The Challenges of an Academic CIO

While it’s understandable that August is the busiest month for an academic CIO, the months of May and January also bring challenges to university and college information officers with students, who have grown up in a digital world, expecting only the best 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

David Swayne, CIO at London South Bank University, in an interview with Computer Weekly Magazine, said, “The IT we support goes way beyond most corporates. The IT [we support] is very diverse and there is an expectation it will all be available 24 by 7, but we are not funded for 24 by 7 availability.” He is also responsible for the standard business administration systems such as student records.

The busiest time for university IT comes in August when students arrive on campus. It also peaks during registration for fall and spring semesters. “There is a peak in January and May around assignment times, and a peak at exam time when students’ marks are entered into the system,” the article said. “During these times the IT systems need to cope with increased usage. As such, service availability is key. To reduce downtime during these busy periods, the university is using a SaaS monitoring tool from netEvidence, which provides a high-level view of running IT services.”

Swayne told the magazine that “bring your own device (BYOD)” has become a major focus of his department with the need to update the university’s wireless provisions to sustain tens of thousands of wireless devices like tablets, laptops, and smart phones. “They may have used technology far better than they get at university,” he said, adding that he has needed to take this into account as he develops an IT strategy for the university.

One major trend Swayne is seeing in his work is students crave more than an e-mail system from the university. “Increasingly students will use social collaboration and communicate through video and instant messaging,” Swayne said in the article.

But that doesn’t mean email is going away on campuses any time soon because it’s still a valuable work tool, which means students will need it after graduation. “E-mail is not dead, it’s just evolving,” wrote Barry Gill in a Harvard Business Review article. “It’s becoming a searchable archive, a manager’s accountability source, a document courier. And for all the love social media get, e-mail is still workers’ most effective collaboration tool. It’s far from perfect: Three-quarters of all e-mail is junk, and we’re wasting lots of time dealing with less important messages. But it remains the mule of the information age—stubborn and strong.”

One thing Swayne hopes to accomplish with his improved IT system is better tracking of student achievement in real time. The university collects data on students’ engagement along with the qualifications they leave. Swayne says such data can be used to predict students’ performance. ”We will beef up analytics to identify students who are not doing as well as other student,” he said. South Bank has developed a virtual learning environment called Noodle, which uses an IBM portal to join up learning and teaching. Swayne hopes the portal will help student keep track of how well they are doing.

There’s also a move to make every computer on campus able to run any program. According to the article, “Swayne plans to deploy a software jukebox using Appsense to provide application virtualization. He says this will allow anyone at the university to use any PC, without having to install all the software they need manually.”

Along those line, cloud server provider Infinitely Virtual this week announced that it is rolling out a series of high-end hosting options targeted at academic institutions, from pre-K through the graduate and post-graduate levels. Dennis Pierce, editor of, calls it one of five new ed-tech innovations for schools. The company’s “Virtual Terminal Server – Premium (EDU)” plan is the second of what will eventually be four academic market offerings from Infinitely Virtual. Under the plan, users can access applications and data from anywhere in the world – an ideal solution for those who need to tap into centralized resources from home, campus or another remote location.


Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping,, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.