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Episode 53

transformed: Transforming IT Culture, Team and Portfolio

In this episode, Dr. Vince Kellen – Chief Information Officer at University of California San Diego – discusses the leadership behaviors, steps and consistency required to transform IT cultures, teams and portfolios.


Dr. Vince Kellen, Chief Information Officer at the University of California San Diego

University of California San Diego

21st-Century Analytics: New Technologies and New Rules, by Vince Kellen, Educause Review, 5/20/2019

Improving Personal Agility, by Vince Kellen, Educause Review, 3/20/2023

Joe Gottlieb: (00:01)
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 will 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. 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. Vince Kellen, Chief Information Officer at the University of California, San Diego. Vince, welcome to Transformed.

Vince Kellen: (00:54)
Thanks, Joe. Happy to be here. And what do you wanna talk about?

Joe Gottlieb: (00:58)
Well, I’m glad you asked. I wanna talk about how you are transforming IT culture, team and portfolio at U C S D. But first tell me a little bit about your personal journey and, uh, how it’s shaped your passion for what you do in higher ed.

Vince Kellen: (01:14)
Yeah, the, if you look back at my sort of resume and, and back, it looks kind of tortuous. Somebody in fact told me, said it, it kind of reads like Warren Peace. I said, well, at times it felt like Warren Peace. Uh, but in the brief, uh, uh, shell of it is I actually started in college as a studio art major. Along the way I discovered Starving Artist is not a metaphor at, is reality. And, uh, switched over to communications, became a journalist and newspaper reporter for a few years later, got into retail management. Uh, the thread that starts here though is when I started my work as a reporter, I discovered computers because that’s when computing is hitting the journalism industry and sort of had a little love affair with computers, uh, that continued. Uh, and then finally left, uh, retail management into, uh, it proper actually at Unical Corporation and Chicago Oil and Gas Industry, uh, on the petrochemical side.

Vince Kellen: (02:11)
And then from there went into consulting and then, uh, made a change in 2003 to hop over into the higher ed c I o track. Uh, and, but had been teaching in higher ed well before that as an adjunct. Uh, and been certainly, uh, pursuing my own academic career as a master’s student. And then later a PhD student as an adult learner. Uh, and so a variety of experiences. Probably the biggest part is consulting and mainly around IT strategy, go to market serum marketing work, as well as, uh, just, uh, what I call raw data warehousing work. Uh, and so I had a great chance to work with the organizations like 20th Century Fox and being on the studio lot, uh, building data warehouses there among other places. So, uh, but the unifying theme 12, this is really kind of a deep love of all things tech.

Joe Gottlieb: (03:06)
Interesting. Uh, a, a side topic we could engage. I had a, another guest on that was al also sort of their, their career as an art student. And we were got to talking about how the, the training that one obtains in, in art school to interpret art and to see patterns and to feel the dynamic and the possibilities, uh, at least for this person, led to an ability to, to recognize patterns. And it translated directly to their ability to manage complex it portfolios. I don’t know if you’ve seen or felt that.

Vince Kellen: (03:43)
Well, no. There’s certainly a part of the art that forces you to explore things from angles and dimensions that in some cases cannot be easily described. And it teaches you a certain fearlessness about your own creations, cuz you will get buried in critique as part of producing them. So I tell people in art, I learn fearlessness. You also learn creativity, although I think people always have creativity, you just gotta tap into it. Um, and then you learn about multi-dimensional thinking that is often non-verbal as well.

Joe Gottlieb: (04:15)
Excellent. I’m sure those skills have served you well. Okay. Let’s set the context at U C S D, uh, before, and as you joined about seven years ago, there was a lot going on.

Vince Kellen: (04:27)
Yes, there was. Um, we had a chancellor, uh, who preceded me by, uh, a few years and a c the same. And they started work on modernizing, uh, you know, administrative infrastructure, meaning people and processes. And I was selected to be kind of the first CIO for uc, San Diego, uh, in a newly consolidated unit, or reasonably consolidated. And then after I arrived, we did some more consolidations. They have since concluded, uh, and we’ve been undergoing the transformation that they both sought, uh, to achieve by bringing me here.

