From the CIO

From the CIO

Kelly Block serves as Interim Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the University of Illinois System.

For more information about Kelly, visit About the CIO.

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(Reprinted in part with permission of

Much of higher education is still based on a step model where you progress from grade school to high school to college, and then to better employment. While the education system treats the process as a step-by-step, that is not how people think or learn. In the wide world of education, students participate in online courses, continuing education modules, certificate training, short courses that result in badges, educational gaming, mentorship opportunities, and full degree programs. Furthermore, once you have one of these credentials, you need to prove to an employer that you achieved it. At the University of Illinois at Springfield, they are looking at blockchain to solve the credential puzzle. Rather than add a new line to your resume, your achievements can be added to a decentralized digital ledger. Education providers can make an entry when the student finishes an achievement, and that student can give permission to others to view it, which not only helps the student but also the HR office.

Personalization is prevalent outside of the university, and students are used to progress bars, tracking accomplishments, and self-motivation. After I buy Florida Georgia Line tickets for my daughter, I can guarantee that I’ll know about every country concert in the greater Chicagoland area. Every day, data are aggregated for students, and their mobile device tells them hundreds of bits of personal information. If we could combine this level of personalization with college registration data, grades, the degree audit system, and the career center, then I could give it to Watson. I’m certain that Watson would love to help students find the perfect job based on their personalized education path.

Would a student be willing to let personal information travel between departments and between internal and external education providers? Would they allow people to determine how their experiences ranging from extracurricular activities, scouting troop participation, high school education, college education, and work history could be translated into a better job or a higher salary? I’ve worked with many who say there is no way we could possibly violate a student’s privacy in this way. Meanwhile, that same student clicks away privacy on social media and playing mobile games. If you could click a button that said, “Share my data to improve my salary at a job I love”—would students do it? Yes, I think they would.

Tune in next time to read my thoughts on the use of dashboards and data integration as a “one stop shop” experience for the students.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Jun 07, 2017 at 1:43 PM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

I was watching a student presentation the other day, and they pointed out how difficult it was to schedule a study room. While many colleges and libraries have study rooms that can be reserved online, they are not necessarily reserved using the same tool, and you need to be a member of a specific community to use some of the rooms. There isn’t an Airbnb for empty conference rooms or other shared spaces. More often than not, spaces are managed by individual colleges, and resources do not share easily across departmental boundaries. This adds unnecessary work on the student’s end.

Universities must do a better job of redesigning their business processes to be centered on the person that matters the most in a university: the student. The student is the customer and main driver of the economic engine of the university. By redefining the business process around the student, we can change the bureaucratic experience.

The diagram shows some of the interactions that a student has with the university. Time and time again, students want these interactions simplified. There are already some vendors that sell integration and aggregation platforms that simplify the processes. Nonetheless, it is rare that a student experience would include useful analytics about their current progress and their future job prospects in addition to easy ways to complete the numerous transactions. This is the goal, though.

What other ways do students interact with university information technology?

In part II, I’ll share my take on combining personalization with university technology to enable today’s students to use their personalized digital experience how they see fit.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Jun 01, 2017 at 12:16 PM

Being in a place where you aren’t fluent in the language can be both intimidating as well as frustrating. Now, imagine having that feeling during an important meeting or as a client looking for a new service. These are just a few of the circumstances that continue to reform the technological language and the jargon used in the IT field.

So, what’s the problem with the IT speak that many of us commonly use? The understanding of these vague technical terms, acronyms and umbrella expressions is missing to many employees whose roles may not include a daily dose of IT speak. Using more commonly known phrases and displaying the acronyms following the aforementioned phrases will help to give understanding to those feeling out of the loop.

As a department, we are here to offer our services to faculty, staff and students across the University System. With a broad demographic of potential customers, our services need be understood by someone who may have little to no knowledge of IT jargon. Without understanding our functions, our functions lose their value. To battle this issue, more descriptive and less “techie” terms and expressions are being used to describe the services that AITS offers.


The goal of this initiative was to provide across-the-board clarity for individuals within AITS as well as for external customers using our services. Something as simple as changing the words that we use can make all the difference.

