From Utility to Partner: How Leadership & Collaboration Can Transform IT

By May 21, 2019 March 10th, 2021 No Comments

Dr. Mira Lalovic-Hand Navigates Forces of Technology to Drive Rowan’s Success

When Dr. Mira Lalovic-Hand was appointed Chief Information Officer and Senior Vice President for Information Resources & Technology at Rowan University in 2013, many colleges and universities had not yet realized the key role technology would play in driving institutional success.

At a time when other institutions still viewed IT as a back-end function, Dr. Lalovic-Hand started the process of changing that perception at Rowan University by leveraging her position as a member of the President’s Executive Cabinet to advocate for strategic investments in technology and human resources.

“Technology is embedded in day-to-day business operations, academic functions, and campus life, and imagining how even a decade ago universities and colleges functioned without IT present at the highest level is difficult to comprehend,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said. “Now, more and more institutions are coming to understand this point of view, but having IT at the decision-making table wasn’t the case when I was appointed CIO in 2013.”

The technology and expertise required for an enterprise today is expensive, regulated, and complex. Automation and demand for timely information are affecting every single department in universities, and technology can provide a competitive advantage if deployed and utilized in timely and effective ways. Due to the speed at which technology is changing the landscape of higher education, Dr. Lalovic-Hand believes a successful leadership team must have a member who understands the institution’s unique demands on its technology infrastructure and data environment, as well as the business side of higher education.

In partnership with University leadership and faculty, staff and students, Dr. Lalovic-Hand and her team are transforming how the institution operates and turning IT into an enabling partner. They have implemented major improvements and expansions in infrastructure and information services. These accomplishments are changing the way the University community views IT – from a back of the house utility to a digital leader and business partner.

Dr. Lalovic-Hand, who has also been serving on Edge’s Board of Trustees since 2013, passionately promotes investments in information resources and business systems that strategically position the University to meet current needs and forecasts and manage future growth. In her role, she keeps a pulse on the industry for current and upcoming technological advancements. This knowledge provides guidance for making strategic personnel and organizational decisions.

As a member of the University leadership team, Dr. Lalovic-Hand uses her knowledge and understanding of the overall picture of a large and complex institution like Rowan University to help guide technology decisions that are significant when determining the success of the institution.

Anticipating Technology

“Steering the technology that needs to power such a large enterprise in the right direction is an imperative. There is very little room for error. Just like a large cruise liner that cannot easily make a U-turn without losing momentum, a university cannot change direction without significant losses,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said.

Dr. Lalovic-Hand and her team have to stay on top of the rapid technological changes and strategically think about how incorporating a new innovation would impact the University. She demands an operation that involves a lot of strategic thinking and planning to prevent a U-Turn from ever taking place.

Rowan University’s Technology Program Leads the State

During her tenure as CIO and Senior Vice President of Information Resources & Technology, Dr. Lalovic-Hand and her team have carried out many large and small projects to improve education and business outcomes and enhance the security, capacity, and speed of digital resources.

These changes have pushed Rowan University’s technology program to the forefront and made the University a technology leader throughout New Jersey and the northeast region.

In order to drive those changes, Dr. Lalovic-Hand championed the importance of recognizing the core critical nature of the institution’s information technology infrastructure among University leadership. This focus resulted in a robust reliable environment that supports the University’s mission and strategic initiatives.

Over the past six years, Rowan University has increased network performance and created network redundancy as part of a larger network redesign project, expanded and improved the University’s wireless network, and addressed deferred maintenance issues.

The development of that environment was necessary to enable Rowan’s transition to a campus culture with an emphasis on research and to support the launch of many niche research efforts such as the CAVE, a room-sized virtual reality environment, and CREATEs, a facility dedicated to finding innovative solutions to challenges related to transportation engineering that’s benefiting local, state and federal agencies, as well as computing clusters, which are shared by several of the University’s academic departments.

“The task of partnering with multiple facilities was not a small feat because everyone’s always competing for resources,” she said. “Having a productive and effective partnership with the campus community is a major accomplishment.”

