CIO Chats

CIO Chats: Digital Transformation, Part One

One of the questions we hear frequently when meeting with people out on campus is, “What’s happening in IT?” And the answer to that is always, “lots!” We have so many exciting things to share with you, and that’s why we were thrilled when our interim CIO, Eddie Huebsch, graciously agreed to participate in a new series we’ll feature here called CIO Chats! Eddie will discuss what’s been on his mind lately, and to kick things off today we’ll talk about digital transformation and what that means for IT organizations.

Hi Eddie! Thanks so much for joining us today. Before we dive in, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to a career in IT.

Hello! Thank you for having me. When I think about it, I realize that computing and I have basically grown up together. I received my first computer, a Commodore VIC 20, when I was 12 years old and immediately fell in love with it. It was the iPhone of the day!  I learned to program, and we built all kinds of interesting things, including a chat program we could use on our tv sets. In college I told my faculty advisor  I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a programmer and was considering a different major, but he insisted that computers were the future and said I should continue taking computer classes. We compromised, and I essentially cobbled together an MIS degree before there was anything formally called MIS.

My degree led to my first job with the United States Air Force, who recruited me into a 3-year internship program called PALACE ACQUIRE. It was a tremendous opportunity!  I traveled the country with a cohort of students taking programming and information systems courses and doing job rotations every six months. It was a truly wonderful experience. I’ll never forget helping set up the first email server at the 38th Engineering Wing at Tinker Air Force Base. There were only two of us on the system initially and so all we could do was send email to each other. We were so excited telling everyone, “This is going to be big!” and of course no one believed us.

After that I became a telecommunications manager for the United States Air Force in Europe. Our team spent years designing and deploying the first fiber optic wide area networks at Air Force bases across Europe. I had so many amazing experiences there that I should probably write a book about them. I ended up leaving the Air Force and joining the dot.com mania that swept the country in the late 90’s, working for a company in Georgia that was eventually bought out by Red Hat, the Linux company. My next stop was OU where the CIO at that time, Dennis Aebersold, charged me with migrating systems off the mainframe. It was a lot of work!  But we did it, and here I am today.

Thank you for sharing your background! So informative. Now let’s dive into our topic. We keep hearing about digital transformation and what that means for IT. What types of new risks have you seen emerging as a result of this? 

Where do I begin with this question? Well of course we’ve seen a whole new field, cybersecurity, emerge over the last two decades that deals with risks created by digital transformation. We’ve seen a rise in phishing and ransomware, but one new risk that is emerging is what I would call “data sprawl.” With the transformation from paper to digital the amount of electronic data we are creating is unprecedented in human history. As new capabilities arise, people have to adapt and develop new skills, understanding what it means to be a data owner in the digital age, how to protect data, having awareness of the policies and laws that govern data. It’s complex and ever changing and far different from the days when you just locked the paper up in a file drawer!

We also have risks on the personnel front in the form of talent wars. So many employers are seeking the same people with skills in web development, CRM, and Security – skills we all need to remain competitive and move our organizations forward. I think this is an opportunity for the University, not just on the academic side, but also for organizations like us that employ students. We can and should play a role in providing our students with opportunities to learn skills they will need in the new economy.

What actions are you taking the mitigate these risks?

To mitigate security risks we’re focusing on data governance, security awareness training, patch management, two factor authentication, and password changes. Our security team is never bored! And to retain the most talented workforce, I’m personally committed to making OU IT the best place to work in IT within our state. Our employees have an opportunity to make a difference, and I value their contributions in making OU IT an organization that is recognized not only locally or regionally, but also nationally.

That sounds exciting! What things are you doing to make OU IT a preferred employer?

I want to give people autonomy within their jobs to explore new ideas, experiment with cutting edge technology, and enjoy some flexibility in their work environment. It’s not always as easy as I would like, as we have an important operational mission to support, but my goal is to give people an opportunity to move around and explore different parts of IT to grow their skills and discover roles they find both challenging and rewarding as they contribute to OU’s administrative, teaching, and research missions.

Some people embrace and welcome change, while it makes others uncomfortable–especially when it affects their jobs. How can leaders prepare their organizations for the immense changes caused by digital transformation?

Luckily for us that work in IT, we have gotten fairly used to change through the years. It’s something we deal with on almost a daily basis. But, in general my feeling is that we should not be afraid to talk to our organizations about the changes on the horizon. I also encourage people to take personal responsibility. Don’t sit back and wait to be told what to do – everyone should seek out information for themselves and stay abreast of what is happening in the IT industry. What can we learn from our vendors, our counterparts at other schools, or at a local, regional or national gathering of the tech industry?  I think an important part of our job is to stay educated and informed so that we can advise the university on how new technologies can improve services either by being more efficient or more effective. It’s a great time to be in IT, and I think our knowledge and skills are going to be increasingly valued by our faculty, staff, and students.

Many retailers are moving online and creating an “Amazonification” of the market. What are your thoughts on that?

Yes, it’s definitely happening and will continue to happen. As with many technological changes, I’m not sure we fully understand all the impacts yet. I expect there will be a lot of retooling in the future as people migrate into new positions that either can’t be digitized or positions that arise because of digitization. I’m an optimist though. Although it’s painful right now – particularly for brick and mortar retailers – I expect businesses will adapt, and I think over the long haul, the results will be positive, particularly for consumers.

I often think about the digital and mobile capabilities our students have now versus the way it was prior to the iPhone’s introduction in 2007. The transformation has been amazing!  There’s no going back in time, so it’s our challenge to adapt and leverage these amazing new capabilities for the benefit of our faculty, staff, and students. That means we must be continuously learning, thinking creatively, and finding ways to be more agile, both organizationally and individually. I’m very confident we’ll rise to the occasion.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview coming soon! 

Shah