On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Tony Casciotta to discuss the unique challenges in change management and how to strategically align where your institution is going. This episode was recorded live at Modern Campus's Educause 2022 booth in Denver.
(00:04) Voiceover: Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. We're continuing our CIO radio series where we speak with technology leaders about the trends and challenges reshaping our increasingly digital space. On today's episode, we speak with Tony Casciotta, CIO and Vice President of IT at Broward College Speaking. Live at EDUCAUSE, Tony, and podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia discuss the unique challenges to change management in order to adapt processes, and how to strategically align yourself with where your institution is going.
(00:41) Amrit Ahluwalia: Well, Tony, welcome to the Illumination podcast. It's great to have you here.
(00:44): Tony Casciotta: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.
(00:45) Amrit Ahluwalia: Absolutely. Well, we're recording live from from EDUCAUSE, and I'm just curious, you know, we're, we're coming up on the end of day one here. How have you enjoyed the conference so far?
(00:52): Tony Casciotta: Very much so. I think it's one of those unique conferences that's focused on ed tech. Yeah. And there's not many of those. So I did find the Denver Convention Center, a little large and overwhelming. But so far so good.
(01:09) Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah. No, it's massive. I mean, it takes about five minutes. We're here in the exhibit hall. It takes at least five minutes to walk from here to outside. Yeah. It's really something. Yeah. So you have a really diverse background in IT leadership. You have leadership experience in the healthcare industry in the engineering space, and also in consulting. Before joining before coming into higher ed and, and you went straight into Broward College, what's unique about tech leadership in the higher ed space as compared to the other industries you've worked in?
(01:38): Tony Casciotta: Well, I mean, I think the role of a CIO or VP of IT doesn't really vary all that much between industries except specialized industries. So I was working at Nutrisystem, very e-commerce driven company. Right. Interesting. So centered, centered around technology. Right. versus working for a bank, you know, where it's centered around your customers that are walking in the door, making deposits, loans, and those type of things. Or even where I worked in my last role with a company that specialized in the power industry, right?
So that role wasn't really much different than the other roles, with the exception that I was the internal delivery mechanism of what we were deliver, what we were doing right. Versus something that was externally consumed by our customers. So, more or less the internal IT shop higher ed, I think is pretty much the same, except that things are a lot slower. <Laugh> fair. Yeah. I mean, in the academic world, we like to discuss things, maybe discuss them too long Sure. Before we make a decision and move forward. And, you know, I've noticed that a lot of institutions managed by consensus as opposed to, Hey, there's a great idea, let's flush it out and let's run with it. That flushing out process in academia could take months.
(03:09) Amrit Ahluwalia: Got it. Yeah. So how do you start to, I guess, overcome that a little bit? I mean, what, what are some of the tools or some of the tactics that you use to try to move the decision making process along a little bit faster? Or is it even necessary to do so?
(03:23): Tony Casciotta: Well, I think it is there, there are times Sure. So in, in every role I've ever had in all these different industries, yeah. I took the time up front to learn the business. Got it. And I, and I actually had to learn the higher ed business. And when I mean that, I'm not talking about the classroom teaching, I'm talking about all what goes into running a college and how you obtain students, retain students and graduate students. I had to figure all that out. So what, and in that process, you identify areas that need improvement, and then based on your background, you'll say, well, wait a second. I know this company or that company or that product, or actually, if we just change our business processes, we're going to impact students in a positive way. So that's the kind of the approach I've always taken.
(04:08) Amrit Ahluwalia: I like that. It's interesting as you, as you kind of focus in on business processes. Cause one of the things I've really noticed is that in higher education, we seem to be oriented more towards iteration than innovation. Just say, you know, we're, let's be honest. I mean, we're taking processes that were established by monks and really just trying to find ways to automate them, trying to find ways to digitize them. But I don't know that we're necessarily looking at the processes themselves and determining is this the right thing we should be doing?
(04:35): Tony Casciotta: So I will tell you that nowadays, if you're going to adopt SaaS based solutions, you have no choice. If you don't do it, you will fail. Your implementations will fail because you can't take, our institution, for example, is 60 years old, right? Where're a state agency. You can't take those old business processes that were established many years ago that are, are, you know, guided by state policy and just think that you're going to put them in a modern cloud-based system, right? It will fail, it will not work. And so it's not only understanding your business processes, it's the change management piece of getting people to adopt a different way of doing things. Right? How do I process financial aid in a cloud-based system versus on an on-prem older system? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. So that's, that's really the unique challenge I think nowadays. And that's where a lot of CIOs are either successful or not successful because they have to convince everybody that you have to adopt new business processes. And they're not so quick to do
(05:44) Amrit Ahluwalia: That. Well. And that, that's really the question, right? Is how do you go about that process? What does it look like? What are some of the obstacles that folks should look out for? Because to your point, I mean, the fact that there's still a lot of on-premise hosting a lot of non-SaaS products in our industry in 2022 is a little concerning.
