, right? So the diversity of perspective becomes very powerful when there can be authentic communication and trust and vulnerability, and then mutual commitment to finding a solution that may not be a hundred percent agreed, but it’s something everyone can get behind. 


Joe Gottlieb: (23:54)

you know, I think I’ve, we’ve mentioned this before a little bit in prior conversations, but I, I learned at Nokia, we would get to a point of 80% agreement. And then once we got there, we would all agree as a management team, a hundred percent support. And so that, that became just a fantastic mantra for, for the reality of change. Cause you, if you hold out for perfect alignment, you’re never gonna get anything done, but if you have a commitment to getting things done, you’ll compromise, you’ll accept that, get that 8,100 is a, is a good rule. But anyway, I know that you’ve employed that as well there. And so this is really about trust, right? You know, if, if you have trust, I find that you can, that actually allows the organization to pick up speed in change. And if the trust is lacking, you get bogged down and there’s a lot of tension in the noise. 


Carol Smith: (24:47)

Yeah. And you know, something I’m thinking about as you, as you mentioned that maybe an example of, of, of something that I hope we can, we can remember and, and not let go of is, is the experience that we’ve had in the last two years, you know, through, through the pivot, because of, because of that, because of the pandemic, you know, two years ago on almost to the day, you know, our campus was, was closing. We were leaving for spring break, gonna be off for two weeks and then come back. But we were going to be transformed from a solely face to face classroom environment, to a completely remote teaching environment. and we had to pivot and we, and we had to do it. And when you talk about, when you talk about, a, a common goal, right, we, we, it was a moment in time that I hope we can remember not because of the pandemic, because I, but I, I wanna celebrate the, the, the expediency and the commitment that our campus made to. 


Carol Smith: (25:45)

We’re gonna do this. We’re coming back in two weeks and we’re teaching remotely. So let’s get those students home. Let’s make sure they have the right tools. They need let’s, let’s help them find the information that they need so they can connect packs. and let’s help our faculty members get the tools that they need at home so that they can teach remotely from their living room or their kitchen table or wherever they’re gonna do that. And we didn’t, for once we didn’t have committees deciding how to do it, we didn’t debate whether this was the right way or the wrong way. I mean, clearly we thought things through, but we didn’t agonize over it. We agonized because it was an Apollo 13 moment, right? Mm-hmm we had to get the astronauts home, but we, we, we, we just did it. 


Carol Smith: (26:29)

And we also, at that point, something that struck me as so cool was that we would try it and then we would adjust. So if we’d done it for a day, we’d done it for a week. And we realized that there were some adjustments that needed to be made. We did it. And so it was a constant evolution of let’s keep this rolling and, and, and do it and get it done. And it was all because we had the same shared vision and vision, and we were willing to make quick, quick, quick, quick adjustments on the fly to get there. 


Joe Gottlieb: (26:59)

Wow. What, that’s a, I love that series of statements, Carol. There’s so many things I’d like to sort of touch on there, you know, for one, the Apollo 13 reference is one of my favorites, right. Just because what, what, what that, what that story unlocks is what’s possible when you have a shared goal and you allow the goal to be more important than the obstacles and that that’s transformational right there. Right. And so, to me, the goal of, of, of frankly, all business, but let’s focus, stay focused on higher ed, right. Is to continuously apply that, that muscle, that skill, that intuition, that vulnerability, that willingness to collaborate. And I imagine that I can just feel you through your energy, right? The way that you had that PRI core, that responsiveness to that set of conditions, which were challenging. I imagine that your experience with consortia helped prepare you for that though, because I imagine that, even before COVID you found that consortium where opportunities, look, if you’re in a consortia you’re already qualifying yourself as someone that’s willing to, to listen to others and to get ideas and to share ideas. 


Joe Gottlieb: (28:14)

And so that I think is a great context and environment for that to happen. And it’s a, it’s somewhat removed from the tensions and the conflicts of the things you have to solve by the detailed level in your day job, or with your, your own team, et cetera. And I imagine you called on those relationships and kept nurturing that, that, that muscle throughout COVID, you know, as things got hard, you probably were able to reach out to that network. Is that something that you did? 


