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Episode 57

transformed: Preparing Fourth Generation Enterprise Technologists​

In this episode, Dr. Lin Zhou – CIO of The New School – discusses the preparation of fourth generation enterprise technologists in the context of evolving IT organizations, quantum computing and the design, social research, arts, and public engagement programs offered by his institution.

References:

Dr. Lin Zhou, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer, The New School

The New School

Joe Gottlieb:

Welcome to transformed a higher digital podcast focused on the new why’s, the new what’s, and the new how’s in higher ed. In each episode, you’ll experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed, while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence. Culture, strategy and tactics, planning and execution, people, process, and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform.

Joe Gottlieb:

Hello, welcome and thanks for joining us for another episode of transformed. My name is Joe Gottlieb, president and CTO of Higher Digital, and today I am joined by Dr. Lin Zhou, senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at The New School in New York City. Lin, welcome to transformed.

Lin Zhou:

Thanks, Joe. Happy to be here. Here, I’m honored to participate in this podcast series. What would you like to talk about?

Joe Gottlieb:

I’m really glad you asked, Lin. I want to talk about preparing fourth generation enterprise technologists, but before we get into that, share for our listeners a little bit about your personal journey and, and how it shaped the passion for the work that you do.

Lin Zhou:

I joined the new school at our centennial anniversary in 2019. On my current role, I collaborate with our president’s leadership team, board of trustees, and my colleagues across the community. Together we raise education standard, broaden student career pathways, grow business, elevate university brand, and make new school the choice of employer for our people. Prior to that, I spent 20 years with I b m with progressive responsibilities. I was the initial founding members of Watson Education, and we grow it from a startup to a global leader in AI for education.

Joe Gottlieb:

Awesome. Great background. Well, that’s gonna be a fun one to to leverage in, in this conversation. So I’d like to start then, by hearing your perspective on the evolving role of technology in the enterprise. Do you see any specific progression that sheds light on the future?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah, Joe, that’s a really important question. I would say I, I have given some thought to this. My view on this is that there are three stages as far as the progression is concerned. The stage number one is technology as a tool TA at a t. You can think of this as a c i o 1.0. And the second stage is technology as a service. T a a s, you can think of this as a c I O 2.0, and the last not least one currently is the technology as a business, T A A B. And you can think of this as a c i o 3.0. And when an organization evolves over those three, three stages, the changes themselves from, you know, simply providing cables, wires, switches, telephones, app softwares to organization who can truly leveraging technology to define university priorities and that drive meaningful, measurable, quantifiable, and visible outcomes.

Joe Gottlieb:

Super interesting. Just to pick at that a little bit, I think it’s a really important layering, and it takes some organizations longer to get through this than others. And, and in between that stage two is when you’re really trying to act like a, like a, a service provider, right? Like almost like an external technology vendor where you are upping your game in terms of mature delivery to customers internal to the organization, right? And so that, that sort of sets up almost a di it’s a bit of a division from the organization by virtue of needing to be a dependable supplier that has its own sort of cadence and delivery methods, right? But then in stage three, we kind of blow that up and try to get intrinsic to the business. So tell me a little bit about how, how that dynamic shifts.

Lin Zhou:

Right, right, right. I think the, in stage number two, you are right. Stage number two is the IT organization. They started a partnership with the business units and they tends to follow and become, enable right to the business outcome. I think you captured that well. Third stage is the IT organization really becomes the core of the business, the leveraging the technology to define the business strategy in the university environment. For example leveraging technology to create curriculum innovations creating the corporate partnerships to draw a research grant that using those to fund the research, for example, to enrich the learning, teaching and the student experience.

Joe Gottlieb:

Interesting. So in that mode, you also reflected on the fact that like a c i o 1.02, 0.0300, that reflects what type of leader’s required to lead those organizations. Right. And, and I also, I’m, I’m hearing you say that that that the, that is that third stage for you more iterative where you are helping to supply possibilities, but then course correcting based upon the needs of the business. And if you know, if that’s what’s going on, I imagine there’s some improved ability to communicate through those iterations so we can course correct together and stay aligned. Does that, does that reflect your experience

Lin Zhou:

A Absolutely, absolutely. I think this is, like you said, this is a, a continuous improvement is a journey. Mm-Hmm. Many organizations started with the very legacy c i o 1.0, and I think some organizations are still there. And then the journey starts, you progress, you progress to c i o 2.0 because there is gonna be more I would say more enriched experience through the partnership with the business units. And then once the organization is ready, they started progressing into CIO 3.0. And I think, like you said, there’s the leadership, you know, it requires right, leadership to take the organization over to the CIO 3.0 stage.