Is there any other terminology at AITS that could use some clarification? If so, let me know. Comments, suggestions and feedback are always welcome.

Posted by Michael Hites  On May 22, 2017 at 1:41 PM

Technology changes. The stakeholder’s demand for technology changes. We know it. That’s what motivates IT professionals to keep going, right? How we handle this change, however, is what makes the difference between innovation and just going through the motions. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.” So, what do we do when we’re faced with change? At AITS, we adapt and keep moving forward.

In recent posts, I’ve shared how AITS has embraced the changing IT needs of students, faculty and staff through strategic planning, and how we adapt to the changing landscape of IT in higher education as outlined in the annual EDUCAUSE report of Top Ten IT Issues; but, how do you plan for changes in leadership?

The image below provides a visual representation of the extent of the leadership changes during my time at AITS. As is often the case, a change in personnel likely translates to change in IT focus, priorities and strategy, which, at times, can make strategic planning seem more like an exercise in futility.

Actually, I have experienced the opposite to be true. The constantly changing environment of higher education is precisely the reason IT strategic planning is so important because it plays a vital role in the success of the university and the primary stakeholder, our students. At AITS, change does not deter our focus on supporting our strategic directions of saving time, fostering ease of use, improving speed of delivery of IT services, delivering targeted and pervasive information for users, and collaborating with units throughout the University of Illinois System. We embrace it, plan accordingly, and keep moving forward.

Have you had similar changes in your organization? How did you navigate those changes and was strategic planning a part of your process? Next time, I’ll share how small changes in IT speak versus customer speak have positively impacted our ability to communicate with the stakeholders we serve.

As always, comments, questions and other feedback are welcome at any time.

Posted by Michael Hites  On May 22, 2017 at 12:00 PM

I was invited to give a briefing at AGB's National Conference on Trusteeship in Dallas, Texas, next week on cybersecurity for colleges and universities. Here are a few of my thoughts leading into the presentation.  

About once a week, I receive a new email message touting "top 10 cybersecurity risks" or "this year's report on cybersecurity shows more attacks than ever" or some other tactic designed to make me want to open it. I've yet to get one that is a cyberattack disguised as a cyber-defense message; however, I'm sure that's next. Mostly, these messages focus on two topics: the new threats and the new methods to combat the threats.

Just in the past few years, the increase in the use of mobile devices has created new ways for criminals to get your personal and corporate data. At universities, we tend to be a bit more open with the bring-your-own-device mentality, so the problem is amplified. It used to be that hackers would need to break into centralized on-campus systems. Now that it is popular to host university data off campus in the cloud, the bad guys have a choice to use malware on a personal computer or mobile device, or they can break in to hosted services without sneaking into your campus.

The current thinking is that containment, simplification, and automation are the keys to combat these threats.

Make sure that your critical data are constrained so that criminals have fewer options to get it. Simplify your security operations so that you don't have a different solution for every piece of software or data that you use. By simplifying the number of tools and procedures that you have, you can practice them more often and be more successful at implementing them. Automation is the critical when the breadth of threats increase. You can't just keep hiring more and more people every time something new appears, so buy tools that can watch your systems and data for you.

But the most critical aspect of cybersecurity is still the human.

Criminals will focus on the biggest vulnerability, so if your employees can't easily distinguish between legitimate online content and malicious content, you will become a target. Fortunately, this is preventable, and when you train your staff to be suspicious, the hackers will avoid you because the return on their investment is low.

Reprinted with permission of Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. To view the original blog post, visit  

Posted by Michael Hites  On Mar 27, 2017 at 9:24 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

We expanded our GPPMO to include other components: business process improvement, records and information management, and customer relationship management. This lets us help our constituents analyze their processes before they decide they need to start a project. The records office helps constituents interpret federal, state and university policy, making it easier for individuals to store, manage, and dispose of the records generated during the course of business. Finally, the CRM office helps coordinate our social media, annual reports, and participation in events and meetings so that every member of the IT department has the ability to work with our customers.

