When a higher education CIO takes time to collaborate with faculty and administrators, the resulting innovations can have far-reaching effects.
Such is the case at Clemson University. The creation of a Social Media Listening Center (SMLC) was a direct result of the school's CIO collaborating with faculty, according to Jason Thatcher, an associate professor of management, who serves as the center's academic lead.
"Typically, my colleagues looked at IT as wallpaper," Thatcher told us during Dell World 2012 this month in Austin, Texas. "Now, the academic parts of the university are collaborating with the CIO.
In a February press release, Clemson explained what the SMLC does:
The center enables students to monitor thousands of online conversations about organizations, brands, products and services on a global scale in real time. This allows for sophisticated review, routing and response to social media posts and content.
Clemson CIO Jim Bottum said in the release that he learned about a social media listening center during a visit to Dell's headquarters in 2011. He proposed a partnership that would involve student engagement, faculty research, and an environment to test the value of the center in helping an IT organization move into a proactive service position.
"When I returned to campus and talked to faculty, students and staff about the Social Media Listening Center, I sensed a very high level of interest and excitement -- more so about this project than any other technology we've undertaken at Clemson," Bottum said. "They were from a wide range of disciplines, too, including business, communication studies, psychology, marketing, computing and others. The center is inherently interdisciplinary and focuses on an area where all students and a growing segment of our population lives: social media."
According to Clemson, the SMLC has six large display screens that faculty and students monitor, making it similar to a small network operations center. Salesforce Radian6 provides the platform to listen, discover, measure, and engage in conversations across the Web by capturing more than 150 million sources of social media conversations, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and blogs. The Radian6 summary dashboard provides a graphic display of social media content to convey sentiment, share of voice, trend information, geolocation data, and more.
Thatcher said the SMLC is just one example of how Bottum, who joined the school about five years ago, has bridged the divide between faculty and IT. The first step was addressing a decentralized IT organization that was siloed in different university departments. Bottum centralized the IT organization under a more cogent management structure, and the benefits were immediately felt on campus, Thatcher said. For example, IT built its infrastructure on a condo-style model that's shared across departments. If there's spare processing power, any department can utilize it. "When you learn to share resources, it's a very different approach."
Persistent workaday problems were also addressed. The frequent email outages ceased, and network limitations were resolved. Most importantly, Bottum "gets that teaching matters."
As a result, the entire IT organization "now understands the faculty's needs better," Thatcher said. "They truly understand that when email goes down, it's not just an inconvenience. It disrupts important research projects. The CIO believes in customer service. It's now much easier for me to reach out and touch IT."
The greatest benefit to date has come via the SMLC, which has attracted corporate CIOs from around the country to tour the facility and consider ways to engage the university in using the tools for brand research. "We've had 41 companies come through for tours so far," Thatcher said.
The university's technology advances have also attracted top-notch faculty to work at Clemson, he said. "I've had faculty who say they come to work here because of our computing environment."