Joe Gottlieb:

So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about that evolving role of the C I O in support of this enterprise technology progression. And maybe you can sprinkle some of your past experiences in, in your roles and, and, and what you’re doing now to, to give that some life.

Lin Zhou:

Yeah. So we the new school is very progressive university. We are known for that. I think we are fortunate to have a very supportive and understandable community. So we actually take, take a more disruptive approach. And we really jumped into c i o 3.0 level very quickly. And over the past four years, we did a large culture transformation. You know, really switching to the customer centric culture culture. And also we established a very strong partnership with our community such that the technology is not technology anymore. Technology now has the meaning and and you can, and our results are very quantifiable at this point. Our net promoter score has more than tripled over the past four years.

Joe Gottlieb:

Wow. Now, you mentioned customer centric culture. Is that, is the customer the student, or does it vary depending upon the service?

Lin Zhou:

Right, right. So in our university, we have four, I would say four groups of users. Student is is at the center. And that’s why we are university. We couldn’t be a university without students. So they are most important customer to us. Then we have faculty, we have staff, and also we have alumni. You know, so I, I think our customer centric transformation addresses the needs of all four group of users without you know, without all of them, we couldn’t be successful

Joe Gottlieb:

Necessarily. Right. These are different people that have to have different experiences to have success in the organization, the way it operates. And they have different roles, different par, you know, successes defined differently for each of those role players. Right.

Lin Zhou:

Abs Absolutely. Joe,

Joe Gottlieb:

And, and that, it sounds to me like you, wow, you really dove right into 3.0 and I imagine there was some tensions, there was probably some challenges there, care to comment on any of the things that you had to overcome?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah. So it is very typical I would say in high education space. There is a, a very good culture called a shared governance. Mm-Hmm.

Joe Gottlieb:

<Affirmative>

Lin Zhou:

And shared decision making process. It really says that for many, any major decisions we need to rally the key stakeholders we need to rally the community to make it successful. So I think that’s the culture we lived in. And also we are very mindful to work with that culture to make it happen to make the technology happen. So I wouldn’t describe that as a, as a, a challenge. I think it’s adoption of the way we doing technology in the context of the shared governance structure. I think we did it right. We, we, we did it, obviously we did it right. We can rally the entire community, but that be one of the key things I would say in the higher education space as a C I O I would be very mindful about.

Joe Gottlieb:

Makes a lot of sense. So you had to, you, you dove in based upon a shared vision of what you were after, and you you leveraged a very customer-centric approach, and then you set up a very important metric to, to track success, right? If you’re using net promoter during any significant portion of that period, that four year period where you were going through this transformation I imagine you, you allowed, you, you rallied that community with some cause and effect, right? Some ability to point out, we’re starting to have an impact, or we might go down a little bit in this area because we’re under construction, but we’re gonna come back up and let’s keep an eye on that. Does that reflect your experience there?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah, yeah. So I, I think Yeah, absolutely, Joe. Absolutely. So we, we actually, we developed a customer centric framework. So we established policies practice, procedures, processes. And at the very core of this is measurement. You know, you mentioned we have established the core performance indicators we call p KPIs mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And also we have continuous, you know, improvements to continue drive our progress to make us a better you know, a provider and a leader of technology for the community.

Joe Gottlieb:

Awesome. Alright, let’s shift some gears. So I wanna branch out now for a moment into consumer technologies, including social media. These, these, these technologies have literally rewired the brains of our youngest generation in a new way that, that you could describe a lot of ways, but for one, there’s continuous change and the, the change is just profound. The amount of information whizzing by the amount of change, the, the, the need to become very quickly comfortable with new things is is at a premium. And so is there a corresponding sort of next stage of the progression required of enterprises? So does technology as the business or as a business does this stage three just a, a, a, a preview to something else that’s gonna happen?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah. Joe, I, I, I wanna really relate to what you just said. Because I came from corporate world before I joined higher education. I would say the higher education sometime becomes a more, I would say, more insightful environment for us to see different generations of our key stakeholders. For example, in our university, we have four groups of users. First is maybe people like us is a voicemail, people who use voicemail. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> second group is other people who use emails. Third is, are the people who use text messages. The last one, not least one are the social media you mentioned is other social media users like TikTok, right? So we have, so we have to work with all four groups, and you can think about the the, the spectrum of technology we have to bring to bear in order to provide exceptional experience to all four generations.

