Excerpt from the Article:
Ellucian is an education technology company that has been in business for more than 40 years. It serves 2,400 institutions and 18 million students in 40 countries. Unlike a lot of ed tech companies that get a lot of press today, this is an organization that is far from its startup days.
According to Ellucian CIO Lee Congdon, who was previously the CIO at Red Hat, Ellucian is an education company that is increasingly becoming a cloud company. Ellucian believes in “Student success. Tight budgets. Limited IT resources. More and more higher education institutions are looking for answers to these challenges.” In this interview with CIO Insight contributor Peter High, he also highlights that the company must attract new technology talent who will help the company move faster and in a more agile fashion.
Peter High: Can you describe your role as CIO? What is your purview?
Lee Congdon: Very traditional IT organization in terms of accountability: servers, storage, the network, moving to cloud for many of our purpose-built and software-as-a-service applications. We now have software-as-a-service application for everything from infrastructure compute, single sign on and so on, to collaboration for things like email and video conferencing, to our customer success and sales automation applications. So a pretty standard portfolio. On all of the customer and corporate facing applications in IT we partner with our R&D organization to provide infrastructure for them and policies, guidelines and standards for them as they execute the product transition from on-premises products to cloud-based products. We own engagement with the business, strategic planning for IT, information security, business continuity — pretty traditional responsibilities for an IT organization.
High: Can you talk about your current strategic plan? You have been in the role for roughly six months or so. I have to imagine there was a period of getting up to speed on the education space, generally speaking, obviously, Ellucian more specifically. If I may assume that you have the beginnings of that strategic plan, an area of purview that you mentioned, can you talk a bit about some of the priorities going forward?
Congdon: Sure. We are initially focused on four priorities. Enabling the business; great business engagement and leadership; being strong partners to our business counterparts; ensuring that we are leading on data initiatives for the organization; leading cross-functional projects in terms of discovering the requirements and executing the necessary transitions, not only on the technology side, but on the business side; obviously, delivering projects to enable the business and really focusing on identifying the solutions that are going to deliver the most business value.
As is common in IT organizations, particularly in the transition we talked about, growing our team and our capabilities; providing on the job opportunities to engage with the business to deliver new capabilities for the organization. We are investing in agile, so ensuring that our folks are ready to move faster and with more flexibility; bringing on board select new skills to tackle areas that we need to focus on; setting a culture of both education and expectation that our folks are going to be continuous learners and emerging new technologies I talked about; and changing our corporate culture (IT is a part of that) from one of traditional career and performance management to a much more flexible, modern approach there.
Working out our processes and platforms as we grow in scale; making sure we have the right capabilities in place. I mentioned new networks, new co-location facilities will be a part of that as well, enabling us to be faster, continuing the focus on information security that we had traditionally in a challenging security environment. But investing in specific processes, too, like incident management and change management and project management, to give us the ability to scale and to automate. Agility is a big investment area, both in terms of delivering solutions but also in terms of partnering with the business at a higher level and, of course, retiring our legacy platforms as well.
And then starting to invest for the future. Automation is a key point for us as we move away from traditional environments to cloud-based environments, ensuring that we are not doing things manually in our new cloud environment, but that we are really setting up this software-defined and data center concept in the cloud as well as internally. Continuing to exploit the cloud by taking our remaining applications and a disciplined plan for moving them to the cloud. We probably will be a hybrid cloud for a period of time. But we are definitely continuing to move internal capability to the cloud. And then we have recently engaged an enterprise architect who will help us further flesh out our strategies in each of those domains.
One of the areas I expect that we will invest in that we have not committed to yet is a consistent integration platform. We provide a tool called Ethos for our customers that enables them to tie their Ellucian and non-Ellucian applications together from a data and reporting standpoint, and we believe we need a tool of that nature for our internal application portfolio.
High: You have alluded a couple of times to the fact that you hope to provide the sort of technology and the sort of culture to provide life-long learning for your teams. No doubt, coming to a company, an industry that you were not familiar with, at least professionally, there was a real opportunity for you to become a learner. How did you prepare yourself in the weeks before starting at Ellucian learning more about the field, of course, learning more about the company?