Joe Gottlieb: (05:05)
Excellent. So, so you come in as part of, uh, really, um, as you said, a first consolidated functional c I o for the organization, uh, to a leadership team that had a vision for transforming the way that the school was operating. Um, and that’s of course a lot of change. But to get rolling, I mean, good change requires strategy, but strategy of course requires cultural awareness to be effective. So tell me about some of the leadership behaviors that you emphasized upon arriving to start that process of evolving your IT culture.

Vince Kellen: (05:49)
Yeah, and that’s important for incoming CIOs to any position is to certainly really get a feel for the, the unspoken culture, the things that really drive the organization that might not be written down. Uh, and then you have to start to deflect that to, in order to get people to reorient to what you’re trying to do. And one of the most powerful ways to affect the culture has to do with what I call player selection or personnel selection. And so I recognize that no matter what I say, uh, most people are gonna watch what I do. And so when we reorganized our senior management team, I had to drop a person out that, well, you know, for structural reasons and other reasons wasn’t a fit. I also had to promote a person. And then I brought in somebody from the outside and I did each of those decisions very carefully, knowing that everybody would be looking at them in my staff and elsewhere and saying that what’s, what’s the strategy or what’s going on?

Vince Kellen: (06:48)
And the strategy was simple. I’m working with the team that I have, so I’m not replacing everybody and I’m promoting a person for very specific reasons that exhibits the culture here. And I’m bringing some from the outside, not at my level and not at the level below me, but actually another level down, maybe two levels down, to provide intellectual capital that we don’t have. And we’ve done that in a couple other places. And what that tells the organization is, okay, there’s not gonna be a clean sweep of everything here. So I’m not a big fan of, you know, emptying everything out and then bringing in some, some others are, it’s just not my style. Um, my, I feel that, uh, my ability to change the organization is better than my ability to select in an open market what is gonna match perfectly. That’s harder to do.

Joe Gottlieb: (07:40)
I think that’s a great thing to share that. And, and just the, the specifics that you provided about thinking carefully and consciously about adding someone from the outside at two or more layers downward, which as you said eases the little bit of the tension and the, and the, and the, the concern that your direct team might have had, that you’re gonna come in and just clean house and yet you are able to point to, look, there’s some additional skills we should bolster ourselves with. But then on top of that, I agree with you, it’s so hard to hire new people because there’s so many unknowns, right? And there’s so much to be gained by an ability to helping those on the team adopt a better way.

Vince Kellen: (08:27)
Yeah. Everybody believes they’re great. You can make great hires and that may be true, but if you’ve done it long enough, you realize that you’re not perfect, it’s probably best to invest your energy in in working with what you got if you have sufficient. And I did. But the most important thing I wanted was, I wanted the best performers who report to me to call to their spouse and say, I am staying. I’m not leaving. We have the person we need running the place here. And so I had a person in instructional technology and uh, he called me and says, oh, thank goodness, um, you’re here. Because I was literally out the door. And, and so that’s the most I want the A players to say, I’m on the team,

Joe Gottlieb: (09:15)
Great metric.

Vince Kellen: (09:16)
And that’s a Bart Starr sort of quote, uh, about, uh, Lombardi when he came to Green Bay, he, he called home and said, we, we found our coach. I’m staying.

Joe Gottlieb: (09:26)
That was the measure. Excellent. Well, I, I know you also look for some key traits in your frontline leaders. Let’s talk a bit about those.

Vince Kellen: (09:33)
Yeah. See, uh, you know, I’d like to run a team in a totally flat, more network model. I feel that’s more conducive to 21st century life in technology. Um, it’s hard to work in a deeply hierarchical model. Um, I like to have a common way of looking at, uh, all of the talent. So most people view leadership as sort of like a pie to be divided up. Here’s your pie, so here’s your people, here’s your budget. I don’t look at it that way. I look at my senior managers and myself as coaches developing talent on the field. And so you don’t own your talent. The talent doesn’t come up through your stove pipe. Our job as senior leaders is to develop that it talent and put them in the position of most promise. And that might be out of your organization. So for example, whenever there’s a vacancy in my unit, my senior managers all have to agree we’re gonna fill it versus reapply it somewhere else.

