Reflections from the CIO

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Information Technology
Martin Bernier
Technology is an enabler for university communities. It fuels research, empowers learning, and accelerates change.

In 2023, there will be more changes that will need to be confronted and embraced, some of them not of our own choosing. And yet, isn’t that the strength of an organization, to meet challenges and convert them into opportunities? 

Let me share my current thinking. I see several key areas that Information Technology is already gearing up to face in the upcoming year: the budget aspect, managing priorities, talent management, technologies, and paradigm shifts.  

The budget aspect: Financial tightening of our belts will continue to be an exercise in prioritization. This leads me to question: “What are the right things, we need to do at this moment in time for 2023?” Identifying the core needs that will maintain operational solvency and still offer rays of digital sunshine in the right opportunities will be key. If we make the right decisions, the path to digital transformation may not have the same breath as before but will continue to grow. Pivoting to meet timely opportunities can only happen if our foundational pieces are robust. For us in IT, that means ensuring the important IT infrastructure cornerstones have a sustainable funding model and are invested in proven practices such as investment in cloud strategies. 

Priorities: There are constantly good ideas to increase services to uOttawa. Our challenge will be selecting the best initiatives that will afford the University to thrive despite budgetary constraints. We need to think, not, “Is this a great idea?” but rather “Is this the best place to invest our time and money given the current environmental landscape?” Reflecting on what lies ahead, we need to ask ourselves, “What are the winning solutions that will withstand technological changes over time?” 

Talent management: There is no doubt in my mind that we are experiencing at a smaller scale what Canada faces on a larger scale. There aren’t enough people available to fill all positions. This is true in the tech field as well. One of our challenges will be to strategize on how to keep the brightest minds working for us, develop our current resources and attract the resources we need to be able to think in the mind space to develop IT products and services required to best support our students, professors, and support staff? For sure, we must zero in on developing the skills that matter now. People are at the heart of any digital success. Experienced leaders know this and take the time to cultivate professional relationships and networks to have a pulse on what people are thinking and need. This doesn’t solely apply to the tech field, it applies everywhere. It is strategic at this point to ensure a healthy EDI culture to retain qualified employees that feel they are treated equitably, that feel the work environment welcomes diversity in all its forms, and practices inclusion in all levels of the organization. We support a diverse community, and must be diverse, inclusive to support this community well.  

Technologies:  It’s almost a cliché by now, digital transformation, yet it is real. Accelerating, it seems, at the speed of light. Maneuvering that twisted and windy road is tricky for an IT leader. Which trends do we embark on, and which ones do we pass on? No matter the choice, we must keep up the pace. Our clients eagerly consume the latest technology in their personal lives. Living in the digital era, means that we cannot afford this to wait too long before adopting new technologies. I read constantly about cloud computing, 5G, IoT, augmented reality, digital trust, blockchain and extended reality to name a few that are expected to trend in higher education over the next decade. And apps, everyone has apps on their phones. How is uOttawa positioned to embark on these technological waves? And they don’t simply co-exist, they are poised to become multi-disciplinary and start blending with each other, leading to new possibilities. In all this, let’s not forget that Workday is a big foundational platform that will soon be in production. Keeping the lights on and choosing where to innovate is a delicate balancing act with financial imperatives and staffing challenges. 

Paradigm shifts: The emerging realities of telework continue to shift. People need to continue talking about how to get past what used to be and how can we make this new ecosystem even more productive, more attractive to potential employees including professors and support staff. And how do we cultivate a sense of belonging? How can we engage our staff and the University community in this new equilibrium? How can we see our reality in a different light to seize opportunities rather than simply tweak past realities? This is key, because then we can make different choices about our priorities, in what endeavors we work on, and can have a more welcoming environment for staff, students, and the University community.  

In summary, we are on the precipice of another exhilarating year with many possibilities ahead. Information Technology continues to add value to the University community and offers thought leadership on several fronts.  Our choices will open us up to security risks that we will need to manage. Our most important foundation, our people, is what we need to keep top of mind. Want to talk to me about some of these ideas? Reach out to me via Teams or email.