Oct. 12, 2018

Best advice for leadership success: Listen

Grad students learn how much investment, time and impact are involved in IT leadership


Betty Rice, University Relations

Eugene Kowch, associate professor in the Werklund School of Education, left, and D’Arcy Moynaugh, UCalgary’s chief information officer, understand the unique challenges the university presents for IT environments.

Eugene Kowch, left, and D’Arcy Moynaugh.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

It’s one of those things every post-secondary institution has, but nobody thinks about too much.

That is, of course, until something goes wrong.

Every day at the University of Calgary, a team of dedicated experts works to provide seamless IT services, both within the campus and beyond.

"The biggest misconception people have about the university IT environment is the level of complexity," says D’Arcy Moynaugh, UCalgary’s chief information officer. "We employ a relatively small group of people (less than 500) performing thousands of tasks to maintain, upgrade and protect our systems in an environment that is four to five times larger than any of the big companies downtown.

"Our wireless network alone supports an average of 29,000 connections per second on a regular day."

According to Dr. Eugene Kowch, PhD, managing the IT environment for a college or university presents its own set of unique challenges.

"Higher education creates enormous amounts of data generation and handling from research," explains the associate professor in the Werklund School of Education. "And," he continues, "IT teams deal with constantly changing platforms and infrastructure, as well as private data held by research institutions that must be kept secure from a constant barrage of high-tech security attacks.

"In addition, older data and massive past systems must be maintained and updated, keeping faculty and student needs, as well as those in administration, in mind."

Kowch teaches a graduate course on university leadership that examines the most current research on leading technology and innovation in higher education. The goal is to assist his doctoral students in understanding constant and changing challenges and opportunities brought to leaders of universities and colleges.

During the course, the students examine innovation theory and trends and issues in higher education, as well as those related to technology in higher education academics and administration.

Kowch explains that UCalgary uses a partner model to connect faculties to IT leaders and experts in a novel way, through business and IT partners cross-appointed to admin and faculty units. "This organization structure innovation makes UCalgary IT teams unique in terms of customer support, infrastructure and security support and represents a different model from the one in most universities where the IT group is mostly contained in the administration chamber."

"We employ the partner model to ensure we have strong communication channels between our clients’ needs and our IT support teams," says Moynaugh. "It is a model more commonly seen in the private sector for companies that have segmented business units with unique challenges, which is the same reason we employ it here."

This year, Kowch invited Moynaugh and three other UCalgary IT leaders (Richard DeBruyne, director of architecture and security, Donald Ross, director of solutions and service delivery, and Linda Hunter, former director of customer experience and engagement) to address his class.

Each brought their own perspectives and expertise to the class during one-hour presentation-and-discussion sessions on institutional IT leadership (Moynaugh), security (DeBruyne), infrastructure (Ross) and customer service relations management (Hunter).

When asked to describe the single thing a leader can do to be successful, Moynaugh says his answer was simple: Listen.

“It allows you to get a full understanding of the situation which then can be applied to resolving any problems in the most effective way possible. You also have to be willing to admit mistakes so that you can adjust quickly."

"The students commented that they had no idea how much investment, time and university reputation are involved in IT leadership," says Kowch. "They appreciated hearing the speakers and learning management perspectives from senior UCalgary leaders while they learned to apply leadership theory to solve challenges related to the many forms and dynamics of IT and leading IT."

The actions our faculty and staff take every day, at work or in the community, contribute to UCalgary’s success and one-university-family culture. Read about UCalgary’s achievements in the 2018 Community Report.