Carol Smith: (28:41)

Oh, absolutely. You know, there were groups of us who literally knew these groups who we would meet. So maybe, you know, a large one large group that, that I belong to, we would, we would have an annual conference and then we would have a listserv, you know, through, through the year, there’d be questions in Q and a, this group, we spun up a weekly meeting. So anyone who, you know, there were over 70 of us in this group and, and who happened, who had the time and wanted to be there that Friday at noon is joined in on zoom. And so we, we, we didn’t always have an agenda, but we would, we would bring up topics about what’s happening with you. Or we were constantly sending questions across the, how are you guys doing with contact tracing? How are you doing it with these? How are you getting, you know, wifi and students hanging in the middle of roll, Indiana did questions like that, that we were sharing. And so we were solving problems together and that, that, that it was critical for us to be able to help us. So we had all of these resources out there beyond our own institution to help from a technology perspective to help amplify that work. 


Joe Gottlieb: (29:47)

So I, I was just then gonna say that I don’t wanna make, I, I I’m, I’m sensitive to a evangelizing agile, but you, you became very agile, a at a necessity when you, when you, when you also added that, you’re like, look, if we would try thing, and if it wasn’t working, we were because we were so engaged, we would make adjustments. We would, by our inherent postures, learn real time about what was working and not working. And you were applying that learning to a really important principle of agile, right. And whether one likes agile or not, there are various methods, but at its core, at essence, that is an, to me a, a, you know, a principle that no one would reject, right. The ability to be engaged, to be able to apply the learning effectively to, to course correct. Based upon conditions, seems, seems, you know, like a good principle. So with that, I’d like to shift then into our third C thank you for indulging me, my monic, but, and that was this CIO CFO partnership. And I know that’s not the only partnership, but let’s talk about partnerships because they become now the true mechanism of, of, of, of managing and getting things done. Right. You’ve got a lot of those don’t you? 


Carol Smith: (31:05)

Absolutely. You know, and, it, you know, my institution, so you, you, yeah, you, we often lead with the CIO, CFO partnership. Often you think about technology and you go, well, it costs money. So it’s a finance thing. Right. and it’s true that that does, and it also supports the business side, at a small college and at any college. but I know at our college, I could speak with authority. You know, it’s really a partnership around the academic side and the student experience side. You know, we think about everything we do as to how that amplifies and exposes the experience of the students. and so I think it’s really important for people in roles like mine, where you’re the senior technology leader, as you’re really thinking about where you are building those connecting points between what you are doing and with others on your campus. 


Carol Smith: (31:58)

And I, I think, I think I’ve heard you say in other conversations, it’s like a portfolio of partnerships and, and, and for various, you know, for various reasons. and I, and I think, I think about the role of the technology leader, whether they’re called the CIO or something different at your institution, your role is sort of BI bifold or, or twofold. It’s, it’s the, you’re, you’re leading the technology team at a small college. So you are a technology leader. And at the same time, you’re a strategic thinker in your, in your strategic planner. And you’re, and you’re thinking about the, the high level, you know, directions of where technology needs to be going in order to help support the mission of the institution and how you can understand and help that mission. And so I think the role of the CIO itself, you talked about agility. 


Carol Smith: (32:48)

And if I think about my years of experience here, how many, how many times that I feel like my role has been reinvented mm-hmm , and, and partly that’s because, you know, technology changes and that’s a cliche, but it’s also because the, the, the place and the need for the, the technology leadership, the, the, the role that you need to play continues to evolve depending on, on, on the state of the university and where the priorities are. And, and, and you kind of, you try to think about, I’m gonna kill the metaphor, but, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re basically thinking about where the puck’s going, and you’re trying to go towards the puck and the puck moves around a lot. Mm. so, you also kind of have to be agile in that, in that, as you’re thinking about what your role is. 


Joe Gottlieb: (33:33)

So when I think of you, you mentioned two roles, and I, I bet I could convince you, there’s a third that you wouldn’t have meant to exclude, but I wanna talk a bit about it. The first one is managing technology. That is an operation. That is a management exercise and a complex domain, right. Then you’ve got the more strategic planner, continuous strategic thinker, thinking about where the P is going, because now you, in this role, you really have a responsibility to help make sure the organization your school is not missing anything major, both positive and negative, right? And, and so those are things that are part of the responsibility, but a third thing I like to talk about for CIOs. And in some cases, it represents the ideal that still feels far away a lot these days. And that is how the CIO in particular, and it’s not always just the CIO, but the, the, the, how does the role of technology become more active in the iterative discussion about the institution? 