Unprecedented Growth

Rowan University also merged with the School of Osteopathic Medicine during Dr. Lalovic-Hand’s tenure. “This was a complete success despite the size of the technical challenge,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said. “We were trying to stitch together incompatible systems to enable two institutions to breathe as one and, at the same time, build out the capacity to operate as one, larger institution.”

This merger required strategic leadership from Dr. Lalovic-Hand to ensure minimal disruption during the transition and presently. Dr. Lalovic-Hand underlined that “for technology leaders, transformation and alignment persist long after the change has become a thing of the past for the rest of the organization.” This merger also took place during a time of rapid growth for the University. From 2012 to 2016, student enrollment jumped 43 percent, from 12,183 students to 17,372. Today, the University enrolls 19,465 students, including 16,120 undergraduate students, 2,228 graduate students, and 1,117 professional/medical students.

Security With the University taking on responsibility for sensitive patient data and medical information and the increased student population, Dr. Lalovic-Hand focused on information security concerns and oversaw the creation of a cybersecurity awareness-training program and an Information Security Office. These were part of a “strategic shift toward prioritizing and improving information security across institutions, including community efforts such as security awareness for students, as well as administrative and technical efforts,” she said.

Project Management Another development overseen by Dr. Lalovic-Hand was the creation of a Project Management Office, which led to an unexpectedly fast transformation of the Rowan University culture. Prior to the implementation of project management techniques, changing demands and shifting boundaries often slowed or even failed the delivery of complex technical projects.

“We struggled to come up with the comprehensive projects and fought to successfully complete them within a year, because we didn’t have the ability to tie up all of the ends. The creation of the new office changed all that, almost like magic,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said.

Data to Intelligence Other major accomplishments include the development of sophisticated business intelligence, data analytics and predictive modeling capabilities, which helps with recruiting and almost all business decision-making, as well as the expanded adoption of technology within the classroom, including increasing lecture capture capabilities and learning management systems. Dr. Lalovic-Hand and her team have also implemented improvements to the University’s student information system, developed a data governance program, policies and procedures to help guide the acquisition of new technology and manage changes to existing systems and network environments, and created an in-house development team to more quickly develop and deploy technology solutions to the University community.

Customer Service “We are here to enable members of the community, and we never want to lose focus of this mission,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said. Many of these projects and technological transformations have taken place over several years and some are still ongoing. The key ingredients to all of the changes have been partnerships with the University community and maintaining a centralized IT department,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said.

“None of the digital transformations would’ve been possible if I didn’t have the support from our University’s top leadership and had the ability to make decisions centrally,” she said.

Advancing From R3 Status to R2 Status

Rowan University recently earned a new Carnegie classification, advancing from a designation of R3 (moderate research activity) to R2 (high research activity).

The R2 designation is a major milestone for the University and puts a spotlight on all of the exceptional research happening at the institution. The advancement from R3 to R2 also demonstrates the tremendous strides Dr. Lalovic-Hand and her team have made as a technology organization.

The dozens of multi-tier projects Dr. Lalovic-Hand and her team have implemented have increased the security, stability, and reliability of the University’s technology infrastructure and provided the campus, including researchers, faster internet speeds, improved performance of cloud-based applications, and overall safe computing environment.

“This designation isn’t easy for universities and colleges to achieve, certainly not in the short time that Rowan has achieved,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said. “Now we have even harder task ahead of us – to sustain the designation.”

Dr. Lalovic-Hand said Rowan University needs to build on its strong technological foundation to pursue continuous innovation and excellence. As part of that effort, a strong leader is needed who can strategize upcoming changes and know how to make innovation continue.

“My team looks forward to working together with the University community to identify and provide next generation improvements to support research, as well as student learning,” she said.

Collaboration and Communication

Every large university has challenges staying in sync with the growing needs of a digital age. In order to meet this challenge, Dr. Lalovic-Hand has to understand current business and technology trends, as well as focus on identifying upcoming digital trends to stay ahead of all of the curves.

