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.

Recent Posts

(Reprinted in part with permission of

I’d like to see a dashboard for the student that provides not just the daily facts like assignments and due dates, but also personal and comparative progress bars that show how they are similar or different from their peers. We already have the data available to tell a student that 75 percent of the students that had their course load this semester graduated on time. We might be able to tell them the most likely employers for people with their current GPA. With mobile phones and beacons, we know who is studying where, and while it borders on creepy, it provides a way to find the right place to study any time of the day.

In higher education and in government, there is often a different group of administrators for each function. The same state government knows my driver’s license, registered vehicles, LLC information, professional registration, yet I must know either the physical location or the website for each of these so that I can do them separately. My son attends two colleges, so he has registration, financial aid, advising, ID card, payment, learning management systems and all sorts of other services duplicated. This unnecessary duplication drives students crazy.

Shouldn’t all of the available services be available to the student in one location? This does not mean to simply make a portal or a list of links. It means integrating the data so that it can be used together. There are already companies that use near field communication for payment in the cafeteria, and if Hilton can let you open the door with your mobile device, then why not residence halls? Theoretically, I should be able to register for class, transfer my financial aid to the bank, receive my football tickets, and open my door from the same device that I just used to ordered dinner and an Uber.

This is all in the realm of the possible, and states like Illinois are making it a priority. The Illinois’ “smart state” initiative is trying to simplify working with government on behalf of the citizen. Many universities have integrated gateways and new ID card systems that support some of these functions. However, as our students mention on what seems like a daily basis, some is not enough. We need a concerted effort to empower students to use their own data to personalize their higher education experience inside and outside of the classroom.

What are you doing to improve the student digital experience at your campus? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Posted by Michael Hites  On Jun 22, 2017 at 1:02 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

(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

(guest post provided by Suzi McLain, Director of Strategic Human Capital, AITS)

I came across an article a while back tossing around the question of whether it makes sense to say, “Our people are our greatest asset.” It’s a common, widely accepted value statement for many organizations, my own included. In a similar vein, I was recently challenged by a colleague regarding the appropriateness of the term “human capital,” a common industry term, for the division of our organization focused on people-related programs and initiatives.

People should be viewed as the heart and soul of every organization. Right?  Does referring to the function as “human capital” or employees as “assets” infer otherwise? Hmmm… Perhaps, perhaps not. On the one hand, the use of the word “asset” (as an object of production that’s owned by the employer) elicits a reaction on an emotional level. On the other hand, one could argue that the phrase itself is less important than actions. If the leader of our organization talks about this value publicly (he does) and backs it up with his support for programs and practices that nurture employees’ health, knowledge, and engagement (he does), does that forgive the use of the word/phrase and remove or lessen its negative connotation?

I’ve pondered both questions. My conclusion?  It’s my opinion that both the claim and the phrase, while perhaps well-intentioned, may miss the mark, and there’s probably a better way to say it. Maybe “people are our greatest strength.”

What do you think?  True or false - are people our greatest asset? Give me your most compelling argument to support or refute.  And for extra credit points, how would you improve the value “our people are our greatest asset?”

Posted by Wendy Bertram  On Mar 02, 2016 at 3:35 PM 1 Comment