A Business Professor Turned CIO Practices What He Teaches

Jay Premack for The Chronicle

Brad Wheeler, chief information officer of Indiana University at Bloomington, has worked out a way to get publishers to lower their per-book costs.
February 26, 2012

Apple is revered in business circles for its tough bargaining with suppliers to keep down production costs on its popular iPhones and computers. Colleges should emulate that aggressive stance when buying their technology, argues Bradley C. Wheeler, chief information officer at Indiana University at Bloomington.

Mr. Wheeler has spent most of his career as a business professor, and he is applying the same lessons he teaches his executive-MBA students to managing the university's technology.

THE INNOVATOR: Bradley C. Wheeler, Indiana University

THE BIG IDEA: Encourage colleges to take a more aggressive stance in bargaining with providers to trim costs.

Lately, that has meant getting involved in a subject not usually handled by CIO's: textbooks.

The administrator has led a pilot effort at Indiana to broker a deal with publishers that greatly lowers the per-book cost in exchange for a guarantee that every student will buy the e-textbooks they are assigned (by instituting a course-materials fee). Other universities are following Indiana's lead.

In recent talks, he compares managing college technology to a chess match, with colleges on one side and tech companies on the other. "It is very collective," he says, and colleges need to work together and look ahead several moves to try to picture what tomorrow's technology and needs might be.

Collaboration has been his game plan for years. He has led or participated in several efforts by colleges to build their own open-source alternatives to commercial education software. The largest are Sakai for virtual classrooms and Kuali for administrative functions.

The 47-year-old was raised on a farm in a "one-flashing-light, peanut town" of 1,200 people in Oklahoma. His family also owned a local car dealership, and he learned to help out in all areas of the business.

In that small-town environment, he says he learned that "no one's disposable—you have to make the relationships work over time."

"Some people say I'm anticorporate, but nothing can be further from the truth," he adds. "I just believe the buyer side has to be organized and work as well as the seller side."

Brad Wheeler chats with Educause about "The Power of the Network:"