Edge’s new Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Technical Operations, Mark Meara, began his career over 35 years ago, after receiving an associate’s degree in architecture from Mercer County Community College. “I started my first professional job after graduation, working for a large architectural engineering firm in Princeton, New Jersey,” says Meara. “The firm was one of the first adopters of computer aided design and drafting (CADD) technology and I was assigned to be a CADD draftsperson. I took to this role like a fish to water and this led to me pursuing my bachelor’s degree in computer science and later, a doctorate degree in education. Instead of becoming an architect, I changed my career path and moved into a programer, network manager, and manager of IT roles. Interestingly, there are many similarities between architecture and IT. For example, both types of projects include requirements analysis, designing, building, and maintaining. I was able to apply basic principles from architecture into IT and they have served me well throughout my entire career.”
Looking at his professional experience as a whole, Meara says the first half was spent in various architectural, environmental, and IT consulting firms, and the second half was spent as a CIO with two New Jersey institutions in higher education. “This career path is why I feel the opportunity with Edge was a perfect fit. I’m able to bring a unique combination of consulting and higher education experience to the role and aid in Edge’s mission to inspire personal, professional, organizational, and social growth and development with technology transformation in the digital era. Edge is vital to the education community because these institutions will absolutely need to transform in these evolving times to stay viable and successful.”
Improving Efficiency and Effectiveness
When pursuing his doctorate degree, Meara’s dissertation focused on critical success factors for business process management in New Jersey Community Colleges and he has applied this knowledge and experience throughout his career. “I believe the transformation needed within the higher education industry involves learning, growing, and transforming into being more efficient and effective business operations. Edge is the ideal preferred partner for education institutions and other member institutions because it enables organizations to be small at their core and large at their network. This network includes the digital network, but also an organization’s network of partners and resources. With enrollment at many institutions seeing a downward trend and funding being cut or lowered, organizations must keep their internal resources small, including their staff and network. Partnering with an organization like Edge allows institutions to create a larger presence and operation while keeping costs in check.”
As institutions continue to be asked to do more with less and face these challenges of decreasing enrollment and funding, Meara says looking to the Cloud can provide significant savings. “One primary reason why institutions should be considering cloud solutions is the economics of scale and expense savings that can be achieved. With moving systems from being on premise to the Cloud, there’s significant savings to be gained, both in staffing costs, as well as maintenance of equipment costs. These expense savings can be critical to an institution who is trying to maintain or lower their tuition and fees for students. In addition, students and faculty of today’s world require distinct technology environments and online course computing capabilities, especially at research institutions.”
Along with the academic benefits of cloud technology, the operational side of an institution can benefit from cloud computing as well. “Many systems can be cloud enabled and offer significant efficiencies to an institution,” explains Meara. “The enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that an institution’s operations are based upon, telephone systems, and building automation systems are just a few examples. Edge is here to assist in developing those strategies and adapting the Edge network to meet the institution’s specific cloud environment and needs.”
Cloud Migration Strategies
Following mainframe computing, personal computing, client-server computing, and the World Wide Web, cloud computing is considered by many to be the fifth major paradigm shift in computing. Through cloud solutions, academic institutions are tackling tough challenges and propelling important initiatives forward. Cloud technology can offer many benefits to an organization, including improving return-on-investment for technology infrastructure; enabling interactivity, collaboration, and innovation among stakeholders; improving resource sharing; supporting mobile computing and e-learning; and delivering virtual online environments. Migrating to cloud computing takes a well-defined strategy, where successful initiatives are dependent on alignment of cloud computing capabilities with research and education needs. Additionally, institutions must have a clear architectural vision for infrastructure, platform, and software service delivery.
As organizations migrate to the Cloud, there are many different models and approaches to meet the unique set of requirements of each institution. “Just like in architecture, two people may have two unique visions for building a 4-bedroom house, where they are designed differently,” explained Meara. “Or one person wants a house, while another wants a condo. I use this analogy when discussing an institution’s approach to moving to the Cloud. For example, the cloud needs for a community college may be significantly different than a research institution. Edge can play the “architect” role and provide an organization with expertise and options. We can help its members adopt a cloud model and cloud implementation strategy that works best for them and meets their individual requirements.”
“I reflect back to the mid 1990’s when I was an entrepreneur and had started a web consulting firm in Princeton with a few partners. The world was just becoming aware of and trying to understand the Internet and the World Wide Web. This was such an exciting time for us and our organization grew and won many awards. We were able to assist many organizations adopt new technologies and associated business strategies. During this transition, we saw entire business sectors dramatically transform, including the music industry, travel industry, and the world of real estate. I believe that we are on the cusp of this upheaval with the education community and I’m very excited to be part of another dramatic digital transformation.”
— Dr. Mark Meara
Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Technical Operations
Leading the Charge
The demands of today’s CIOs are vast and ever-changing, as the reliance on technology is pervasive across the entire enterprise. For up-and-coming CIOs who want to be successful in their respective careers, Meara says being business leaders within their institutions is essential to creating the most valuable impact. “CIOs need to drive transformation starting with the institution’s business process improvements and modernization, and into the strategy and innovation of the entire organization. The CIO needs to be the change agent for not only their institution, but for the entire education sector. Going into the future with the transformation that is happening in education, I can’t see a more important role than that of the CIO.”
Meara continues, “Even prior to the pandemic, the landscape in higher education was starting to change significantly. Ten years ago, disruptive technology was being introduced and that began to alter the education sector. COVID certainly accelerated this change; where some institutions were prepared to adapt, while others were not. Learning management systems and online learning models were adopted at many institutions decades ago, but weren’t fully embraced until the pandemic hit and everyone had to go online. As we ease back from a pandemic-focused world, we are starting to introduce higher-level, hybrid courses where students are learning in the classroom and from home. I don’t see us going back to pre-pandemic teaching and learning; I believe education has been changed permanently.”
Moving forward, there may be many institutions who fail to keep in stride with digital transformation and gain the network and technology capabilities necessary to support the new organization of higher education. “We will likely see more mergers and acquisitions of institutions, and as this occurs, they will transform their entire business model to be built upon cloud and network technology and their IT organization,” says Meara. “I reflect back to the mid 1990’s when I was an entrepreneur and had started a web consulting firm in Princeton with a few partners. The world was just becoming aware of and trying to understand the Internet and the World Wide Web. This was such an exciting time for us and our organization grew and won many awards. We were able to assist many organizations adopt new technologies and associated business strategies. During this transition, we saw entire business sectors dramatically transform, including the music industry, travel industry, and the world of real estate. I believe that we are on the cusp of this upheaval with the education community and I’m very excited to be part of another dramatic digital transformation.”
Meara says the traditional manner of compiling credentials and getting a degree has changed and will continue to evolve based on students’ needs and preferences. “I see more of the norm being hybrid learning with a slant towards more online courses than in-person classes. There is so much potential and change on the horizon and this is certainly going to be a challenging, but rewarding, time. In my new role at Edge, I’m looking forward to embracing these changes and leveraging my experience to be a value partner to all Edge members and helping them succeed in their digital transformation. I’m eager to step back into a consultative role and help tackle a diverse set of challenges, goals, and requirements, and help us all move into this new technological era together.”
Want to learn more about which cloud solutions can help accelerate your organization’s technology strategy? Visit njedge.net/solutions-overview/cloud.
To connect with Mark directly, email him via firstname.lastname@example.org.