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Webinars, Cultural Change, and Props to Yale IT
April 11, 2013 - 9:00pm

Did any of you catch Thursday's EDUCAUSE Live webinar Changing the Culture of an IT Organization, Whirlwind Style?

The discussion was hosted by Yale's Jane Livingston, Associate CIO and Karen Polhemus, Director, ITS Organizational Change Management - and was (beautifully) moderated by NC State's CIO Marc Hoit.

The subject of the webinar was:

Yale’s IT organization is in transformation mode. The journey over the past 18 months has covered everything: a major reorganization; a top-to-bottom and side-to-side implementation of ITIL processes and a new tool for tracking incidents, problems, changes, and requests; a new governance structure rollout; the voice of community focus groups and activities; a major website redesign; and new structures to support and encourage change, communication, and innovation. This session will focus on the change efforts, share lessons learned, and discuss the pros and cons of implementing change at a very fast pace.

If you did not catch the event live, I highly recommend going back and viewing the archive.  

The props I want to give are less about the specifics of the presentation and Yale's organizational changes (which are fascinating and I think instructive for all of us), and more about Jane and and Karen's willingness to share Yale's experience of changing its own IT culture.

Talking openly about culture, and cultural change, can feel risky.  

This is particularly true I think in our higher ed IT world, where demands for our services have run so far ahead of available resources. There is so much to do on a daily basis, and the costs of system failure and downtime so high, that larger issues of cultural change are often left on the back burner.

What was so great about Jane and Karen's presentation was that they connected the arguments for changing Central IT's culture with the larger organizational priorities that the new CIO Len Peters put in place.  

These organizational priorities include:

  • Staff Development
  • Rock Solid Services
  • Community Satisfaction
  • Technological Leadership
  • Fiscal Management
  • Global Recognition

Yale IT is a big organization, with 420 central IT people and ~300 distributed folks. To tackle these organizational priorities Yale IT focused on improving communication, governance, and training.  They flattened the IT organization while creating performance improvement teams to investigate and solve technical or systematic problems. Yale IT focused on evolving people and processes, not specific IT infrastructure pieces, a strategy that seems to have met with some real success.

This felt to me like a great use of the webinar format.   Having this sort of discussion with colleagues at other institutions is often difficult, and is too often confined to conferences or meetings.  The webinar format allowed us to have this discussion efficiently (without missing work or traveling), and the nature of the online chat box opened up many more opportunities for exchange than are possible in a face-to-face session.   

What also greatly helped was that Marc played the role of an active moderator, synthesizing the questions in the chat box and adding his own thoughts.  And Jane and Karen made the smart decision of not trying to "cover" too many slides - leaving time for discussion and Q&A.

Does your institution have a story to tell about how you have evolved your IT organization and culture to respond to the changing demands of teaching, learning, and research at your university?

How can we learn from the example of Jane and Karen and become more comfortable in talking about both cultural and organizational change?

What opportunities might you have to discuss organizational and cultural issues at your institution using a webinar format?

 

 

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