Joe Gottlieb: (34:40)

So the institution has goals. It has a vision and mission and values. It has a, it has a team, it has a structure. And it’s constantly thinking about how to deliver more value to the student. As you’ve mentioned, how to really embrace the richness of faculty and the academic, delivery to, to, to fulfill that. And everything else is pretty secondary, but has to be done well. So that, that can be continuously evolved and, and awesome right now, as you contemplate possibilities and challenges at that, dare I say, I have to call it business. I know in higher ed, they don’t like to call it business, cuz we think of higher ed as something other than business, but as contrasted from tech technology, that’s the business that’s what’s going on. And so if you can iterate about, oh, what if we did this? Well, the technology implications are that I’d have to go deep and I have to study that more closely if we got serious, but I can give you a quick answer and now we can continue the conversation. Well, maybe we should do it this other way. Right? So that the granularity of that iterative, continuous discussion as to where the institution is going to me is the ideal. And I’m wondering if you would include that in the role of CIO and, and what experience you might have with that ideal. 


Carol Smith: (35:54)

Yeah. I, that’s very intuitive and I appreciate that. You, you, you, you’re thinking that way, you know, that’s, that is the third part. It’s almost the triangulation of a piece, you know, the CIO really becomes a bridge. I think they are translators. You know, often I’ll you, you hear from peers and I’m, I’m really fortunate because I have, you know, senior leadership in my institution. They’re, they’re, they’re just really smart people. They, and, and they, they understand they kind of under, and they definitely understand the value of where technology needs to be in order to help support the university. At the same time I hear from other colleges where they, they really don’t, they ask the questions like, well, how can we get more out of technology? If you could turn a switch and say, if we just do this, if you just did it this way, it would be better. 


Carol Smith: (36:40)

Right. or you cost too much. How, how, how can you, how can you lower your costs? And, and I think the key is, is that we as CIOs act as a bridge, because, you know, there’s a point where I think you mentioned it where, how much the, the you’re talking to senior level peers, you’re, you’re helping them understand, you know, the, that we, that this kind of innovation can be helpful and will be helpful to serve our next direction. And you don’t wanna get so deep that you’re talking bits and bites and they just sort of go, I don’t understand what you’re talking about because they might see you as just a big computer, right? At the same time. You want them to understand that you, you know, what you’re, you understand the UN infrastructure, trust me, what, what I’m, what I’m bringing to you is, is how can I translate that understanding of the tech to the tech, Heacock talk into how this is gonna play out from, you know, the ROI for the institution. And, and I think that’s really, probably in a lot of ways, the most critical part of what we do as CIOs. It’s probably where we spend a great deal of our day. On an ideal day, that’s where we spend most of our time, is just being that communicator and helping to build those bridges between what technology does and can do and might do to those people to, to help, to help the strategic planning component of university. 


Joe Gottlieb: (38:01)

Yeah. So, so important that, that third part of the role. So Carol, this has been lovely in summary. What, what, what guidance would you give our listeners, based upon what we’ve captured here in terms of how small schools can leverage their situation, to transform? 


Carol Smith: (38:21)

Well, I appreciate that question. and, you know, as I think about this, I think, you know, of the effective use of technology today now, more than ever has a potential to transform higher education across the entire enterprise, you know, from the student experience, instruction and teaching and learning, transforming workflow and business processing, ultimately ensuring that we’re creating the best opportunities and experience for our students to thrive and prosper and make their best difference in the, for the world tomorrow. Ultimately I think we have to know and believe that it’s the collaboration and connection that technology enables, not necessarily the technology itself that is the most important to our students and our faculty and our staff. 


Joe Gottlieb: (39:03)

Well, I, I think you’ve summed it really well there, Carol, thank you so much for joining me today. 


Carol Smith: (39:09)

Thank you so much, Joe. It’s been a great, great pleasure of mine 


Joe Gottlieb: (39:12)

And, of course, thanks to our guests for joining us as well, have a great day, and we’ll look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of transformed.


Back To Top

Follow Us on LinkedIn

Subscribe on Apple Podcast

About The Host


As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

Interested in being a guest?