Vince Kellen: (10:33)
When we do reviews, we share the output of the reviews, uh, for every employee across the senior managers. This prevents, you know, senior managers from having their own star pets that they’re kind of trying to promote up, uh, without getting the concurrence of their fellow senior manager peer. Uh, I believe in multiple assessments, meaning if we’re gonna make a key decision on a top talent, not a single person gets to own that assessment. So I’m gonna have an assessment, one of my senior managers gonna have an assessment. We talk about our assessment if there’s a difference in our assessment, we talk about our differences in that assessment and why. Baseball analogy is if you’re a third base, if you, if you were a third base player and you’re a coach, now you can look at things from a third base perspective. If you’re a first base player, now you’re a coach, you can look at things from a first place perspective.

Vince Kellen: (11:21)
The two of you ought to talk about the differences in your perspectives as coaches so that we get a common understanding of the players. And when we don’t, we say, okay, we’re seeing things different. Let’s give a little more time and do more review of this talent before we make decisions. That’s critical. It also breeds better collaboration between the senior managers because I know we are gonna have a failure of performance around miscommunication between my senior, senior managers. They cannot be second guessing each other. They can’t be saying, well, he, he or she’s just too hard to deal with. I’m gonna go around them. I cannot tolerate that for a second. I need my senior managers to have very frank and honest conversations with each other about the talent they’re trying to develop, the performance, it’s in their areas and outside of their areas. It’s a shared responsibility, a shared reward environment, uh, very communal, a little chatty, point to point communication. Uh, so we’re all known on a network. We’re not in a hierarchy. So I may descend two or three levels down. They may do the same. That’s all. Okay. As long as we’re all, as coaches know that what we’re doing and talking to each other about it.

Joe Gottlieb: (12:26)
Yeah. I, I love the way that you frame that because, and it’s one of those things that you have to, you have to help an organization behave in that form because oftentimes people aren’t used to that kind of model. So it’s a relatively special, unique model relative to what you tend to see with folks just defaulting to a hierarchical, hierarchical structure. And when you put energy and some structure into a model like this, you and you confront those connections and that dialogue and what you stand for when you come together and resolve issues, um, that then that muscle tissue starts to develop and, and you, and now you can aim at stuff. Right. And, and I love the baseball analogy cuz I was imagining when you were describing the notion of not owning any resources as a manager in the system. Right? I was thinking about yeah, like different coaches, specialized coaches on the baseball team, staff, right. Helping to develop the batting of players, the fielding of players in different roles and skill positions. Even some specialized skill development. But depending upon the draft and rotating of players, you might have to move your shortstop over the second base for a little while cuz you just landed at the star shortstop. Right. So Yeah. And, and everyone’s seeing that as the goal team output team results is what’s important here. I’m on a team to keep advancing everyone any way I can that’s so different than the default.

Vince Kellen: (13:58)
Yeah. And that’s absolutely the case. And we try to push that everywhere. So it’s, we, you know, we call it nearest neighbor communication. Your job is to communicate at the staff level with your nearest neighbor. Well, I also was tipped off, my son played hockey for, uh, his, you know, six to six 18 and in as a kid and as a teenager. And he had a coach who stepped outta college coaching and coached little kids for a while. And I was talking to him about his experiences and he said, yeah, I was, um, at, uh, uh, a college game and I happened to be sitting next to an NHL scout. And so I asked the scout, you know, what are you looking for in talent? He said, the NHL scout said, well, that’s pretty easy. Um, there’s a lot of players who have great speed shot all and physical prowess. That’s not what I’m looking for. He said, what are you looking for? He said, I’m looking for the player that as soon as they step on the ice, the other five players are better. Dang gum it. Yeah. So we gotta select people whose job is to make their teammate better. Yeah. Put that out in your job description. Your job is to make the person you don’t like who you think is a is, um, is not performing to make them better now,

Joe Gottlieb: (15:06)
Or that you’re trying to appear to be better than.

