The Higher Education IT Workforce Landscape, 2019

Leadership and Management

What does it mean to "manage" as a CIO or an IT manager in higher education? If you are planning to engage more in collaborative partnerships, sharpen your communication skills, and seek out professional development opportunities to become a manager, here's what the job of a "typical" CIO or manager could look like.1

How CIOs and Managers Spend Their Time

Typical managers spend half of their time (50%) managing IT operations, while typical CIOs reported spending 40% of their time on such tasks. CIOs and managers spend an equal amount of time (20%) planning and innovating within their IT departments. However, CIOs spend more time (15%) than managers (10%) in planning and innovating outside their IT department—for example, with business and academic units. CIOs and managers spend an equal amount of time in HR/staffing/professional development (10%) and serving the larger IT profession (5%), usually through presentations or articles.

We also asked CIOs and managers whether they guide academic, strategic, and administrative directions, including discussing IT implications of institutional decisions with senior campus leadership. Figure 16 presents the breakdown of these activities by managers, CIOs on a president's or chancellor's cabinet, and CIOs who do not hold a cabinet position. As one might expect, more CIOs than managers engage in these types of activities, although more than half of managers also engage in nearly all of these activities.2 CIOs on cabinets engage in these activities more than managers or CIOs not on cabinets.

Graph showing the frequency of CIO and manager activities, by approximate percentage of respondents. Shaping or influencing institutional academic directions: Off-cabinet CIOs = 52%; On-cabinet CIOs = 85%; Managers = 35% Shaping or influencing institutional strategic directions: Off-cabinet CIOs = 70%; On-cabinet CIOs = 95%; Managers = 60% Shaping or influencing institutional administrative directions: Off-cabinet CIOs = 80%; On-cabinet CIOs = 99%; Managers = 60% Discussing the IT implications of institutional decisions with senior campus leadership: Off-cabinet CIOs = 80%; On-cabinet CIOs = 94%; Managers = 62%
Figure 16. Frequency of CIO and manager activities

The most frequently reported activities for CIOs who did not hold a cabinet position were discussing the IT implications of institutional decisions with senior campus leadership and shaping or influencing institutional administrative directions (82% of off-cabinet CIOs reported doing each at least sometimes). Seventy-one percent of off-cabinet CIOs reported shaping or influencing institutional strategic decisions. Around 60% of managers told us they discussed IT implications with senior campus leadership and also engaged in shaping the administrative and strategic directions of their institution. Fewer managers (40%) and off-cabinet CIOs (53%) than on-cabinet CIOs (86%) reported influencing their institution's academic direction. Overall, this is good news for the IT workforce pipeline because it indicates that managers are gaining experience in strategic activities that we would likely attribute to CIOs, suggesting they are acquiring needed skills to grow their careers.

The top three activities of CIOs and managers are participating in shaping or influencing institutional administrative directions, discussing IT implications of institutional decisions, and shaping or influencing institutional strategic directions. CIOs holding a cabinet position participate in these important activities much more often than do off-cabinet CIOs. In particular, when CIOs serve on cabinets, they appear to shape institutional academic directions more than when they are not on a cabinet. This suggests that when CIOs have a seat at the table as a C-level administrator, they appear to have greater influence within their institution. Regardless of whether a CIO has a seat on the cabinet, these activities are possible when CIOs closely collaborate with other sectors of their institution. CIOs, by the nature of their roles, are in a position to assess how appropriate technologies can facilitate institutional objectives, which includes a focus on customer experiences, particularly those of students.3 Therefore, CIOs should be considered integral members of an institution's administration. Their presence on a president's or a chancellor's cabinet indicates that they engage in strategic activities more frequently, and with this increased engagement, they have opportunities to align IT with broader institutional objectives and aims.

Collaborative Relationships

CIOs and managers are not solo artists: they are leaders who are also key collaborators on their campuses to facilitate institutional objectives. In fact, relationship building has been identified as a high-priority professional development activity to build one's career in higher education IT.4 We asked CIOs and managers how frequently they experience a collaborative relationship with 15 categories of executive and administrative campus leaders. As with the frequency of strategic activities, more CIOs than managers said they engage in collaborative relationships with campus leaders. Although managers have less engagement with senior leaders, these findings should encourage managers to cultivate collaborative partnerships when the opportunity arises because such collaboration will undoubtedly contribute to their professional development and leadership skills. Table 3 presents the percentages of CIOs and managers who told us they often or almost always have working relationships with C-level campus leaders.