(06:04): Tony Casciotta: Absolutely. My approach has always been top down. So the executive team, the president's cabinet the senior leadership team all has to be on the same page and being, pulling in the same direction, right? So they have to understand that they're going to be pushing down change. And the, the, the best way I think of getting there is find the best change agents in those departments. People that gravitate towards new systems and say that are more adaptable to a new way of doing business. Because in some cases, you might find people that are frustrated because in their jobs, because they're told to do it this way. And so they're really excited about being on a new project if they're going to change their business processes. So those are the type of people that you want to find and put on your project team, but they can't come on your project team unless all their superiors are embracing this.
(07:01) Amrit Ahluwalia: Fair enough. Which is a lot of relationship building, a lot of trust building. Fairenough.
(07:05): Tony Casciotta: Absolutely.
(07:06) Amrit Ahluwalia: So you arrived at Broward in 2014. What's been the change that you've noticed in the way that tech leadership in, in the academic space works in that time?
(07:16): Tony Casciotta: So I was, I, I came to Broward from a prior CIO role, but I was hired as the CIO in waiting because the, the CIO that was there was on the retirement path. So I have to give her a really a lot of credit. She had the foresight of understanding that higher ed is, can be and is complex. There's many, many systems that are all connected in certain different ways. And so she brought me in to get acclimated to learn it and understand how to, how to, how to do that. And I'm also the beneficiary of the strategic plan that she, that she published in 2012 before I got there that said we were a, a cloud first organization, right? I got lucky in that regard, and it's what attracted me to taking the job, right? I really wanted to be part of a very progressive organization, and I didn't care about the industry, as you could tell by my resume, I didn't care about the industry. And I thought it would be really interesting to, to take a higher ed institution and monetize it. And that's exactly what we're doing. We only have really one major system left on premise. All of our other systems are either SaaS or reside in a
(08:32) Amrit Ahluwalia: Place. There you go. So, well, I'm curious, you know, because we've talked about the impact of shifting to a SaaS-based environment on business processes, the fact that you cannot, you cannot take your old business processes and mash them into new technology and expect to do well. So this might be a very obvious question, but what role should tech leaders be playing in helping to establish strategic priorities and operational priorities at their respective institutions?
(09:02): Tony Casciotta: Well, I think in, like, unlike I mentioned before, working for an e-commerce company, you're basically leading the charge, right? Whether it's the backend business analytics that's driving your commerce, whether it's the systems that are capturing your commerce, right? That's a little bit different in higher ed. You need to be strategically aligned to where the college wants to go and what the president and the executive leadership team wants to go. Now, not now that doesn't say that You can't come up with really good ideas about certain technology implementations, right? We've seen a lot of that during covid, right? What higher ed institution was working remotely? Yeah. I mean, the online schools, right? The online schools, right? So covid hits and all of a sudden everybody has to adopt technology and it became very much aware of it. So yeah, you, you kind of have to align yourself with, with the other leaders in the organization and the direction that they want to take them, but also add in your two cents, right?
(10:01) What, what makes sense for that? What makes sense for that? So great example, our focus, we have a, a very large major focus is to improve the student journey, right? Get them in the door, get them in seats, get to retain them and graduate them. And you can only do that if the experience for the college student is pleasurable. Because you think about our students, we're two-year school predominantly. We, we do have some bachelorette programs, right? But there, our average age of our student is 26 years old, they're working adults. And so if you make education or higher ed attainment hard, they're not going to do it. So that's what we're very focused in on. And so we're doing two things. We are going to select the right student information system that's modern, right? But we're also documenting all the business processes right now. And we're going to take those, all those processes, look at what needs to be improved, and then move that into the new system. So it's going to, it's actually really the first time we're doing that. The other couple of times we've kind of winged it. We were mildly successful. I believe this time we're going to be hugely successful.
(11:22) Amrit Ahluwalia: Well, that's exceptional. You know, you mentioned a little the seamlessness flexibility to your mind, what are the key characteristics of, of a great consumer experience?
(11:32): Tony Casciotta: Well, I would say is how easy it is to get accepted to the college, even though we're an open access system, currently we have a 13-page application. Go figure. So we're streamlining, one of the things we're doing right now, and it'll be implemented in the next month or so, is we're streamlining all the applications for the different pathways, right? So that's the first thing. You got to make it easy for them to get in the door. And then in our case down in Broward County of Florida, the demographics of our students, about 95% of those students PELL eligible. So you got, then you have to make the financial aid process as easy as possible. We all know that we have to fill out the FAFSA forms, right? But we actually help parents and, and, and, and, and guardians and young adults fill out those forms if they need help, because we know that's a barrier. So we want to remove all those types of barriers. And then this, the other thing is to be as flexible as possible with our class scheduling. Right? We should have classes early in the morning and late at night because a lot of our stu students are working class people, right? So we're most of their jobs are during the day.
