Since John Champion became the CIO of High Point University two years ago, his team has accomplished quite a bit in a short amount of time. Upon joining the university’s information technology department, he went straight to work, surveying his team and the needs of the university. Through these observations, Champion set out to bolster certain areas of improvement, spearheading initiatives that fell under High Point University’s broader strategic plan. The plan has six defined goals that provided a roadmap in setting his IT agenda.
Going above and beyond in strategy, Champion sets his sites not only on his department, but also on improving the functionality on the campus as a whole. By partnering with campus stakeholders to understand business challenges and leveraging Six Sigma strategies, he and his team have devised ways to improve business processes and apply technology to realize efficiency gains, then drive the projects toward completion using sound project management techniques.
Here, Champion highlights four initiatives that his team undertook in service to the overarching strategic plan of a university.
Strategizing for the tech team
Champion began by evaluating and firming up his team. Noticing inconsistency with the departmental organizational structure and the roles and responsibilities assigned to each individual, John decided to build his department from the ground up. His focus remained on positioning the IT department to support the university’s core academic mission and bolster its ambitious plans for continued growth.
“We’ve been designing an architecture to support not just off-site backups, but actual disaster recovery and business continuity so that we could failover to secondary systems.”
“One of the major strategic parts of the plan was the organization of the team, building it out and building up their core competencies,” Champion says. Careful to keep the team morale high, he made a conscious effort to get the buy-in from his people. “The first thing that I did when I got here was meet with everyone on the team to make sure I understood their perspectives as to what our challenges and problems were, so that when we rolled out the strategic plan, their voice was in it.”
Taking the needs of his team into consideration, he created a plan. “I came in and did a complete assessment of the individuals, the teams, the infrastructure, and all of the systems and quickly put together a strategic plan for the University that addressed six key goals: building the team; infrastructure improvements; information security and integrity; improving business operations; supporting academic initiatives; and training and outreach,” Champion says. As a result of his efforts—and the support of HPU senior leadership—he managed to grow his team from twenty-six people on the organizational chart to forty-three. This growth positioned his team to make a strategic impact across the university.
Designing the Secondary Infrastructure
Data plays an integral part in everyday life—something even more apparent on a university campus—and Champion realizes the importance of protecting it. Between serving the staff, faculty, and student populations, having a backup system in place was absolutely crucial for him.
High Point announced in 2007 it would double its investment in academic programs, student life, scholarships, and new facilities; since then the campus has added 89 new buildings and grown from a student population of 1,500 to the more than 4,000 it hosts today.
Several alumni with careers in professional sports include Tom Gamble, currently the senior personnel executive for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, and Gene Littles, former NBA player and coach
“We’ve been working over the last twelve to eighteen months designing an architecture to support not just off-site backups, but actual disaster recovery and business continuity so that we could failover to secondary systems,” he explains.
This means that should any network issues arise, the compromised data is backed up to a secondary location so that the data is not lost. While the cloud was an option, due to the bandwidth costs and access to the small city in North Carolina, having a physical location was more financially viable—and not without its perks.
“The physical location gave us the ability to have a seamless transition for the end users and enables us to leverage the technology components to bolster operational performance, rather than just provide passive failover,” Champion says.
The department’s pursuit of business continuity and academic stability also leverages Virtual Desktop Infrastructure and Microsoft’s Skype for Business (formerly Lync) platform as everyday business tools that enable campus users to work in the event of a catastrophic event impacting their ability to physically come to campus.
Revamping the Recruiting System
Another initiative involved taking High Point’s staff recruiting system to the next level so that hiring became a more streamlined process across all departments, while also addressing possible security risks.
“We had an online application system, but it was sharing credentials across the managers, so every manager that logged in had the same username and password,” Champion explains. Realizing the potential data-breach threat, his team quickly switched out the old system, leveraging unified Active Directory credentials for faculty, staff, and students alike.
In addition, it allowed them to replace their manual paper-based process of adding positions. “Everything is now reviewed online, and then the hiring decision is made in the same system,” says Champion. With these changes, applicants gained access to all of the tools they needed online. In conjunction, hiring managers were able to create search committees, post jobs, and look through candidates using the online portal.
Improving Support Systems for Emergency Situations
In times of emergencies, the ability to communicate across campus is a necessity. While High Point had a plan in place, Champion saw an opportunity to improve upon the system by utilizing tech applications to spread the word effectively.
“We partnered with our Campus Security team to deploy the Active Crawl Campus Alert System so that every campus computer subscribes to the same emergency-broadcast feed that we use to send out communications if there’s a security event on campus,” he says. “Every computer that is turned on across campus will receive an emergency broadcast, kind of like the one you see on your television when they test the Emergency Broadcast System.”
Through these key accomplishments within the broader strategic plan, Champion has cemented his place as a talented leader within the tech industry and is helping High Point University to ensure that every student receives an extraordinary education.