Vince Kellen: (15:09)
Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, that’s the spirit. I tr you know, it’s, it’s the ideal, you know, life is always in between, but that’s where we lead to. And there’s a utilitarian reason for this. Hmm. And the reason has to do with how you align resources to projects and to things that need to get done. This is way more efficient. I’m tapping into the passion of people, giving them the security and safety, knowing that they don’t have to be perfect. There’s a team around them mm-hmm. that can help them cover gaps. Um, and we get better backfill, better, uh, uh, sharing of, of, of duties. So, uh, we don’t have as many single points of failure. Uh, I’m tapping into the passion of individual employees. When they get passionate, they get three times more productive Absolutely. In their work. And so that enables us to do a lot more with, with, with the budget.

Vince Kellen: (16:04)
And, uh, you know, there’s a quote by St. Vincent DePaul. Love is inventive to infinity. Meaning if you get a team that’s really dedicated to each other in a more intimate way, their output will get phenomenally good. Um, and you see that in all the great sport teams where they’re like, you know, it’s all a team thing, man. It’s not about me. And, and, and so that’s hard to do in the IT realm, but we’ve been able to do it based on the personalities and the culture I’ve been able to affect, uh, here, uh, in my unit.

Joe Gottlieb: (16:38)
That’s exciting. I love it. Okay. So once you had your IT culture moving in the right direction, you began to confront a very data technology portfolio and in the context of tight budget. So talk about how you approach that at U C S D.

Vince Kellen: (16:54)
Yes. And part of my work as a C job is to figure out the economic model for sustainability for everything we do. It’s not enough to buy tech. I have to figure out how does this fit into the organization’s ability to make money and, and, and how does it pay for itself. And uh, when I came here, uh, I said, oh, by the way, Vince, you’re, you know, as part of the CI position, we wanna tell you something. We’ve got these old cobalt mainframe systems, we gotta modernize . And I was like, what ? And, uh, so yes, we have, uh, cobalt systems from the time when Terra flew in the sky and dinosaurs roamed the earth. And we had to systematically replace those with, um, softwares of service solutions, which were coming up the final piece of that. And along the way there’s about 18 or so or 20 total applications in this whole portfolio ranging from recruiting software facilities, software, um, learning management system, software, finance, procurement, uh, uh, you name it, um, uh, grant and billings and, uh, all the pre-award, what we call the, the pre-award processing side of life.

Vince Kellen: (18:01)
So in total, about 20 some systems had to get modernized. We had a totally cloud, actually cloud-only strategy, wasn’t even willing to consider anything on-prem. Uh, and we, knowing that that was the case, and, and this isn’t one single monolithic e r P vendor, and I knew that that was likely to be the case. In fact, that was sort of promoting the Gartner notion of postmodern e r p. Not because I’m a Gartner fanboy, even though I like Gartner. It’s because in a university complex university setting, while we’ll have some anchor software tenants, like, uh, in our finance system and in our payroll systems, the reality is we need many pieces of software to work together that puts pressure on two areas in IT integration mm-hmm. and data warehousing. So I knew that going in and immediately set apart a modernization of our data warehouse architecture, and then also modernization of our, um, integration architecture. And, uh, so we, uh, set about all of that work and then have done, uh, some of the transformation.

Joe Gottlieb: (19:07)
You, the way you approached this, you mentioned you were going to all sas, you had a lot of stuff in the portfolio that of course would have to be, um, replaced and you engineered an extinction event to drive the march. And along the way you also had quite a bit of staff change. So I want to touch on both of those facets of the, of the big change.

Vince Kellen: (19:30)
Yeah. When, when you do technology change, um, greenfield opportunities are rare. Almost everything’s a brownfield, meaning I got a, I gotta satisfy around things that were built before. So there’s this, um, sunk cost bias sort of thing, or an encumbrance or technical debt you’re carrying with it. You just can’t get out. I wanted to avoid that because I wanted to kind of a clean break from the past and a clean lean into the future. So yes, I engineered an extinction event and I said, we are going to systematically dismantle everything. We’re gonna systematically stand up some big pieces, integration and data warehousing to buffet this. Knowing that the data piece is the most critical. If I can get into an integrated state of data for the enterprise, I can set up all the future growth we need that, that taps into the data. But I have to walk away from our terrible old data warehouse as part of it. It’s very hard politically for CIOs to engineer greenfield approaches. And so I took the exigency of getting rid of the coal ball. I said, okay, we got a meteor hitting this. Cob ball’s gonna go away. We need to terraform everything, everything right in it. Uh, now it looks over a seven year period, much more incremental and it should feel that way as you go through it. But it’s a series of very rapid projects. One after the other, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, uh, continuing. So

Joe Gottlieb: (21:01)
Can I, um, so does that mean in effect that you had this big portfolio, you knew that you were going to replace much, if not all of it, and you started by creating, um, a modern integration infrastructure and data warehousing infrastructure that would allow you to stay, keep, maintain all the necessary connections and data flows between the old portfolio and the new things that were supplanting old things in turn?