(12:46) Amrit Ahluwalia: Yeah. Generally speaking. Absolutely. Well that, I mean, it makes a ton of sense as, as you look at the space right now and, and where you see it going in the, say next five to eight years, what are some of the key trends you're keeping an eye on?
(12:59): Tony Casciotta: Very interesting workforce, workforce education and workforce development. So most, a lot of organizations, a lot of institutions are actually struggling with that. The state of Florida, which, you know Broward is, is in, is the governor firmly believes in workforce education and he is granting millions of dollars to all the state colleges in this 28 of us for workforce development. And the, the, the approach that we're taking and I think is the right approach, is we're starting to give out micro-credentials, credentials, and then certificates. And they're starting to stack towards a degree, right? So now a working class, I'll just take aircraft mechanics as an example. There is a dire need for aircraft mechanics. You come to us, you get a certification, you're already working for one of the airlines or one of the local, because we have plenty of air small airports in, in Florida, in southern Florida. So you're already working while you're still starting to end work and making a very good living without a two or four
(14:03) Amrit Ahluwalia: Year degree. Absolutely. You know, there are some fascinating models that I've seen around how different, different institutions or different systems are approaching stackability. And I think one of the most interesting ones that I've come across is a model where the, the Louisiana system is looking at this where they'll start with a workforce credential, say, you know, in order to get your two-year degree, you need your gen ed and you need your technical said, we're going to flip it. Because generally speaking, you start with your gen ed and you finish with your technical, say, well, the things you need in the short term are the technical. So start with the technical, get your certificate, get a job. And when it comes time for a promotion, when it comes time for career growth, when it comes time that you need a degree, come back, stack that education into a process, finish your degree.
(14:50): Tony Casciotta: That's an excellent approach. I mean, I think we're doing some of that. I, and again, I think like many organizations, you just mentioned one, right? So think about this, what, 100 two year colleges in the United States, a lot of them are struggling with that because you're a higher ed organization that has been focused on degrees for 50, 60, 70 years,
(15:13) Amrit Ahluwalia: Right? Yes. The, the processes, the systems, it's not designed for continuing in workforce ed. It's totally different.
(15:19): Tony Casciotta: And governor DeSantis really recognizes that, and that's why he's putting so much money into workforce. I just recently read an article that for every two jobs available in Florida, there's only one person. So, you know, you have to think, so you think about our tourism industry, our airline industry, our marine industry, especially in, in, in on the, you know, in Florida. There's a lot of demand for talent that don't require two year or four
(15:50) Amrit Ahluwalia: Year degrees. Absolutely. Absolutely. That's staggering. So I mean turning your attention a little bit and staying on the topic of trends more or less, I mean, what are some of the challenges that are keeping you up at night?
(16:04): Tony Casciotta: Well, like any cio, it's cybersecurity. Yeah. You know, I mean, hands down you, you need to be protected. You, you need to protect your data. It's not, and, and it's not about perimeter protection any longer. It's really about making sure your data is safe. And then there's a flip side to that because everybody will get hacked. It's just a matter of when, it's going to be, how bad is that compromise or how minimal it is. And then how do you handle it? And if you don't have cyber insurance, more than likely you'll find yourself in big trouble. You won't be going according to the rules and regulations of disclosure. Whereas if you have cyber insurance, they will help you do that, right? So they have legal teams, they have e-discovery teams and those types, and they each even also had it. They understand the laws better than we do. Right? But here's the catch. Now cyber insurances has a whole list of requirements to get renewed. So you have to have endpoint protection, you have to have multifactor authentication, your data has to be encrypted. I mean, there's a lot of regulations that a lot of CIOs need to start talking to their boards and to their constituency. Because if you don't have cyber insurance, you're going to be in big trouble.
(17:28) Amrit Ahluwalia: That's fascinating. Well, Tony, I mean that pretty much does it on my end. Now, the way we like to end our podcasts are a pretty simple question, which is if someone's going to dinner in Fort Lauderdale, where do they need to go?
(17:40): Tony Casciotta: One of my favorite Italian places is a little known place called La Perla in Pompano Beach on Federal Highway. Just a wonderful little 15 table restaurant run by a husband and wife. The husband runs the front end of the, and the wife is actually the cook, and she does everything homemade except for ice cream. So everything that's served to you is homemade pastas, breads, desserts. So very good. La Perla in Pompano Beach.
(18:13) Amrit Ahluwalia: All right. Looks like I need to take a trip to South Florida. Tony, it's been a pleasure.
(18:17): Tony Casciotta: Thanks for having me.
(18:21) Voiceover: This podcast is made possible by a partnership between Modern Campus and The EvoLLLution. The Modern Campus engagement platform, powered solutions for non-traditional student management, web content management, catalog and curriculum management, student engagement and development, conversational text messaging, career pathways, and campus maps and virtual tours. The result innovative institutions can create learner to earner life cycle that engages modern learners for life, while providing modern administrators with the tools needed to streamline workflows and drive high efficiency. To learn more and to find out how to modernize your campus, visit moderncampus.com. That's moderncampus.com.