Recently I moved into a new role as CIO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. To get a sense of the most important IT issues, I decided to crowdsource everyone’s input. So in my first day on the job, we opened up a crowdsourcing site. We code-named it Spark, because the mascot here is Blaze the Dragon.
The intent was to go to the community and tell them that we’re focused on solutions, we’re focused on the future, and we’re focused on partnerships. We said, in essence, "Help us understand the issues you’re facing and what would make the biggest difference in your life. You can submit an idea that anyone can comment on, and as long as you play nice, everything is in scope."
How well is it working? In the first 55 days, we had 73 ideas posted, 367 comments, 1,747 votes, and 386 users. Note that this was a soft launch based almost entirely on word of mouth during the summer, which means a sizable majority of the faculty and students were away.
The results thus far are impressive, then, but why is the whole initiative important?
First, there is a degree of transparency and shared governance associated with crowdsourcing during your first 100 days. It’s important to be focused on listening intently and understanding how the business works, so what better way to do that than to launch a site that allows people to contribute? I’ve always been a proponent that everyone is an agent of innovation, so we needed a tool that allowed everyone to make suggestions.
Second, this effort supports the idea that the community has a voice in sorting out good and bad ideas. I’m the department that facilitates, but it’s the community working through the prioritization of ideas that have the greatest merit and the greatest payoff, and the ideas that don’t.
A few of the first ideas that are rising to the top:
- Electronic signature of documents as part of moving to a paperless system
- One gigabit bandwidth to the desktop
- Technology training and certification for IT pros and IT consultants
- Unlimited storage for all students, faculty, and staff
- Orientation for new IT employees
After gathering all these ideas, the next stage will be to build teams. We’ll go back to the community and say, “Do you want to build on this idea?” If so, we’ll build a team around it and move forward. And after we have a series of teams working on all these ideas, the final stage is to actually go live and to create a win.
My overall goal is to create 100 wins within the first year — 100 different ways we improve the life and work experiences of our faculty, students, and staff. I think this is a strong example of inclusive leadership. With crowdsourcing everyone can get involved, have a chance to have their say and through consensus building and some governance, allow the best ones rise to the top.
Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In this role servant leader and enabler of others, he leads a team of dedicated professionals focused on providing solution to the UAB through world-class IT with a focus on innovation, agility and cost efficiency. Previously he was the vice chancellor and chief information officer for the Board of Regents of University System of Georgia, he oversaw a statewide educational infrastructure and service organization with more than 190 innovators and more than $75 million annual investment in higher education. He also provided technical oversight of the USG Shared Services Center. Dr. Carver has led the transformation of IT services by partnering with USG business owners, institutions, and other state agencies to jointly solve problems.
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