Vince Kellen: (21:36)
Yes. Yes. Absolutely. And we had in many little things we’d have to do in either integration or data warehouse or say, okay, we need to do something in order to bridge this gap. In the transition, I’d ask one question, is this is what we’re gonna do a forever home? No, it is not. So it’s a throwaway, it’s a crutch. Good. Invest the absolute minimum needed to affect the crutch and then put on the schedule when you’re gonna kill the crutch, get rid of the crutch. We will not keep crutches around. I will hunt down crutches and kill them. If you tell me I got 37 crutches and now they’re a permanent part of my environment, I’m gonna blow a gasket here. We have to be very clear that if we’re gonna have an interim solution, we, we, we use it, then we throw away the crutch and we get into our forever home and we’ve made a couple of those decisions. What’s a forever home? What’s not? Uh, we still make a little bit of those from now, now, and then. But we go in knowing, okay, we’ll do the minimum here and we’ll throw it away after a couple years, uh, and move on to the next thing

Joe Gottlieb: (22:36)
Eyes wide open. Now that’s, that’s healthy, right. To be able to have that option when the business or circumstance just demands it. But then you though have a much better appreciation for what you’re committing to what, what that investment is involved. Yeah.

Vince Kellen: (22:51)
Yeah. And

Joe Gottlieb: (22:53)
A better psychology for coping and managing it back out, even though it was a heavier one than you would’ve

Vince Kellen: (22:59)
Worked. Yeah. Now here’s the payoff. Um, integration had been kind of like, uh, integration. People in my organization were kinda like pieces of pepperoni all across the pizza. Uh, and I said, no, no, we have to have one integration team, just one. And we have an integration team. Now, in fact, I had to kind of talk one of my people off the ledge, like, oh my God, I’m losing my integration person. I’m not gonna get bandwidth. I’m not gonna get the attention I need. I said, no, you got to talk to your teammate and make them better. Welcome to the club. And the transition has been made. But now they’re starting to use r p a automation for these things. Uh, we’re laying in cybersecurity testing as an automation. Uh, we have regression testing of all software as a service, as an integrated team. And they’re doing, uh, regression testing ridiculously faster compared to humans. Uh, and so now we’re starting to see the flywheel effect of doing these things and making the organizational changes.

Joe Gottlieb: (23:58)
And if I may trace that back to, you could keep me honest here, but getting those constituents to buy into the shared service in this, in the, in this case of integration. But I imagine there are several data warehousing. There are several of these. And then see the automation potential, excuse me mm-hmm. of that standardized service that that hub model, um, is now translating to visible benefits, which Oh,

Vince Kellen: (24:29)
And it’s, people hear about that, right?

Joe Gottlieb: (24:31)
The word gets around.

Vince Kellen: (24:32)
Yeah. Oh yeah. Well, and they see it time to market and flow. In fact, my problem now is, you know, in our data warehouse environment, we’ve had a furious buildout of different reports to support grant accounting. Cuz we kind of missed the mark on some of the grant accounting when we released, uh, the systems. But because we invested in a very high speed in memory analytical tool called hana, we have the ability to add features in no time flat. And the particular approach we take to this, which I’ve written about at, at chico’s review, uh, new roles for 21st century analytics, it enables us to build ahead of use. And thus when use present itself demand, we can move quickly. So for example, uh, one of our, uh, bi leads was meeting with members of our, uh, research community and getting ideas for reports a week later.

