Julie Myers and Samantha Singhal – University of Rochester
Ten years ago, most IT departments were small, cash-strapped and concretely vertical in their management; seats at the big table, few and far between.
Julie Myers and Samantha Singhal understand how far their industry has come, although both admit there’s still room for improvement. As co-deputy CIOs for the University of Rochester, Myers and Singhal have pioneered a progressive, innovative leadership style—one where mutual trust and respect are used to break down traditional barriers to communication.
“Our intent is to create an environment where everyone works together to overcome challenges,” Myers says. “There’s a genuine sense of accountability here that I think drives us to do great things on behalf of the university.”
Despite working side by side on major projects and departmental initiatives, their roles are hardly redundant. “Divide and conquer,” Myers calls it—covering one another when necessary, coming together when all hands on deck are needed.
While Singhal focuses on matters related to the technology store, Help Desk, executive support, and administration, Myers leads the Project Management Office and the organization’s reporting and analytics efforts.
However, it’s when their roles overlap—on major projects for instance—that the most impressive transformations happen.
Last October, the University of Rochester kicked off a multi-million-dollar UR Student project to replace the school’s decades-old student information system.
As the primary IT sponsor, Myers is the point person for both contract and vendor management, while also providing updates to the school’s senior leadership. Singhal, meanwhile, spearheads the project’s change management efforts, making the process as friction-free as possible for all stakeholders.
The first phase of the project, Student Records and Student Finance, is slated to be completed in July 2019.
Myers and Singhal say they are helping to make IT part of a larger, community conversation.
“Just recently, we had a meeting with the project team,” Myers illustrates. “There were 10 people in the room, and only three of them were from IT. It may seem counterintuitive, but we believe that technology is the enabler—how we do something—and that the focus has to remain on the institution’s mission and strategy, which is why we’re doing something.”
Through the school’s IT governance framework, Singhal and Myers have worked with the greater university community—which includes an academic medical center and six undergraduate and graduate schools—to help prioritize projects that have the most impact on Rochester’s missions and operations and a clear return on investment.
Unlike many IT departments, which often target areas for improvement independently of their organizations, Rochester’s projects are often identified by the wider community. Over time, those stakeholders have grown more comfortable working with the IT department precisely because they could see the focus wasn’t on technology for technology’s sake.
“Technology is just one piece of the larger puzzle,” Singhal says. “For any project to be successful, you need an emphasis on process, people and technology—often in that order.”
In addition to community-focused projects, the IT department is also exploring ways to optimize order fulfillment workflows through a focus on IT service management.
The goal, Singhal says, is to correlate Help Desk tickets with changes made to production systems. Moreover, the department wants to more quickly identify systems that are impacted by hardware failure in the Data Center. Having that integrated approach to service management not only encourages faster response times; it requires far less manual effort.
As valuable as these and other initiatives have been, Myers and Singhal will be the first to tell you how unlikely such success stories used to be.
“The longer we’re here, the better we are at getting people to the table,” Myers says. “As an organization committed to collaborative leadership, we’re always looking ahead to how we can keep that collaborative process moving forward.”
Leading by example
As impactful as Rochester’s IT has been on the wider institution, having sound processes is only possible when the department’s dynamics are equally healthy.
For Myers and Singhal, that means fostering a culture of diversity and collaboration, where one’s individual path and perspective are not only respected, but encouraged.
It’s a philosophy Singhal says has its roots in her and Myers’ own professional paths.
“Where you end up is a reflection of your own journey, and not necessarily some arbitrary vision of where you need to be,” Singhal says. “Opportunities present themselves when they present themselves.”
Singhal got her start in the world of programming before joining Rochester in 2000, as a senior programmer. Since then, she’s been involved in areas from project management and quality assurance to communications and strategic planning.
Myers, meanwhile, got her start as IT director of Eastman Kodak. In 2006, she accepted a project director position at Rochester, eventually rising to the ranks of chief information security officer.
As their titles changed and responsibility grew, so did their commitment to effective, dynamic leadership in a field where women make up a scant 9 percent of senior IT leadership.
By adopting new and creative approaches to leadership, Myers and Singhal hope to help attract more diverse styles to IT leadership positions.
“Results matter, but how we achieve those results matters just as much,” Singhal says. “For Julie and me, our focus is always on delivering value for the university. We are fortunate that we get to do that as part of a team that values and embraces diversity in the broadest sense of the word.”
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