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See how this CIO enables her college with a small but nimble team

Grace Lau

Director of Content

See how this CIO enables her college with a small but nimble team
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When you manage IT for a small liberal arts college, you don’t always have resources to spare. Still, Amy Diehl, CIO at Wilson College, and her team are dedicated to providing a high-quality experience for everyone on campus, from students to faculty and staff.

The small team of nine, including Diehl, is in charge of the library and information technology for the college. Their oversight includes: instructional design, educational technology, academic and administrative support, data centers, server infrastructure, applications management, ERP systems, system administration including email and file servers, telecommunications, computer labs, help desk support, information security, as well as full library services (print and electronic collections, learning commons, information literacy, and research support).

It’s a lot for a team of that size to handle, but it all comes down to the lens with which you approach the job. “When you’re small you can’t do everything,” says Diehl. “But I like to think of underrated ways in which we improve the student and faculty experience—ways they don’t necessarily even perceive.”

Here are three things Diehl and her nimble colleagues use to provide a world-class IT experience with a small staff.

Create your own networks

Information security has been a big focal point for Diehl since moving to Wilson College last year, because her team doesn’t have enough staff to warrant a dedicated Chief Information Security Officer. “Information security needs oversight,” she says.

Luckily, Diehl’s previous job at a larger state school came with a safety net of sister schools to lean on for security resources and information-sharing. At a private liberal arts college like Wilson, that network does not come built in—but you can always find one yourself.

“I was able to have the college join a consortium through its professional association,” says Diehl. “Now we’re in a network of other small schools in Pennsylvania, where we have access to better resources to help us with security and to share information with each other.”

Information security is not something you want to be competitive about,” says Diehl.

"It does not help us when any other college or organization is hacked or hit by ransomware. There’s no reason to be anything but cooperative and share information."

Having a network to rely on gave Diehl and her colleagues space to work on other important aspects like cybersecurity training (where they achieved an incredible 100% compliance from full time permanent staff and faculty), and education like phish testing.

Engage third party vendors

There’s a lot on the go at once for Diehl, so automation and outsourcing have been a key to her success. When important everyday tasks are looked after, she’s able to focus on personalized support for students, providing librarians with the resources they need, and enabling faculty to teach without obstacles.

That’s why Wilson College works with a SIEM—a Security Information and Event Management tool—to monitor for anomalies.

"We don’t have time to sit and look at log files all day. A third-party vendor can help us with SIEM monitoring because they have experience doing this for other institutions."

By leaving these kinds of rote tasks to a third party, she’s able to refocus time on the areas that improve campus experience, and even level up security capabilities with advanced techniques that no small team would have time for. “They’re able to put the human eyes on it and say ‘this is what you need to take a look at.’”

Keeping the IT environment simple by leveraging vendors strategically like this has enabled Diehl to provide all the same services and experience of a larger college, simply by making the right choices about what to handle internally, what to automate, and what to outsource.

“IT is a strategic partnership,” says Diehl.

Diversify the team

It’s no secret that the IT world is dominated by men— only a quarter of all computing roles are done by women—and it’s something Diehl has noticed in her career. “My interest in gender bias came as I was moving up that hierarchy as a leader,” she says.

“I started a doctoral program and I thought, ‘I’m just going to research and find out, through literature review, what gender barriers do women leaders experience?’ What this work has done is helped me to understand what was happening in my own realm and has helped me to be a stronger leader.”

It’s been proven over and over that greater innovation comes from having a diverse team, and that’s something Diehl strived to achieve. “With a small team, everybody has to be highly effective,” she says, “but using strict applicant weeding tools doesn’t necessarily enable equitable hiring practices.” For example, just widening the candidate pool to include people with different experiences and backgrounds is a cure for the symptom and not the cause if the methods of evaluating the candidates haven’t evolved.

"I’ve been proactive with my recruitment to come up with ways to be more equitable and to diversify the team. For example, I work to explore how we can do hiring skills assessments that keep in mind where people are coming from."

Thinking more diversely also means considering different ways of working that help your small team function best so they can focus on their many tasks at hand. Hybrid work and flexibility are other functions that Diehl is proud to support as a manager, as she recognized how disproportionately women and people of color have been affected by the pandemic.

“Remote work has a lot of potential, in particular for women, by cutting down on commuting, allowing more time to attend to caregiving and personal pursuits while also being fully engaged in the work,” says Diehl. “Being a good manager in any regard, you set goals for people and you work based on the goals, not based on the time they’re sitting in their office chair.”

To successfully run an entire IT department with only a handful of staff, you have to make smart choices.

“Of course it’s about information security, but it’s also things like having reliable Wi-Fi, an Internet connection with sufficient bandwidth, and good working computers and labs, so that when a student, staff, or faculty member comes to campus and logs on, they’re not even thinking about it,” says Diehl.

More importantly, Diehl also exemplifies the power of leading with empathy—not only for staff, but also for everyone their work affects. There’s so much that a CIO has to juggle. By creating harmony for her staff and also her higher ed community, Diehl has ensured a seamless operation that is focused on the technology as well as the humanity of everyone who creates and uses their systems.

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