Vince Kellen: (25:22)
Most of them show up and people didn’t, it’s now sort of like, I won’t say expected, but I, I had to remind people, I said, you know, if you asked me that six years ago, I’d tell you nine months. And now we have monthly delivery. We’re, we’re moving from monthly deliveries. In fact, we’re entertaining continuous delivery models in an enterprise environment on some pieces of this. We’re on monthly. I don’t know if we’ll ever go to daily or multiple times a day. Um, but theoretically we could. Uh, it’s really a question of does the community, would that perturb the community too much, create too much disturbance in the community? But we’re on monthly release cycles on our integration in our database platforms now. And so we’re able to roll out time to market functionality pretty quickly.

Joe Gottlieb: (26:09)
So getting back then to this big transition that there was a lot of, um, there was a lot of change to the team. So talk a little bit about how you managed that, both in terms of the, the process, how much of it was proactive versus reactive, and then how you, how you continue to just maintain the culture along the way.

Vince Kellen: (26:34)
Um, the, the, the, the organization that I got was pretty decently formed. Pier, my C F O did a great job of setting all that up. And we had very good leaders in place. And so then I said, okay, folks, we have to do some more, uh, consolidation of units outside of our unit that has taken place. And then we have to decide where are we gonna put this? You know, is this gonna be in our workplace technology area? Is this gonna be in our enterprise information area? Is this gonna be in our security operations area? And, and so now the, the way we do our reorganizations, you know, and when I got here, it was more, they were bigger and fewer. Now we’re into the land of continually altering our organizational structure in order to increase flow of delivery. So I call it shop floor redesign.

Vince Kellen: (27:29)
Mm-hmm. . Uh, so for example, when we started getting this automated testing and, and automated, uh, deployment to production, it caused us to rejigger our structure a little bit. Okay, we need to move these resources under here and get them reporting to this person. And we try to do this in a way that it looks almost invisible to most people, and it’s kind of more min, it’s more smaller than it is bigger. Uh, so now I think of this structure not as a permanent structure, but more like, um, a protein that folds in adapting to the environment around it. Uh, we’ll make those accommodations. We’re considering another one right now in the area of, um, identity and management operations, uh, and how to, how to do that. Uh, and so I had to get the culture ready to accept that without getting all up in arms about it. But the way to do that is to make sure it taps into the passion of the A players on those teams. If the A players go, thank you, thank you, you’re on the right track, you’re gonna be able to make that change pretty well. So you have to do something that makes sense to your very top performers, even at the low line staff level. Uh, and if not, you gotta quickly deliver that, uh, that, that, that sort of feeling to the staff. You gotta get the staff, uh, enthused about this as well.

Joe Gottlieb: (28:48)
Right. So that’s a b I mean, that’s a, that’s just the way that you sustain this right? Back to your harnessing the passion and the interest of your A players, which can then lead the culture and the that, uh, that that high performance output really. Um, but then doing so in a, in a, in a, a matrix or a, or a, a looser organization that has allowed you to reform teams to address the need at hand.

Vince Kellen: (29:15)
Yes, precisely. That’s exactly right. I need an agile organizational structure.

Joe Gottlieb: (29:21)
Right. And that is a topic I would love to pick up with you on another date, but for the sake of this podcast, I wanna shift now into when you came into academia, i e higher education, you brought a background in business in consulting and, and variety of verticals and the like. What did you learn about the language of higher ed and how it differs from the language of business?

Vince Kellen: (29:45)
Yes. The, uh, , the academy, uh, and the faculty are not generally business people. You know, most of them are not, uh, they don’t have the understanding, um, and the training in that area and necessarily so because they’re so good at what they do. So as a consultant, uh, and if you’re a good consultant, you scrub your language carefully, right? So you have to make things work in a way that the client, uh, is gonna understand. So I’ve had to scrub certain words like profit, right? And cost savings and, and efficiency, uh, as business speak, right? And instead you gotta sort of hijack those cultural terms and use other terms. So I like to use touchless a touchless transaction. Oh, what does that mean? That means it doesn’t wait in a queue for 12 people to approve. Oh, oh, I’ll in favor that go ahead and do that.

