Playing a New Role in the Digital Age

BOSTON (05/31/2000) - Jos-Marie Griffiths is CIO for the University of Michigan and a professor in the graduate School of Information, where students prepare for careers as webmasters, CIOs, librarians, information economists, digital preservationists, consultants and software engineers. The British-born Griffiths has tackled IT projects for the U.S. Department of Energy, the IRS, Unesco, the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Lucent Technologies Inc.'s Bell Labs and the British Library.

CIO: THE SCHOOL OF INFORMATION REPLACED TRADITIONAL LIBRARY STUDIES. WHAT IS THE LIBRARIAN'S ROLE IN THE DIGITAL AGE?

GRIFFITHS: Library science has changed dramatically, but the core role of the librarian--evaluating knowledge resources--remains unchanged. People assume that since we have the web, everybody can do it all themselves. But most professionals don't have the time. The web is not a library. Most people have no idea how search engines work and don't know anything about the quality or integrity of the information they are accessing.

CIO: WHAT ARE THE DEMANDS OF BEING BOTH A CIO AND A PROFESSOR?

Griffiths: People say, somewhat jokingly, that I have the worst job here. As CIO you can never satisfy the various constituencies you serve because the minute you give them what they want, they want more. My academic background is a particular strength in the role of CIO in an academic institution. Some CIOs who come up through the technical ranks have difficulty at the highest level because they have never had an overview of the whole business. Having been a faculty member, a dean and an academic administrator, I can see the academic institution from all perspectives. I teach because I love it--teaching keeps me on my toes. By teaching I am able to get out with the students and touch base with other faculty and hear what they are all doing. It is such a good reminder of why I am trying to do what I am doing as an administrator.

CIO: ARE YOUR STUDENTS AND STAFF TEMPTED TO DROP OUT AND TAKE JOBS IN THIS HOT IT MARKET?

Griffiths: Yes, particularly out of undergrad computer science. The undergrads are dropping out after two years. I am also seeing that in my staff. And it's not just the money. Another piece is the IT environment. Academe used to be focused on cool new technology. Now, we have this core underpinning of a whole business, and the technology is running the enterprise 24 hours a day. There are challenges but it is basically routine and it takes a different mind-set than when your aim is developing the latest, coolest thing.

How do you keep on the pulse of your constituents? Send e-mail to Senior Editor Cheryl Bentsen at cbentsen@cio.com.

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