Lin Zhou:

So that’s one. You mentioned that, you know, social media, et cetera. I would say my anticipation is technology keep evolving. I would anticipate very soon down the road, we probably potentially would be dealing with the fifth generation. If I look into the, my crystal ball, I would say the fifth generation would be somebody who would be aspired to establish the brand computer interface you know, hook up a wire to the back of your head. And and those technology has showed positive signs of you know being practical, right? Obviously there are still lot work need to be done, but it’s coming towards our, coming towards us, right? So that’s my, that’s my anticipation. But in, in, because of that very sophisticated, very broad spectrum of users, right? We tend, we tends to look at the students when they enrolled into the university at the beginning.

Lin Zhou:

They, they aspire to say, when I graduate from university four years down the road, or six years down the road, I’m, I’m gonna be educated, I’m gonna receive education, I will be prepared to face or be ready for the complex world. Mm-Hmm. And as educator, that’s our obligation. It’s the, our students. So we take lots of care of our students, but it’s also, you know, we need to deliver our promises. So that’s why we keep anticipating and that until that anticipating keep changes as time progresses. But if you ask me what is important for us to see the next stage of the progression, I would say I would simplify that as we need to making sure every single students in the university are going to have the necessary digital fluency. Right? And the digital fluency, the definition which changes over time in your, we talk about continuous improvement changes over time today. I would say there are five things important. Number one is a fundamental foundational technology. 1 0 1, everybody should have the foundational technology 1 0 1. Number two is we need to educate our students to anticipate the foundation. AI models like charge G P T or Bard et cetera, right? That’s a second. Third is quantum computing.

Lin Zhou:

The fourth is the virtual and a mixed reality. The fifth, not least one, but I mentioned earlier on, is really the brainwave signals. How can we process, how can we draw insights from there? Because my anticipation is the future of interactions will not be fingers. We’ll probably more go through thinking just like how we think we can, we can start doing interactions. So that’s my anticipation, that’s my crystal ball. And to be validated maybe 10 years down the road.

Joe Gottlieb:

Well, I gotta give you credit for looking deeply into the future. Well, let’s there’s a couple things I’d like to do here. So you, the digital fluency, you started out very basic and you got very advanced. Is it, is it your intention that you get one crack at students, at least in traditional higher ed systems at a certain age, that’s evolving. We know, but every chance you get when someone comes to be in a program where they’re, they’re going through a higher education system, you want them to leave with not only the basics, but you wanna equip them. ’cause They may not be back, right? They may not, they, they may be working for the rest of their lives, and only once they retire have opportunity to maybe really do full-time learning again. And so you wanna equip them as best you can with these, what you can tell are these emerging layers that they will likely encounter in some form or another throughout their, their lives? Is that the point?

Lin Zhou:

That’s exactly right. Exactly right. Because the technology do not, a technology do not exist in vacuum, right? For example, AI today AI has been running on the world fastest supercomputers today, and giving hawk’s sophisticated, the model is doing the training, doing the inferencing has taken tremendous amount of computational power. And the que people start asking, what be the next generation of computational power to enable ai? And the hint is quantum,

Joe Gottlieb:

Right? Okay, we’re gonna come back to that. But I wanna tie off one more thing before we move on. And that is, I love the way that you described the way you see the opportunity and challenge at hand to equip students of today with enough familiarity with emerging technology, so that when they do emerge and they have more experience with them, that’s not a shock. And they’re at least somewhat prepared for that. I love that. I want to come back then though, to, is there a fourth stage of how the enterprise relates to technology? And is that a matter of you build on technology as a business by you’ve, you’ve now made technology enablement a core part of the way the enterprise thinks operates and changes, right? In an iterative fashion, continuous improvement. And is stage four then being able to do that at higher speed to cope with market forces and other accelerations that are happening with technology? Right? The, the sheer pace of it, which when you, when you think of it that way, it actually underscores the importance of getting that plumbing of stage three, right? At least initially. So you can go fast. Is that, am I putting words in your mouth, or does that make sense?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah, yeah. I, I was, I, I would paraphrase but still saying the same, I would paraphrase what you said is, okay, technology is the greatest accelerator for everything we do.