Vince Kellen: (30:38)
Uh, our administrators are overworked. We need to give ’em their life back. Oh yes, absolutely. Right? Um, now under the hood, that’s a productivity game. If I save, uh, staff time and administrative work, they have a productivity game because are you gonna fire people? Because No, I said our institution’s dedicated to growth. And so what we do is we grow and we watch our productivity increase, uh, as we grow. And we watch that kind of carefully a bit. Um, so you have to kind of systematically go through the language of business speak, especially there’s a, there’s a sort of meta that, you know, in our IT industry, and there’s some people who speak this metabo well, it’s a string of acronyms at a high level, uh, for which you’re not sure if they understand them. Um, and the academy just revolt against that. They know they can sense the metabo pretty quick.

Vince Kellen: (31:31)
And so then I have to break it down into, uh, language that’s appropriate, uh, for them. Uh, and along the way, kinda learn that language carefully. But more importantly, I’ve had to being a PhD student as an adult learner, appreciate the path that the PhD student goes through, appreciate the past, the post got goes through. And then being around as an instructor, uh, pointed, an adjunct around, uh, uh, faculty going for their tenure, seeing that process. It’s brutal. It is not easy. It is very tough on the human soul. And the world doesn’t see that. They just think it’s all, you know, rose petals on, on, on carpets. It’s not. And a lot of people in that journey bounce out, go into industry, those that make it, uh, tend to be pretty good. And a few of them are superb at what they do, and they, they invent these wonderful things that we use today. So the process has its blessings of what it produces, but it also has its curses. And so I gotta learn that. But that’s not totally different from, let’s say, going into in the insurance industry and understanding how agents and agencies think differently than the underwriter and the providers. They all have their cultures.

Joe Gottlieb: (32:51)
There’s always a need to be understood. And in the presence of change and the anxiety that comes with change, one of the defense mechanisms is to, is to articulate that the change agent doesn’t understand the business at hand, the work being done, or appreciate the nuance, uh, yes. Of things. And finding healthy ways to dispense with that obstacle is really helpful. Uh,

Vince Kellen: (33:22)
Yes, that’s correct. Not agree more.

Joe Gottlieb: (33:25)
Yeah. So, and I love the also the, the, the, the way that you talked about the language to, to help focus, focus on the value of a change versus what they might reflexively feel as a concern about the change. I e oh, automation means I’m gonna lose my job. No, , it means we’re actually gonna listen to the fact that you’re being overworked with admin time. We’re gonna reduce the burden Yeah. That you’re experiencing there so you can apply yourself in your craft or do more in a given area. Right.

Vince Kellen: (34:00)
Well, I wanna, I wanna tell my a player, I want you, I wanna make you a rockstar of automation, right? I wanna put you on the red carpet. I want you to have you tell your story how you’ve been able to, you know, really do some wicked things with automation.

Joe Gottlieb: (34:15)
Awesome. Okay. So I wanna bring this home and, and, and bring at least for now, a, a an a a tale to this story, which is you’ve, um, what’s next for U C S D? You’ve got this thing operating like clockwork and, uh, I imagine there’s some exciting things ahead.

Vince Kellen: (34:32)
Well, it, it’s not operating like clockwork, it’s, it’s, but it is doing better and it’s, it’s always trending and hopefully a good direction. You turn

Joe Gottlieb: (34:40)

Vince Kellen: (34:41)
Yeah. Well, uh, I was a black belt and mar martial arts instructor. Um, you know, as you advance in your black belt career, you start to realize how painfully further away you were from perfection than you thought before. Yep. So there is no, there’s nothing more, but increased humility is the closer you get because the distance starts to expand. And I think that’s the best way to do it. Always be green, never, never get right. And so always think that you’re never good enough. Uh, so for, for uc, San Diego, and for certainly for my role, the what’s next for us, okay? As I told people, oh, we’ve, we’ve, we’ve done all these interesting projects to implement these new big systems. Um, I said that’s the easy part, but I said, why not? Well, you now have to do something with it, right? What do you wanna do with it?

Vince Kellen: (35:32)
Well, what we have to do with it is we have to now fulfill on the promise of this technology, which is to highly automate that, which can be streamline our administration, which our citizen taxpayers want us to do, and we can. And so get on that, start to use the technology to make a difference with students. Uh, there’s intelligent tutoring and all sorts of applications for students. Students are already using Chan G p T to help. There’s a lot of fear about is that gonna be worse or it’s gonna be better. I’m kinda a little bit more in the optimistic camp. I think smart humans always find a way to get smarter with technology. It’s, we gotta make this work for everybody, not just a few. Uh, so we got a lot of work on that side of it. And then how do we make the digital experience such that it’s getting consistent or similar to, or has a fidelity that resonates with the on-premise experience?

