Editor's Note: James McIntyre (above) is answering your questions this week at IT Martini on LinkedIn. 

James McIntyre: Making Technology Like a Dial Tone
By Terreece Clarke, January 10th, 2012

James McIntyre, CIO of Cincinnati Christian University, would be the first to tell anyone that IT departments in higher education have unique challenges. It is those challenges that continue to excite him about the work he does every day.

Four years ago, McIntyre left his position as a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers to take on the CIO position at his alma mater. He was thrust into a world where privacy rules and federal laws combine with the multiple moving parts of an institution of higher learning.

"It's a great opportunity for growth and new kinds of problems," McIntyre said. "I had to learn how everything worked - faculty, students, admissions... I find the people who really are the experts in their area and chat them up, find out what they do and work on how we can help them do it better. "

He described working with the department's different clientele including students and instructors.

"We work with those who have Ph.D.'s in their field - highly specialized minds - and they have trouble working the technology they have available. [Our job] is teaching them how to maximize opportunities for learning with the technology available."

Agility in the Classroom

Because CCU is a smaller university, McIntyre's department has the ability to be more agile in technology implementation than larger universities. When he first arrived, students had to use seven different passwords to carry out various activities online. McIntyre implemented a program that switched everything over to a one credential system.

This program was expanded outside of the university to other systems CCU uses including, the external student loan system. Not only does the program make it easier for students, it helps with security as well.

"Now, when a student gets confused or forgets their password, they reset their password in one system and it's updated across the board," he said.

McIntyre also spear-headed the project to take the student mail application to the cloud using Gmail and Google. The student response was overwhelming, McIntyre said.

Dial-tone Technology

"My whole goal is to have technology like a dial tone. It's in the background, always working," McIntyre said. "Technology has to make sense for the business."

He believes IT has to align itself with the business's strategy.

"It's essential with education [aligning with the business strategy], but it's not exclusive to the field. Many businesses have different departments and they run in circles without looking at the larger picture - you have to be able to do that."

Part of being a successful IT department is staying ahead of problems. "Put your ear to the ground and hear the grumble before they shout," McIntyre said. "Many CIO's don't do a lot of communication - or spend hours communicating badly."

McIntyre doesn't use tech talk and simply describes what the technology is to people.

"The university is happy for whatever," he said. "The students have a different relationship with technology. I love working with them. They are providing new opportunities for customer service. They'll say, 'Hey we want an app to view grades' and we can talk with them on how that's coming in the future and get their ideas."

"They have energy and creativity, they are the next generation of leaders and [within the IT department] I love acclimating them to the professional world."

CIO Tips + Strategy

A skilled, diverse team is essential to the success of a CIO as well, McIntyre said and he regularly reaches out to women and minorities to join his team.

"The group with the highest diversity is the highest functioning group." McIntyre said. "Our department is the most diverse department on campus. It's important to surround myself with people who will challenge me and push back. We're successful because of our team. They are wickedly smart and have a solid work ethic."

In working with his team, McIntyre modifies his leadership style to fit individual needs.

"When you learn how to deal with each person you can customize your communication to them. I try to help them deal with the stressors of the job by asking, 'Did you do the most valuable thing you could do today?' not 'Did you do everything?' There's always a list of things that need to be done. I work with them to prioritize the most important ones."

McIntyre described himself as an 100% introvert who developed coping skills to work on being able to put himself out in front of people - key to creating the type of partnership essential to being successful.

He cited how he talks with his customers - the university, students and alumni on a regular basis.

"You have to connect with people. Technologists ask 'Who, where and how,' CIOs have to restructure their mind and think 'Why, what and where.'"