The most effective chief technology officers have a deep understanding of clients’ needs and expectations. And when it comes to managing these relationships in his field, Bob Yanckello has a head start. The chief technology officer at the University of Central Florida (UCF) has logged more than twenty years in higher education. He started his career in student development working in residence halls. Today, he’s helping to build one of the state’s most anticipated campus additions.
Two decades ago, Yanckello was working as a director of institutional research at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). In an era before the explosion of big data, he and his director pored over information, manually collecting, logging, and manipulating facts and figures related to enrollment, classes, grades, graduation rates, and job placement. In the late 1990s, his small team worked to automate the entire system as Yanckello project managed a complex ERP implementation.
This experience boosted Yanckello’s knowledge of systems and data in the university setting and sparked his interest in automation. He helped implement the application system-wide, and when CCSU’s chief information officer left, the Connecticut university named Yanckello the interim tech leader.
In 2004, after UCF hired him as director of computer services and telecommunications, Yanckello worked to build up and support the enterprise organization. Considering that the university was nearly three times the size of his previous employer, Yanckello knew he had much to learn. “I dug in and started to get more operationally focused to understand the business from the IT side of the house,” he says. “That was instrumental in helping me develop the full set of skills I rely on today as chief technology officer.”
By 2008, his team had stabilized many day-to-day IT functions and opened up a new shared services center. Yanckello brought in other leaders, such as an information security officer and a director of performance management, to introduce a team approach to technology at UCF.
Today, Yanckello oversees infrastructure services, a 4,000-square-foot data center, telecommunications services, and information security. Additionally, his team supports a public space known as the technology commons, in which students and others can find collaboration spaces, meeting rooms, a coffee shop, and a computer store complete with a service desk.
Because Yanckello spent early parts of his career in residence centers, he knows the special needs and expectations associated with such spaces. “Those working in higher education IT have to move quickly and stay both current and agile. Demands change, use changes, and we have to deliver services quickly and effectively,” he says.
CIOs, CTOs, and other technology professionals working in colleges and universities must manage a high volume of work over sprawling geographies. How does Yanckello do it? “I have good people,” he says.
About five years ago, Yanckello analyzed his team and noticed it was one person deep in almost all areas. He knew that to sustain his progress he had to improve leadership development. “People in IT don’t always want to practice soft skills and leadership, but it’s critical in higher education, where it’s always a challenge to keep good employees,” Yanckello says.
He started pushing the idea of leadership training, and the department started offering personality assessments, generational training, business writing courses, advanced leadership development pilot programs, coaching, and various team development exercises. In doing so, Yanckello and other leaders were communicating that they care not only about job performance, but also the career trajectory of the employees.
“It’s great to get certified in Cisco, but if you want to be a CIO or CTO, you need to focus on leadership skills as well,” he says. Developing future leaders benefits the employee and the university. Yanckello has found that empowered people have both the resources they need and the support of their leaders. When released to do their jobs, they perform at higher levels and drive the results for UCF.
Around the same time, Yanckello’s office introduced the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) methodology framework, as his team built a customized strategic plan for the department. Now, he’s implementing an IT 2020 initiative designed to unite IT teams currently siloed at each of UCF’s colleges and departments.
Currently, Yanckello is planning to support UCF’s participation in Orlando’s downtown Creative Village. The project will take nearly eight thousand students from UCF and partner school Valencia to a sixty-eight-acre live/work/learn space by 2019. The unique, dynamic public-private urban infill project is attracting a blend of digital media companies, educators, employers, retailers, entertainment, and hospitality companies.
There, UCF and Valencia are building 165,000 square feet of academic space that Yanckello will help design and support. “We’re excited about the downtown campus because it will be a no-limits tech environment to support teaching, learning, and interacting,” he says. Instead of seats and a lectern, students will find flexible furniture, media walls, and video boards supplemented with high density wireless systems, redundant networks, and the best safety and security features. As the project approaches, UCF’s tech teams are testing aspects of the plan at the main Orlando campus.
In addition to planning for the Creative Village, Yanckello and his colleagues are helping UCF move deeper into the cloud as they focus more on tech and less on infrastructure. Today, his team is working with Microsoft to put stacks into the cloud with Azure to provide a better delivery system and improve business recovery. He is also searching for the right integration platform that will let all users connect to ERP systems as the IT 2020 plan continues to transform the way IT is done at the University of Central Florida.