Table 3. Top five most frequent intra-institutional collaborative relationships of CIOs and IT managers

Rank CIOs Managers
1 Chief information security officer (CISO): 89% Chief information security officer (CISO): 58%
2 Chief financial officer (CFO): 74% Registrar: 32%
3 Chief academic officer (CAO)/provost: 63% Chief data officer (CDO): 26%
4 Registrar: 60% Director of libraries: 24%
5 Director of institutional research: 59% Director of institutional research: 21%

The majority of CIOs (89%) and managers (58%) reported having experienced a collaborative partnership with the chief information security officer (CISO). This finding reflects the higher education IT community's continued emphasis (four years in a row) on security as a top IT issue and signifies that information security in higher education is a "shared responsibility" among stakeholders, including all members of the IT staff.5 It is encouraging that more than half of managers also reported relationships with CISOs. This indicates that managers also engage in a shared responsibility of asset protection via information security policies and practices.

Additionally, nearly three-quarters (74%) of CIOs reported a collaborative relationship with the CFO. Collaborative partnerships between CIOs and C-level financial officers have been identified as "foundational" relationships. This could mean, for example, that costs for necessary staffing and associated budgets are collaboratively identified or prioritized during institutional IT initiatives, such as making an institution "analytics ready."6 Also of note is that 63% of CIOs also reported a collaborative relationship with the CAO/provost. Although fewer CIOs had collaborative partnerships with CAOs than with CFOs, relationships between CIOs and CAOs are similarly viewed as critical in order to achieve the vision of CAOs and ensure the institution's mission is served both functionally and technically.

On the other end of the scale, only 32% of CIOs and fewer than 10% of managers told us they had a collaborative relationship with the chief diversity officer (CDO). This may be due to the challenges CDOs experience in higher education settings. For example, recent research suggests that slightly more than half of CDOs may not have adequate resources to perform their responsibilities, although a majority reported having support from their school's administration.7 This lack of resources may affect their ability to forge these collaborative relationships. Partnerships between CIOs and CDOs may be of value to managerial ranks, given the lack of diversity in the higher education IT workforce and the necessity of ensuring an inclusive work environment. This is also concerning, since the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative ranked universal design for learning and digital accessibility together as second most important among the 2018 Key Issues in Teaching and Learning.8 The importance of these two issues necessitates cross-institutional dialogue and collaboration among IT departments, faculty, CDOs, and vendors and will necessarily include strategies to address accessibility issues at the onset of project planning.9 IT departments must be partners within this process to ensure successful policy creation and implementation of these initiatives.10


  1. For reporting in these sections, we use the median percentage of time among respondents in each group unless otherwise noted, so results represent the activities of "typical" managers and CIOs.

  2. These reflect responses of "sometimes," "almost always," or "often."

  3. Michael Berman, Raechelle Clemmons, Kyle Johnson, Keith McIntosh, and Melissa Woo, "Challenge Accepted: Why CIO Is the Best Job on Campus," EDUCAUSE Review Online, 2014.

  4. EDUCAUSE in Partnership with Jisc, Technology in Higher Education: Guiding Aspiring Leaders, February 2016.

  5. Joanna Grama, Valerie Vogel, Michael Corn, and Sharon Pitt, The Third Time's the Charm? Information Security at the Top of the List Again, January 29, 2018.

  6. Bruce Maas and Michael Gower, Why Effective Analytics Requires Partnerships, May 8, 2017.

  7. Charlene Aguilar, Jennifer Bauer, and Khalilah Lawson, The Critical First Year: What New Chief Diversity Officers Need to Succeed, Witt/Kieffer Survey Report in the Fields of Higher Education, Healthcare, and Academic Medicine, 2017.

  8. See Key Issues in Teaching and Learning.

  9. Bruce Maas, "Accessibility: Front and Center," EDUCAUSE Review 48, no. 2 (March/April 2013).

  10. Sean Moriarty, Building a Culture of Accessibility in Higher Education, July 30, 2018.