John O’Keefe Tackles Many IT Jobs

John O’Keefe’s versatility has made him one of Lafayette College’s most valuable assets

Since John O’Keefe started working at Lafayette College almost seventeen years ago, he has held many positions before landing in his current spot as vice president of IT services and CIO. In his tenure at the Easton, Pennsylvania college, O’Keefe has worked on numerous projects, many IT-related (data management and developing strategic metrics), but others ranging far outside the traditional IT scope—such as working with the city of Easton or leading Lafayette’s New York City Initiative.

“Because I’ve been here a while and have developed a relationship with faculty, staff, trustees, and so on, I tend to get other projects as they come along,” O’Keefe says. “So, in addition to the traditional IT portfolio, I find more and more that I’ve been reaching beyond that, as someone who has been at the college for a while, someone on the president’s team, and someone who has a little bit more range into some of those areas.”

O’Keefe’s versatility and vast knowledge of Lafayette College’s inner workings made him the perfect choice to lead the school’s latest initiative: refreshing the IT division’s master planning process.

The last reboot came in 2012, when the IT division worked with a consultant on a successful plan that created a focal point for prioritizing IT projects. The plan also informed a rubric that the governance committee used in order to help think about the best way to spend IT’s resources and time. After six years, however, O’Keefe believed it was time for a change.

“I’ve been calling it a refresh because, in 2012, we didn’t have any prior in-depth comprehensive strategic plan for IT,” he says. “The division and my role as chief information officer were new, so it was the first time we had intensive IT strategic planning at that level.”

This time, O’Keefe is looking at more of an adjustment of the IT planning process. Instead of a top-down, consultant-driven strategic process as in 2012, he is meeting with campus constituencies and working with his leadership team to consider what has changed in the past few years, what parts of the 2012 plan they feel good about, and what needs to be adjusted, among other topics.

“There is a new college strategic plan in place now, and ensuring that the IT plan was firmly anchored in service to the college’s is really important to that,” O’Keefe says. “We wanted to start the refresh of the IT plan a bit sooner, but we wanted to make sure that the college’s strategic plan had been affirmed, put in place, and approved before we did that.”

The college’s strategic plan was approved in February 2016. Once it was, O’Keefe and his team had the space to think not only to about strategic IT components, but also how technology could be used to help advance the strategic goals of the college.

“We are wrapping our thinking around that, preparing some documents and content that I plan to take around to the campus community in the fall to get a final round of input and discussion around those ideas,” O’Keefe explains.

After the school’s strategic direction was approved, the executive leadership of the college wanted to be able to demonstrate progress on the plan for its entire eight- to ten-year duration. So, O’Keefe worked with his cabinet colleagues on thinking about what metrics within each division they felt would most strongly represent progress along the path for each leg of the strategic direction of the college.

O’Keefe met with each cabinet officer over the course of several days and came away with several hundred metrics. Then the group went through those metrics over the space of a year to shape and refine them so that they were focused on the most important indicators of success or challenges relative to the implementation of a plan.

After consulting with faculty, trustees, and others in the campus community, that long list got narrowed down to just fifty metrics. O’Keefe and his team have now moved on to the second stage of the process, which includes building out a supporting data infrastructure for the metrics in the college’s business intelligence and data warehouse systems.

“We want to operationalize and automate the gathering and presentations of statistics so that we can do that in a much more systematic way from now on,” he says. “Now we are taking those fifty metrics and building in that infrastructure so we can replicate that easily and quickly and automate it for subsequent reports.”

In addition, Lafayette College’s strategic direction has three main components that it hopes the IT division can assist with. One component is to maintain affordability for families struggling to meet the increasing cost of higher education. Another is to increase the school’s enrollment from 2,500 to 2,900 students during the course of the plan, while also expanding the faculty to help keep the student-to-professor ratio low.

It’ll be up to O’Keefe and his division to foster ways that technology can create affordability, control costs on the administrative side, and support growth in the faculty.

“Each piece of the IT plan has to be exactly connected to one or multiple parts of the college strategic plan,” he says. “Otherwise, there’s no point to us doing it. Ultimately, we’ll have three or four main strategic themes within the IT plan and each of them will be explicitly connected to the affordability and distinction through the strategic growth direction for the college overall.”