3 Universities Earn Accolades for Tech Innovation

Boundary-pushing projects involving mobile computing and in-memory analytics have landed three universities on the 2014 CIO 100 list, which recognizes organizations that leverage information technology in innovative ways.

Georgetown University, Lynn University, and the University of Kentucky were the higher-education institutions among the awardees, made public this week by IDG Enterprise, a media company that produces publications including CIO and Computerworld magazines.

Georgetown was recognized for what officials there have dubbed their technology-transformation strategy, which includes expanding mobile technology on the campus and shifting to cloud-based applications for business operations, including human resources and finances. The move has allowed the university to shut down its dated mainframe computer and save money, says Andrew Ehlers, chief administrative officer for university information services.

“The other major migration we made was to Google mail,” Mr. Ehlers says. “We had a legacy system, and by going to Google mail, we were still able to keep our addresses, but essentially Google does all the work, at no cost to us.”

In total, Georgetown has reduced information-technology costs by about $2.5-million during the past year, officials say. In addition, the university hosted two hackathons during the last 18 months while also launching a program called GU Women Who Code, which is training about 200 women at the university to code.

“It is sometimes a slow process,” Mr. Ehlers says of setting an information-technology overhaul in motion. “But one of the things we try to do is show the advantages given by a new technology. I think, in general, the feedback is positive.”

Ashley S. Tabb, marketing manager for analytics and technologies at Kentucky, says that the university is making use of its data-analytics platform—called a High Performance Analytic Appliance, or HANA—and mobile technology to gather data and analyze and predict student behavior.

The university’s mobile app lets students manage academic and financial data via their mobile devices. It also uses what Ms. Tabb describes as “micro-surveys” to personalize users’ profiles and take their pulses on a range of student-life issues. Questions include “Could you get an A in every class?” and “Do you have a job?” One objective is to identify struggling students and get them help early, with the goal of improving retention and graduation rates.

“Plans are under way for delivering personalized tips and recommendations to students based on in-class performance, participation, and other profile data collected and analyzed in real time,” Ms. Tabb says.

Lynn University, a private institution in Boca Raton, Fla., was recognized for a project that seeks to integrate tablet computers into student life and classroom learning, with instructional designers tailoring curricula to make use of the mobile technology.

Applicants for the CIO 100 list are vetted by a team of judges, largely composed of former chief information officers. Final selections are done by editors at CIO magazine. The winners will be feted at a formal ceremony in August. Other groups that made the cut include the Atlanta Public Schools, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which is managed by the California Institute of Technology), and the Intel Corporation. The list is published annually.

Beyond the accolades, making the list allows information-technology professionals across sectors to highlight their work and share best practices, says Vince Kellen, chief information officer at Kentucky.

“It is good for the CIO communities in higher ed to get connected to industry, and industry back to higher ed,” Mr. Kellen says. “There are practices that flow back and forth, and I have always found that valuable.”

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