How well have we done? To date, our ROI is three to one, meaning that for every dollar spent on a project, we create three dollars in efficiency over a five-year period. There have been 513 projects reviewed, 445 approved, 65 rejected or withdrawn, 395 completed, and 53 in progress. The demand for our projects has increased 53 percent over the last five years, and there are about 87,000 hours of approved work in the pipeline.

In the area of process improvement, we have made 84 recommendations with a potential savings of $8.1M and 7,800 hours annually and have directly engaged with 75 units on their own projects. We have trained over 800 people in lean and six sigma methodologies, partnered to create college based BPI programs, engage shared service participants across the university, and mediate between groups to make forward progress.

Even though we have a successful process, we are continually reviewing IT governance so it aligns with the campus strategic plans and business needs. We made several changes to our process over time, including realigning project selection to strategic plans, improving communication outside of the process by adding a CRM group, delegating decision making for “small” projects to make the process more lightweight, and creating a cross-functional prioritization committee at a lower level in the organization because we found that the higher level employees did not have enough time to learn about the nuances of the each project to effectively prioritize them.

There are many ways to set up an IT governance and project management framework. In our case, we maximize efficiency with a single GPPMO that guides the governance process, creates standards and requirements, manages our portfolio of work, reports on performance, focuses on integrated planning with IT and the customers, retains the capacity for large projects, and provides professional development opportunities for IT professionals throughout the university.

Are there any other campus IT projects that would benefit from collaboration with GPPMO? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Jun 09, 2016 at 9:15 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

In a central IT department, someone has to build the strategic plan, manage the prioritization process, start and finish projects, and ensure that the customers get what they need. In many large IT organizations, the governance, project management, business process improvement, and customer relationship management are performed by separate groups. At the University of Illinois System IT office, we prefer an end-to-end approach where the same department guides all of these functions.

In our system-level IT organization, there are about 220 employees that improve and maintain the enterprise IT services used for transactional business processing, data warehousing and analytics, process improvement, and records management. The University of Illinois is a system of three campuses in Springfield, Chicago and Urbana-Champaign that serves about 79,000 students with about 25,000 employees. The university is highly decentralized, and there are centralized IT services, shared IT services, and local IT services throughout. In total, there are over 100,000 customers (not counting the 700,000 living alumni) and over 100 different IT groups at the university. Providing effective IT governance and planning in this environment is challenging.

IT governance defines the processes, components, structures, and participants for making decisions regarding the use of IT. It collects ideas, reviews and selects, and prioritizes resources in the most strategic manner possible. IT governance promotes transparency, strategic alignment of the university and IT, resource allocation, performance management, collaboration, standards and policy, and it encourages constituents to participate actively in the process.

As Gartner and EDUCAUSE suggest, IT governance should be only as complex as needed. In a small organization, one committee can handle the strategic and operational prioritization. In a larger organization, an executive committee or steering committees might be needed. Depending on what needs to be governed, committees can be focused on constituent types, like faculty members or students, or focused on functions like research or enterprise architecture.

In Part II of this discussion, I’ll share why we decided to move towards centralized GPPMO.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On May 11, 2016 at 4:32 PM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

The "Internet of Things" or the "industrial internet" is making us part of the internet itself. Eventually, your house will know that your self-driving car is on its way. Your spouse (and the government) will also probably know where you are in the self-driving car, but let's focus on the positive side of the Internet of Things. Even though you might have to fill out three different paper forms to see a doctor, your phone and watch already can give some of your medical history as you walk in the door to the office. When the refrigerator tells the nurse that you pulled out ice cream five times more often than broccoli, you're in trouble. Hopefully you'll never have to call a repair person again, because everything will know when it should be serviced. At the University of Illinois, we developed a mobile app that uses your current location to help students find the right food at the right time within the various dining halls. Like it or not, we are part of the cloud, with little ability to opt out. How we embrace the Internet of Things as IT professionals will determine how comfortable our customers feel with using so much data from machines.

