Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ivy, Industry and The Incredible Shrinking CIO

Among the many great observations in “The Incredible Shrinking CIO” was Grochow’s remark that information technology has been democratized. This comment resonates strongly with Nicholas Carr’s argument in IT Doesn’t Matter. Educause articles have been written contesting Carr’s relevance in the academy. But even if Carr doesn’t describe what’s actually happening on the ground, the argument is compelling in the abstract: when information technology has been commoditized internal innovations yield less competitive advantages. And when innovations in I.T. have less R.O.I, there’s less incentive to place the CIO on the cabinet level if his/her role has become operational rather than strategic. In effect the role of the CIO shrinks as information technology becomes a technology one buys off-the-shelf rather than a system that one produces in house.

What is also striking is that The Incredible Shrinking CIO came out roughly around the same time as Greg Smith's post "Is Higher Education Losing Its Influence Over the Tech Industry?" and the Chronicle's highlighting of it. It’s possible that there isn’t any direct connection between the waning influence of the CIO and the waning influence of academe on information technology vendors. But the parallel is nonetheless striking.

Regardless of whether these conversations are directly related, or whether the authority of academe and the CIO is actually waning vis-à-vis the authority of the tech industry, information technology continues to play an important role in shaping cognition, and learning, and the flow of information. And since these are central concerns to the university, CIOs and other academic technologists who are committed to reflecting deeply on the relationship between technology and the academic mission need to continue to be involved. These concerns impel at least some of us to open source learning management systems like Sakai and Moodle. We perceive those movements as direct attempts to regain some of the control that we've ceded to vendors in the LMS marketplace. But in spite of this movement to open source, we shouldn't be too quick to imagine unbridgeable divides between what academics do and what vendors want. After all, as James Ptaszynski reminds us in his comment on the Chronicle article, there are many people who migrate between these different cultures and want to have a common conversation. Let’s have it!

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