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University of Minnesota
September 20, 2013
Scott Studham (center) with IT director Renee Rivers, and Brad Cohen, associate CIO for academic technology.
Scott Studham, named a CIO of the year by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, wants to change higher ed. He's not wasting time.
Scott Studham just turned 39. He looks even a bit younger. And, to be sure, he has the resume' of a person much older—perhaps someone aged 142. He has accomplished much, and he isn't done. On Sept. 20, he was named the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal's nonprofit CIO of the Year, after being at the U of M for just 18 months.
One of his overarching qualities is that he moves quickly, and perhaps there he has some kinship in his love of, and work with, computers and information technology.
Named VP and Chief Information Officer of the University of Minnesota in February 2012, Studham hasn't been wasting time—his, or anyone's. One of the first things he did after settling in and making a few phone calls was to save potentially 22,000 hours of people's time per year.
He quickly grew tired of hearing a voicemail recording on U of M phones that instructed a person, in about 15 seconds of detail, how to leave a voicemail. "I was annoyed by it. I didn't want to wait. So I called up the guy who was running the phone system and asked if he wouldn't mind turning it off. It turns out that with 5.4 million voicemail messages left per year at the U, if no one ever hit the # key to skip the 15 seconds, it multiplies to about 22,000 hours. It had simply been like that for years.
"It is often amazing what people who are new to an organization can see," Studham says.
Prior to Scott Studham's arrival, the U had a contract to pay a vendor to haul away the U's old computers. He saw an opportunity to give to the community and formed a partnership with Computer Technology Services, which takes donated computers, refurbishes them, and gives them to people living in the TC area who aren't able to afford a computer. The move saves the U around $70,000 per year.
Since May 2012, 150 working computers have been donated.
A culture of 'we'
In a short time, Studham has seen much, and he's making changes, but his leadership style is a bit unorthodox. He attributes that to the time he has spent in the South, where hospitality takes a different tone.
"In the South, the way you show people appreciation is to have them over for supper. My plan when I got here was to eventually have all 1,300 IT people at the U over at my house. I had two dinner parties a week for six months—I got told to stop because I was freaking people out," he says.
They wondered what his angle was, what the ulterior motive might be.
That style carries over to his work, where he leads by inclusion. One of the most significant changes since Studham has arrived is the creation of a shared IT governance process.
Studham began "formal communities of practice" and invited the University community to become involved in important IT initiatives.
"The idea with communities of practice is that anyone can come work on an initiative," he says. "It doesn't matter if you work for OIT or the College of Liberal Arts. It's a real shift in thinking. One of the greatest challenges facing IT is the inherent need to balance 'central' and "distributed" IT resources. It is a dichotomy that can lead to a culture of 'us' and 'them.' We are changing that to a culture of 'we' so that all 1,300 IT staff across the system, regardless of reporting unit, are working together on the same team to accomplish common priorities."
Studham also values direct communication, and so he made a move early on to eliminate layers between himself and his staff. In February 2012, central OIT had 70 managers for 375 staff. A new organizational structure led to 20 managers, so that each staff member now has no more than two layers of management between them and the CIO.
Studham's career is impressive enough that you can't help but wonder why he's in higher ed, in a world where people are quite often driven by the dollar (or yuan, or yen).
Six times in his career he was the program manager or architect for one of the world's top ten supercomputers. At age 35 he was named CIO at the University of Tennessee, and at 29 named CIO of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where, among other things, he was principal adviser for the U.S. Army CIO on cyber warfare. He designed and delivered the fifth fastest computer in the world and the fastest nonclassified computer in the United States, aged 25. He also likes to BBQ—competitively (He can control his BBQ grill from his phone)—and he is a home brewer, with three styles of beer currently on tap.
Before coming to the U of M, Google was knocking on his door with a VP position, and he was asked to be the chief technology officer for the U.S. Air Force—stationed in Maui.
But it was the mentoring by a faculty member when he was an undergrad in college that led him to where he is today. He calls that experience "active learning"—something that universities can do particularly well, and at which he believes the U of M is among the best.
"I didn't learn facts—I learned scientific inquiry, I learned how to think like a scientist," he says. "I had a faculty member allow me to come in and he challenged me with a million dollar problem—to go build a computer. That's an active learning environment," he says.
"Students are given a challenge, and then all the faculty, all the resources of the University are available to them to go out and explore that. If it's biology, then they learn how to be a biologist—and along the way they're taught biology."
He says one of his goals at the U is to create learning environments—not only classrooms, but labs—that contribute to active learning.
Changing higher ed
Studham is here, he says, because higher education is a great cause.
"I hate cold weather," he says. But President Kaler said he wanted to do things differently, and faster. "After a short call with President Kaler, I caught on to his passion. I want the U of M to have a seat at the table of changing higher education in the United States—for kids to have the experience of being inquisitive, finding what they're passionate about, learning as much as you can about it, and having people around you who can mentor you and explore with you as far as you want to explore. So I came—but I save all my vacation for February."