Monday, October 29, 2012

CIO = Chief Interpretation Officer

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The title of CIO typically stands for Chief Information Officer, the person who leads technology and information systems.  However, in a school system it often seems more appropriate to stand for Chief Interpretation Officer.

It is now the end of October and the school year is now firmly under way.  Summer projects are complete and hiccups that hit during the start of school are hopefully smoothed out.  It is time to look back and analyze the work that has been done, both the successes as well as areas that need improvement.  As I look at where the majority of my time has been spent and where I may have needed to spend some more, it seems that most of my “time well spent” was on translation and interpretation.

Interpretation and translation of the technology vision, of the purpose of varying technologies, and of the direction a school is technologically headed is essential to keep all stakeholders on the same page.  A CIO needs to be able to articulate what their needs are to the school administration, and illustrate how fulfilling those needs will move the school in the direction that has been suggested by the board.  The CIO needs to interpret those visions into tech language and tangible directions for the Information Services team.  Then the CIO needs to interpret these needs, directions and visions to the faculty of the school so that they can stand behind and integrate these tools to enhance the students’ experiences in all educational areas. Now, the story is not finished, the CIO then needs to interpret all of this to the community at large with a special focus on the students’ parents.  You need your parents to be “on board” with the school’s direction and mission, and the CIO’s effective interpretation and its delivery can mean the difference between endorsement and empowerment or a steep, uphill battle.

While it is important for a CIO to know the elements of technology and the nuances of education, understanding the stakeholders that make up the school community and having the ability to communicate to each of these groups in the ways that are most effective to each is a skill set in and of itself.  A CIO should take the time to know each of their stakeholder groups and how they relate to the culture of the school.  A great CIO needs to know the vernacular of each of these groups and have the language and understanding needed to interpret the needs, goals, visions and concerns of each group to all of the others with regards to the Information Services of the school.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Database Definition

When I was hired as a CIO for the first time, I was not fully aware of what exactly the word “information” encompassed.  I knew I would be responsible for school technology, back and front end.  I knew I would be working with integration of technology.  I knew I would have to support systems that ran on the network; phones, wireless technologies, security applications and of course, databases.

At my school, we have been analyzing our data and looking at its flow.  The IS department is in charge of our main student management system, but along with that, we have databases in many other areas of the school.  We have one in our admission office (we are an independent school), we have one in college counseling, we have one in our development office, one in our alumni office, one for our nurses, one for our trainers and several much smaller applications that are fed from data retrieved from our SMS. 

When we began looking at the data flow, we also began looking at the policies that we use to ensure data quality.  As we delved into the policies, we also began to ask several essential questions.

1.     Who owns the data?  In an article by Navin Sharma on the website the idea of data ownership is directly tied to data quality.
2.     What is the flow of the data both in and out and who are the “stewards” of this data.

When we began looking at these two questions, we realized we were dealing with a problem all too familiar in schools:  the silo effect.  A different person or office in our school was managing each database, and each office had different rules/policies that were dictating data quality.  This epiphany set us on a path to begin to break down the silo walls and bring our data stewards together. 

As CIO, I am working with my department’s database team to be the lead on unifying the stewards.  We are starting by drafting out several documents.  We will be working on a draft of rules/policies that can be used for all databases in the institution to establish a standard and to add consistency to data.  We will also be referencing two charts – one that shows the flow of information from beginning to end with people assigned to each step of the process, and the other to show the path of data accounting for good/inaccurate information while maintaining the same information flow.

In a second article by Fabio Corzo and Malcolm Chisholm on, the idea of Data Owner Driven Master Data Management fits well into the paradigm our school is working with now.  In a digital age where information systems impact almost every facet of our schools, and transparency is essential, we are going to give our community first dibs on making sure the data entered is correct.  After all, they are the first to know when the information changes.

Both of the aforementioned articles are written with the corporate environment in mind, but each concept can be neatly adapted to a school setting.  If we are truly information officers, shouldn’t we be active in the information flow that runs through our school, which will set up our school communities for the greatest success? In particular, this data can increase enrollment, enhance retention, improve marketing, get alumni more connected, give current families information at a more rapid pace and in a more efficient manner, and much more.  As CIO, we have a responsibility to know all the areas of information that we reach; even those that are not necessarily marquee-type systems are in need of our stewardship and care.