Incoming Fairfield University CIO talks about challenges, bright spots in higher ed


In a sense, Jonathan Carroll is coming home when he takes over as chief information officer at Fairfield University beginning this week.

Carroll, who left his post as CIO at the University of Connecticut Health Center, a comprehensive clinical, research and academic health network, is an alumnus of Fairfield and met his wife at the private university.

“It’s a unique opportunity to almost go back home and take on this CIO role and look to continue to build on the successes of the organization,” he said.

He spoke to EdScoop about some of the biggest challenges he faces and what he is most looking forward to when he starts his job this week. Below is an edited and condensed Q&A with Carroll.

EdScoop: What made you want to jump to Fairfield University from UConn?

Jonathan Carroll: It was really a unique opportunity for me. Fairfield as an organization is really a great place right now. Organizationally, there’s increased enrollment, new building projects going on, they’re really looking to grow the enterprise. They seem to be in a positive trajectory, so it was attractive. I have this unique draw to the institution – I’m the class of ’91, so Fairfield is a very special place to me.

What are a few issues or problems you want to tackle when you get there?

Carroll: They are in the midst of replacing their banner system. We’re migrating to Workday (a cloud-based operations management software vendor). That’s an initiative that is just underway, so that will be one of the major projects that I’ll be helping with. We will be replacing the current human resources and finance systems with Workday. Then we need to assess the feasibility and likelihood of potentially migrating to Workday for the student info system.

Why are you going with Workday?

Carroll: From what I understand, Workday is a more contemporary product. It is cloud-based, so it’s following many industry trends. It’s going to allow for more contemporary platform analytics across the IT globe, and certainly higher ed is no exception. I think Workday is going to open up new opportunities for better decision-making for us organizationally.

What other IT issues are at the top of your mind?

Carroll: One element is the information security program. From an IT perspective, no matter what, that’s something I need to better understand. I want to assess where they are in the maturity of their program and any gaps we need to fill. Naturally striking a balance between risk versus ROI initiatives, so that’s certainly top of mind. … There are plans for a new School of Business building, so I’m going to look to build on my experiences in my current position, with having recently just come off building a large outpatient medical care complex six months ago. We went live with a new hospital tower, and both of those buildings have new and innovative technology. Those are a few areas that will be a likely target early on.

In order to be competitive in today’s day and age, what is the baseline that U.S. universities need?

Carroll: A lot of global technology issues translate to higher ed. Certainly looking at new and innovative ways of delivering curriculum to students. We’ve heard for a few years now the concept of a flipped classroom, or team-based learning initiatives, and technology certainly plays a role in that. Fairfield launched what sounds like a very successful iPad program in 2015. We want to build innovative learning spaces, flexible learning spaces that will lend themselves to different methodologies of delivering curriculum to large groups and small groups.

Analytics is going to be key. My sense is that from an analytics standpoint, higher ed lags a little bit from some other industries. The Internet of Things has brought about many opportunities for students to connect, but the amount of data that’s generated in a higher ed institution, there’s data everywhere. How do we harness that data and use it to advance and change business practices, to adapt to what the students of tomorrow are looking for?

I think that landscape has been changing over the years. I think we need to look at different ways that courses can be provided to students. Maybe it’s not necessarily always the traditional four-month, three-credit course, it’s smaller, shorter intersession courses.

What is driving this need for change in higher education?

Carroll: Millennials are driving that need. It’s not that your traditional university is ever going to go away, but we need to adapt, we need to be agile. And certainly the role of CIO, with the rest of the organization driving strategy, is absolutely critical. It’s less about the wires in the closet anymore. It’s, how does the CIO elevate it to a role of trusted advisor or business partner for the larger institution?

How has the role of CIO changed from the past 10 or five years?

Carroll: There’s a certain baseline of availability and expectation that the technology is just going to be available. Certainly things like Wi-Fi — if the kids can’t get on Wi-Fi when we travel somewhere, they’re not happy. So that stuff is foundational now. It’s what can we provide in terms of value as an add-on, and I really do think it’s getting IT at the senior team level, engaged in those conversations and advise on technology. Where it can help, where it may not be mature.

I’ve had those cases where everybody looks across the table at the CIO and says, ‘There’s gotta be technology to solve that problem.’ We have to make sure business processes are aligned, and oftentimes technology is complementary to that. But I think it’s getting it recognized as a trusted advisor and part of the bigger-picture thinking.

Student data privacy is also a big issue in higher education right now. What is your strategy to protect sensitive student info?

Carroll: That to me is one of the top things I think about. That may be lacking in many higher ed institutions these days, so I think that is a market that’s right for improvement. Coming from a highly regulated medical industry, we’ve been living in that world of protecting patient health information. I think those models are transferable, whether it’s patient information or student information. But I get the sense that from a pure higher ed perspective, there’s work to be done.

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