3 Questions With Higher Ed CIO Stephen diFilipo

4 min read
  • Education

Stephen diFilipo, now a vice president and CIO in higher education, has had a rather unconventional career trajectory: As a classically trained musician, he spent years performing throughout the United States. He earned a Master of Arts in media ecology, including mass media adoption of emerging technology. He then produced and directed television programming. In addition, he has consulted about technology leadership with a number of private sector companies including Campbell Soup, Comcast, CIGNA, and Pfizer. diFilipo made the move to  higher education about ten years ago because he thought it would be “a cool place to go.” With his interest in emerging technology, he is particularly focused now on social media, particularly in reaching young people in higher education. The Huffington Post recently ranked him as the #2 most social CIO in higher education.

You have some interesting research on the benefits of Bring Your Own Everything (BYOE)—not just Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)—that was sponsored by EDUCAUSE. Can you tell us about it? 

The report was the conclusion of a comprehensive research project initiated by the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR). It is, to our knowledge, the first effort to conduct research on the topic of consumerization of technology in higher education. During the process of collecting data, it became apparent that the challenges for higher education IT leaders went beyond BYOD. The greater issue was the appearance across campuses of all types of consumer technology, including devices of all types—not just smartphones and tablets, but also Google Glass, smart watches, wearables such as fitness trackers, and cloud services. It has truly become a Bring Your Own Everything issue. 

Some of the key findings included:

  • Planning doesn’t necessarily precede action
  • A solid security presence and plan can adjust to most BYOE security challenges
  • Cost savings from BYOD/BYOE can be elusive
  • Think of IT infrastructure as “middleware” (a particular focus of mine)
  • Support strategies will need to adapt to BYOE environments
  • Implications for teaching and learning excite IT professionals the most about BYOD/BYOE

Right now you’re focused on assessing the proliferation of social media platforms and applications. How do you assess them, and what advice would you give to other CIOs, both inside and outside higher education, about how to leverage social media?

I begin with a “mobile first” approach. Much of the research pertaining to the traditional age college student—the millennial generation—indicates that they are a mobile generation. With that as a starting point, I am constantly in search of what's new. I download mobile apps and assess the user experience. I research data regarding teenage use of technology and social media. 

ECAR conducts an annual survey of student use of technology and now has a companion survey of faculty. The data from these numerous sources provides a reliable and relevant pathway for developing an appropriate course of action for our campus. From this process, our college has implemented text messaging as a key means of communicating with prospective and current students using both one-way and two-way text functionality. The application to attend college is accessible from our Facebook and can be completed while a prospective student is on the college Facebook Admissions page.

A CIO’s approach to social media should be influenced by the culture of the college community. For example, a more risk-tolerant campus might be more willing to leverage social media in a more agile and responsive manner, while a risk-averse campus may choose to establish policies to govern the use of social media.

In any case, I advise CIOs to become personally familiar with the various social networking platforms and apps. And if he or she is not personally active, identify a staff member who is and delegate the responsibility. It’s important to maintain currency with the research and activity of prospective and current student use of technology and social media. Each social network has a unique ecosystem that must be explored and understood to properly leverage the value for the college.

Finally, social media is not the exclusive purview of IT and the CIO. Social media should be a distributed effort. The CIO role is that of a champion for the appropriate use of all technologies and certainly social media. The same advice applies to all industry verticals, with the acknowledgement that some industries, such as pharmaceuticals and finance, have greater responsibilities to regulatory compliance.

You identify yourself as an “early adopter.” What are the advantages and disadvantages of that, and how do you advise corporations about the degree to which they should be early adopters, as well?

First, you have to clearly define the term “early adopter.” The definition may be influenced by the culture of the organization and the industry vertical. An early adopter in Silicon Valley might be very different from an early adopter on Wall Street. 

Any person who falls into the category of early adopter has some characteristics of a maverick, rogue, rebel, and pirate. When that same person has the political acumen to navigate the organizational “channels,” the early adopter characteristics can provide significant competitive advantage. On the other hand, an overly aggressive early adopter may be too far ahead of the curve and have less-than-hoped-for results.

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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