Vince Kellen: (36:26)
We have, uh, we’re still gonna be a very strong on-premise institution. We are growing our online program. So, uh, I need to have technology to support all of that. Uh, and then probably most importantly, as we go into this automation and AI future, uh, for the university, which I think uc, San Diego can be under, especially in the leadership of Pretty Picasa, can absolutely be a gold standard for how higher ed does this. Uh, and I think that’s probably our way just to try to do that. The bigger part of this is what are the impediments to achieving this? And the impediments are gonna be largely creative and conceptual and typically among the management ranks. And so I like to tell people as managers, whatever you believe to be true is true. If you believe that this AI automation cannot help, well, it’s true. If you believe it can’t, it is true.

Vince Kellen: (37:22)
It’s a question of what you believe. You will create what you believe. Now the question is, is who’s right in the belief system? You or me? Well, let’s find out. Right? And you’re gonna find out that there’s gonna be all sorts of organizations that are gonna find successes here in ways you hadn’t thought of, uh, or I hadn’t thought of. And so we have to work our management belief systems, and then we have to understand that it’s an old saw. One person’s waste is another person’s reason for being mm. Which means if I find a way to eliminate waste in something, the person goes, what am I gonna do? Now? This was my reason for being, I have to give those folks a reason for being, uh, we have to deal with that. And so getting at that organizational, uh, managerial change management, I don’t even like to use the word change management, doesn’t rise to the level that that describes this, but understanding how to hit the hearts and the souls of the managers so that they can lean into and want to desire this.

Vince Kellen: (38:21)
The biggest obstacle to this is gonna be managerial and mental inertia, mental mindset that won’t change. The first thing that happens when I talk about this, people say, what about risk? What about that? So I’ve had to remind folks, they say, Hey, if you wanna start every conversation about the art of the possible, and immediately you say, what about compliance? What about this, what about that? You’ll never think of anything. I have no doubt that in higher education we can critique the living by Jesus out of anything. Yes, my doubt is whether we can think of something in, you know, creative upfront. So set that aside, pursue your wildest ambitions and dreams of what could be true. And start with simple things like, you know, we’re using chat G P T to help with job description writing, with writing project charter, with writing project documentation. Hmm. Writing, looking through source code and, and using copilot to help us write some code. Start with the mundane, right? And we, all of us have to lean into this. And it’s, it’s getting at that management belief systems at large.

Joe Gottlieb: (39:24)
I think that’s a powerful, uh, way to articulate it because some, some schools will, some schools will find ways to, uh, transform, evolve, advance, and manage compliance and risk along the way. But having found something, um, worth pursuing, those, those controls can be applied. Okay. Um, in summary, what three takeaways can we offer our listeners on the topic of transforming IT culture, team and portfolio?

Vince Kellen: (39:54)
Uh, I think the three takeaways, uh, start with the leadership behavior. The leader, the CIO, has to be what you seek to become, what do you want out of your organization? So you know, you have to immerse yourself into, uh, the, the things you want to be. So you have to adjust your, your approach. You have to be fluid in your approach, and you have to change yourself in order to, uh, get your organization to change. And two, you gotta assemble the team and cultivate the team philosophy. The culture is really gonna change based upon selection of people and promotion of people. And that’s step one. And then step two is to articulate the team philosophy and then put that team philosophy into action. And the third one is, while there’s a transformation, which might be like a crystalline structure that goes through a state change, after that, you have to iterate always into what is going to be needed by your organization. So your organization has to change in an iterative way, evolve, adapt, uh, to what is needed, uh, at any given time by the organization as it walks through its journey.

Joe Gottlieb: (41:05)
Great points. Vince, thank you so much for joining me today.

Vince Kellen: (41:09)
Thank you. It was great talk.

Joe Gottlieb: (41:11)
And thanks to our guests for joining us as well. We hope you have a great day, and we’ll look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of Transformed.

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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.

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