Dr. Lalovic-Hand also has to ensure the rest of the University community is aware of and adapting to those trends. That task proves difficult at any large university due to the decentralized nature of higher education and the need to cater to a wide variety of constituencies, including students, parents, faculty and staff and researchers. Universities also need to keep business partners and vendors in the loop.

All of those characteristics make implementing large changes a challenge.

While Dr. Lalovic-Hand said “technology has provided tools to help us more effectively communicate and reach all of the members of the University community,” she also noted that keeping all of the constituencies on the same page can still be a struggle.

“Creating collaboration and communication for all parties is one of my most difficult tasks and often my biggest challenges,” she said.

One way Lalovic-Hand has found to effectively overcome these challenges is to identify and collaborate with technology champions in the academic and administrative community. These individuals help her push the successful adoption of technology to all of the other members of the University.

“A strong technology leader needs to work with leadership throughout the university to implement important initiatives,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said.

Dr. Lalovic-Hand said often people who are not immersed in technology are timid about engaging in conversations about technology. For that reason, she employs different techniques to bridge those gaps, including inviting industry leaders to campus to help guide conversations.

Recently, Dr. Lalovic-Hand brought Gartner, one of the leading technology research and advisory companies, to campus to present to University leadership, and she felt the discussion was well received. The people who attended the presentation have very different technology capabilities and understanding, and Dr. Lalovic-Hand said everyone found the information to be very valuable.

Technology Change – Teaching and Learning
Dr. Lalovic-Hand believes despite how digital transformation has changed the way institutions interact and communicate, technology hasn’t changed the educational model.

“Technology has not fundamentally altered the way knowledge is passed from one generation to the next,” she said. “For most everyone, the educational model remains essentially untouched by the digital age.”

While there has been the adoption of online learning management systems and other digital technologies, that technology is largely tied to the traditional classroom experience, she said.

However, she added, technology has nearly eliminated barriers to accessing information, and it is beginning to transform student learning and allow for the development of more personalized educational experiences.

Universities and colleges are moving toward more deeply integrating technology into all aspects of learning, both culturally and within the classroom, as well as exploring non-traditional educational options, including online courses, and virtual reality simulations.

Higher education is also beginning to explore how technology can be used to more effectively support student success and academic integrity. This includes creating a learning environment personalized for each student. In general, Dr. Lalovic-Hand says administrations are effectively leveraging technology and data to create these unique pathways for students in ways they desire.

“Overcoming these challenges will give universities a competitive edge that will bolster their defense against digital disruption, when it does occur,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said.

Boosting Student Success Through Digital Transformation

Higher education is realizing digital transformation is necessary if colleges and universities want to effectively and successfully attract, recruit, enroll, retain, and graduate students.

Technology is deeply embedded in the lives of students, now primarily composed of digital natives, who conduct a vast majority of their lives online using mobile devices.

Dr. Lalovic-Hand believes higher education needs to meet the students on their own terms. In order to provide University employees with a deeper understanding of prospective and current students, Dr. Lalovic-Hand and her team fully embraced digital transformation.

“Digital transformation, I believe, presents more opportunities than challenges for student recruitment and success efforts,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said. “Digital transformation has brought big data, which is critical to effectively reaching students from recruitment to graduation.”

Dr. Lalovic-Hand’s team has developed business intelligence and predictive modeling tools that are accessible to non-technical staff and enables them to easily pull out actionable insights.

She said this knowledge has saved Rowan University money and has provided the institution with an intimate understanding of who prospective students are and what their needs may be.

“We get an idea of whether the student is more likely going to sign up with us, because we are meeting their particular needs,” Dr. Lalovic-Hand said.

With the data visualizations and data analysis tools developed by her team, the University has been able to improve nearly every aspect of the student experience. “The data environment and analytics become a focus and are extremely helpful in decision-making,” she said.

Lalovic-Hand’s leadership in technology is helping Rowan University and New Jersey strive to new horizons within the world of digital transformation.