Joe Gottlieb:

And, and so our relationship to it better be able to cope with the pace. And you’ve given one view towards how we could equip each student with a, with a survival skills, so to speak, as they go out in the world and bump into different experiences. But at an enterprise level, when we’re thinking about how to make technology do the work of the business in the technology era it is a massive trigger for pace. And so we, our relationship ought to be able to handle that pace.

Lin Zhou:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Joe Gottlieb:

Interesting. Okay. So now I wanna talk about how the new school is uniquely putting its fingerprints on this. I mean, the new school is a very special institution spanning design, social research, arts, and public engagement with many programs combining these fields. So I wanna ultimately get into how the new school is providing a fresh angle on cutting edge technologies, such as quantum computing. But first, let’s play a little with this quantum computing topic. First of all, why is it so complicated?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah. So it is complicated. <Laugh> I say that with a very simple words because I, I have I have a training in physics, so I’m, I’m a physics, I’m a China physicist. Even to me learning I learned quantum physics before quantum computing is still complex to me as well. I feel the challenge to myself, just to be honest to, to you and also the audience. But let me try to simplify, you know, how I view quantum system, why it’s so powerful, why it’s so, so sophisticated. So let’s take a look at one example. We, there’s a medicine called the penicillin. We take penicillin when we have a cold one. We have, you know, infection penicillin is a, is a relatively simple molecule. And if you count every single atoms in penicillin, there are only 41 atoms.

Lin Zhou:

It’s relatively simple medic molecule. But think about in order to simulate that the, the penicillin molecule how much computational power we would have. Well, if we use the classical computer, like our laptops and the servers today, it will take 10 to the power of 86 bits of memory, 10 to the power of 86. How big is that? Well let’s look at our observable universe. If you, if we count every single atom in our observable universe, not planet, not star, just every single atom in observable universe, there are only 10 to the power of 82 atoms. That’s four others smaller than the requirement. So if we use every single atom in the universe, does not even enough. Hmm.

Joe Gottlieb:

Just to simulate good old, simple penicillin.

Lin Zhou:

Penicillin. Exactly. <Laugh>, yeah. So then, but if we switch to the quantum system, right? And how many, how, how, how how many we call equivalent called qubits we will require, well, we only need 286 kilobits.

Joe Gottlieb:

Wow.

Lin Zhou:

So it’s effectively the quantum computing can do things the classical computer can’t, but also can turn those intractable problems to something we can solve.

Joe Gottlieb:

Well, it sounds like, provided we figure it out Moore’s law is gonna get some lift <laugh> and some for longevity, further longevity, and we need it, right? We’re, we’re, we’re, because ai, meanwhile is, is burning up <laugh> a lot of computing cycles, right? So what can we learn from society? Adoption’s probably premature, but relationship to ai. What can we learn from what we’ve been doing with AI and how we’ve been experiencing that to maybe shed light on how we might embrace quantum?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah. So I, I worked in AI for many years. I, I’m super proud of the technology advancement we have met so far. I would say congratulations to those, to the hard work of all the engineers, researchers and and also engineers and all those companies. I think AI could have been adopted broader and deeper than today, than what we actually happen actually happens today. And one of the, there are a few things actually there impacted or I would say impeded the adoption of ai. And we, we’ve been very openly talking about it. You know, we talking about the bias, transparency transparency whether AI can be explained and also really just the sheer the fear from the society, you know, the people’s reaction to it. I would say those are the things I would call them more of a d n A problems, you know, is how can we make the AI a better citizen, a digital citizen of our society? So I think that’s a big lessons learned, and that can be applied to quantum

Joe Gottlieb:

Fascinating. So with that as the setup I want to hear more about how the new school is taking some of those, some of its disciplines that it has a reputation for, for, for exercising in the student’s minds and bringing them to some of these complex technologies and, and what sort of programs that you have active in that regard.

