3 Questions With Higher Ed CIO Dr. Melissa Woo

4 min read
  • Education

Dr. Melissa Woo serves as the Vice Provost for Information Services and Chief Information Officer at the University of Oregon. She is a recipient of the EDUCAUSE 2012 Rising Star Award and is a Frye Leadership Institute Fellow. She is also a Google Glass user, and says she wears it in public nearly all the time. “The reason that I jumped on the opportunity to be a Glass user was that I'm very interested in observing how people react to things that are at the edge of cultural norms,” she says. “As I'm a CIO, it seems very relevant for me to look at new technologies in that context.”

What are your thoughts about the relationship between CIOs and CMOs?

Perhaps it's best to think of CMOs not so much as Chief Marketing Officers, but as Chief "Experience" Officers. That is, CMOs are responsible for the customer's experience with a company's brand. In higher education, we have a number of constituencies that can be considered customer groups, but students are our primary customers. Today's students are accustomed to obtaining their information about products and services through a variety of communications avenues, many of which are heavily dependent on technology.

Given the increasing dependence on technology for CMOs to be able to enhance the customer experience, CMOs must see CIOs as partners rather than just as technology providers. I see an increasing need for IT professionals to become more marketing-savvy just as I see the need for marketing professionals to become more tech-savvy so that CMOs and CIOs can work more effectively together. After consulting with our campus' equivalent of a CMO, Tim Clevenger, I'm very happy to see that he and I agree that the CMO and CIO need to be "joined at the hip" to help ensure success. Along with our director of strategic communications, Tim and I meet on a regular basis to discuss how technology can be used to facilitate what Tim wants to accomplish.

What methods have you found successful in terms of improving overall communication?

I continually remind myself of something that the head of IT strategic communications at my last job used to say. "Convey your message six times, six different ways." The actual number of messages and communications venues isn't a hard-and-fast rule; what's important to remember is to use different methods of communication and don't assume that a single communication will be enough.

In that vein, we've found a mix of both traditional and the newer "social" communication venues to be effective. Additionally, it is important to be as open and transparent as is considered appropriate for the message.

As CIO, I use social media in various ways to distribute different kinds of information. The social media service I use the most is Google+. I use G+ to share a mix of work-related information (such as positions for which we're recruiting, and notes that I take at conferences), articles of professional interest related to higher education IT and leadership, as well as more personal information (such as my morning's musical selection and meals that I've prepared at home). I tend to use Twitter and LinkedIn to post links to items of professional interest, while Facebook is generally reserved for personal interactions with old friends and acquaintances.

As each medium is a bit different in its presentation and demographic, each lends itself to different communication approaches. For example, Twitter's 140-character limit tends to be best to share pithy thoughts or post links to interesting web pages. On the other hand, the format of G+ tends to encourage comment and dialog, as well as easy linking to web-based multimedia resources.

There are some who wouldn't be comfortable mixing both professional and personal information in social media, such as I do on G+. I feel that the shift in cultural norms towards increased information sharing indicates a need to re-evaluate levels of openness in communications. As part of our messaging from central IT and the office of the CIO, I think that providing others a broader picture of the CIO's interests helps to create deeper connections to campus community members and encourages them to share their interests as well.

We often use social media to broaden distribution of the more traditional materials that we publish to the web (yes, I do consider standard web pages to be a "traditional" means of communication!). After all, once we've developed a message we want to make sure we maximize its usage, and distribute it to our target populations.

Finally, there's currently no substitute for what might be the most traditional means of improving communication: Getting out and getting to know the campus community in person. We've found that face-to-face time with the campus community is an important part of our communications approach.

What are the benefits of female leadership, and what do you think needs to be done to promote this?

Recently the qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy and openness have been touted as "… much more conducive to today's diverse workplace, where information is shared freely, collaboration is vital.” As noted in a piece from Psychology Today,there is "… increasing evidence that women actually make better leaders, and are more suited to the style of leadership needed today in organizations." Of course, particular qualities aren't specific only to men or women. There are male leaders who are both open and empathic, while there are female leaders who could certainly use additional mentoring and coaching in those areas.

Either gender can possess and further develop qualities such as empathy, openness, and collaboration that are important to today's leadership. To promote the benefits, I feel strongly that as organizational leaders we need to provide the time and resources needed for professional development that helps individuals develop and enhance such qualities. Appropriate mentoring and coaching are also important ways to promote the benefits of today's leadership qualities. As I know that many have benefited from great mentors and coaches throughout our careers, I advocate "paying it forward" by providing mentoring and coaching to those in the leadership pipeline.

Want to learn what higher education leaders think of the future of tech on campus? Read the industry brief: “Flexible Work Arrangements, Increased Efficiency, and Stronger Enrollment Strategies: College Officials Assess the Benefits of Campus Technology”. Higher Ed Leaders Assess Benefits of Campus Tech.

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