Is the cloud secure? Mostly, yes. Higher education has battled network and data security for decades, and will continue to balance open access with the protection of assets and also privacy with security, regardless of whether the service is inside the university or outside of it. It is more likely that you or one of your colleagues will click on a cleverly designed spear phishing email, get infected by malware from your kids, or put your credit card though a hacked point of sale before the next cloud breach gets announced.

While there's nothing that is perfectly secure, the cloud services providers have a financial incentive to not play loose with your data or the university's. So for today, I'm choosing to be for the cloud, with the cloud, and of the cloud. What choice to do I have?

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Feb 17, 2016 at 9:35 AM

(Reprinted in part with permission of

Expectation management is important with abundant cloud services. When the random vendor talks to the president of the university and exclaims that their company can save 80 percent of the IT budget by going to the cloud, who is there to ask, "Which budget is that?" The cloud does save money, and it takes careful analysis to determine where and when to move services to the cloud. Paralysis by committee and turf protection cannot guide the decision making. There needs to be a rational process that includes academics, budget leaders, IT professionals and the customer to provide input to the decision. Ultimately, the provost, chancellor or president needs to have enough comfort to make the right decision, and IT professionals can help with this decision making process.

While the cloud may help alleviate some infrastructure and software development costs, there is no end in sight for integration. Application administrators are still needed regardless of where the hardware lives, data scientists will work hand-in-hand with developers to provide cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-school integrations, mobile computing still needs to be supported, and customers will still expect everything to "just work." I'm not sure we've seen a time in history where there is more of a need for IT professionals than today.

Cloud-based planning tools are now available to facilitate the strategic planning process. There are workshops, focus groups, town halls and all sorts of collaboration that takes place during the planning process. Then, once you're done, you need to keep your plan alive and implement your priorities. When we did our last two IT strategic plans, we developed all of the strategic directions and initiatives in the cloud, and we assigned ownership of the initiatives to many people within the organization so that progress could be tracked. Once the plan was online, updating it was a collaborative update process, and you can click "print" at any time if you need to show an old-school planner the current progress report.

How we embrace the Internet of Things as IT professionals will determine how comfortable our customers feel with using so much data from machines. In part IV, I’ll offer my insight as to what choices we really have.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Feb 03, 2016 at 9:11 AM 2 Comments

(Reprinted in part with permission of

Higher education consortia are helping institutions gain access to cloud services. For example, Internet2's Net+ offerings make it easier to procure cloud computing, storage, data mining, two-factor authentication, and many more software-as-a-service offerings. Several vendors make great cloud services for data visualization, drilldown, discovery and analytics. These services let you configure pre-made graphics on top of your own data, which you can link directly to their cloud service. You can embed what you build into your own web applications, and this lets you spend more time playing with the data rather than deploying new tools. Of course, there are some scaling limitations with some of these solutions; however, these services can supplement typical industrial-strength business intelligence solutions.

In the past, the learning management system (LMS) collected syllabi and documents, displayed grades, had some basic communication capability, and was synchronized to the student information system so that only enrolled students participated in the class. Today, the LMS landscape has more competition, and the LMS is available as cloud service. Functionality now includes better features for mobility, personalization and adaptive learning. Moving forward, the demands on the LMS are to be a truly a self-guided digital learning environment allowing for exploration, real-time assessment and meaningful collaborations. With all of these choices, IT professionals can help by making sure that the academic objectives for a new LMS are clear and the institution isn't chasing the newest, shiniest tool for the sake of technology.

IBM believes that the first experience that babies and toddlers should have with education is with their parents - and Watson. Watson is not going to replace the parent, but Watson might be better than plunking the child in front of a video, a program or a website. While these may be "interactive," they certainly don't learn much from the child. Cloud-based, cognitive computing can learn and does learn. This isn't in a creepy, artificial intelligence way, but rather, it's related specifically to early childhood development. What could be better than a parental partner that was trained to recognize the difference between sleep deprivation, obstinacy, and autism? As cognitive computing becomes embedded in higher education, IT professionals can help departments utilize cognitive computing in innovative research and education.

How do we determine what to send to the cloud? In part III of this article, I’ll share my thoughts on facilitating the planning process.

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Jan 21, 2016 at 9:42 AM
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