Lin Zhou:

Yeah. new school was founded 100 years ago by our initial, I think, three founders because they were not happy with the, the old ways of doing education. So that’s the, at the core of our university, we have a very strong discipline in social research. Actually, it’s one of the colleges we have called the School Social Research. And in addition to that, we also have the, like you mentioned already, we have the design school Parsons Design School. We work on music you know, technology all kind of designs. I think the lessons we really learned is how can we put quantum computing into a right context. It is not so, I would say so abstracted, so fearful for for people so that people could relate to it. They can see quantum computing is going to be a partner in their daily life, you know, through fashion, through music, through arts through digital design you know, and also through experience design.

Lin Zhou:

How can we design that kind of quantum experience in everybo in everybody’s life? And we have done a tremendous amount of work on this front. So for example, we Joe, we created our quantum computing courses taught our students and with our researchers and, and our students, we launched the world first quantum design jam. And we are, this year we’re gonna be running the third annual design g quantum design jam in New York City. So, so with our design g, we brought in the bri, the, the, the, the, the, the brightest mind into the engagement, really working on the hard problems and come, come up with those innovative solutions and the designs, right? So that’s one thing we did. Number two is we also established the collaborations with I B M and our students after they received education, they went for the I B M certification.

Lin Zhou:

As quantum practitioners, I’m very proud to say that our students accounted for a significant percent of the worldwide quantum practitioners certified by I B M. So it’s a testimony of how our student really demonstrated competence their their skillset. The third is that we already taking the work we did really seriously this year in March, we launched the quantum design exhibition in New York City together with I B M. And I think that’s really a big showcase to the world of what is quantum, what does quantum means, and how quantum can be embedded into people’s daily life. And so we did that and I think it really received a very positive and very strong feedback. My last point, just to cap on this Joe is that we as a, I would say more of a liberal arts and a social research school, we, our focus today, at least today, are not going to it is not in the area where we’re gonna make the quantum chip smaller faster or consume less power.

Lin Zhou:

That’s the problem for the engineering schools. That’s not the problem we are focusing on. But what we’re gonna do very differently, I think it is very unique approach we are doing is that although we are not gonna do those engineering tasks, but we are gonna give quantum computing a good social d n a at the beginning.

Joe Gottlieb:

That is just so fascinating, wonderful. That that’s happening because we understand it now to be an essential part of the whole product that any technology needs to be to, to operate in society with, with value, with an embrace, with adoption, like you’ve described. And it, it reminds me of something back to what the, the theme we keep coming back to, which is in the enterprise, the technology is often not the hard part. It’s the, it’s the people side of this matter. I e how are people gonna view technology? How are they going to use it? How are they going to become more familiar with it? How will they truly embrace it as it continues to change, right? In the context of any given enterprise that they are working for or serving or participating with or, or, or interacting with. And so, just awesome that, that is, is happening because we’ll need more of that, right? There’s lot, there’s a fair amount of engineering bandwidth being devoted to solving big problems here, but this notion of a quantum practitioner that is, that operates above the level of construction to me is, is fascinating.

Lin Zhou:

Absolutely. Joe I think the application of quantum computing to our daily life will bring quantum computing home. Really, it really is to re to be able to let people relate what quantum quantum computing means to them as opposed to just talk about technology.

Joe Gottlieb:

Good. Alright. So let’s bring it home with a summary. What three or four takeaways would you offer our listeners on this ob this notion of preparing fourth generation enterprise technologists?

Lin Zhou:

Yeah, I think the type I think we are talking about today, Joe, is really preparing the future, the fourth generation, right? Mm-Hmm. So in that, in that context, I would tends to reflect what we just talked about in the following. I would say three areas. Number one is to really continue imagining the future of the technology with the user in the mind, right? So that’s, that’s the first one. Number two is to inspire our great team and also the community. We need to inspire the community, rally the, the key stakeholders in order to make it happen. So second is to inspire. The third is to continue innovate. We cannot stop innovation, right? So those are the three things I would say. I would say imagine, inspire, and innovate. And last not least, very importantly is we need to start, you know, start our journey today. I would say building our tomorrow, today. So if I simplify everything else I would say is I three b t squared,

Joe Gottlieb:

Well, any self-respecting technologist is very fond of a formula; it sounds like we’ve got an awesome little formula there. Build tomorrow, today after Imagine, inspire, innovate. Awesome. Well, that’s a great point to end on. Lin, it’s been a pleasure talking to you today.

Lin Zhou:

Joe. Thanks for the experience and thanks for in the thanks for the invitation, nice talking to you.

Joe Gottlieb:

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


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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.

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