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Norin Named New Jersey Tech Council 2018 CIO of the Year

In the digital age, life struggles to function without reliable technology. If a connection is slow or the network has disruptions, frustrations quickly come to the surface. People have expectations for quality, dependable technology services and equipment, as they use these connected resources for work and play.

The demand for reliable technology solutions is why universities and colleges place such an emphasis on maintaining a high-quality infrastructure and using forward-thinking technology.

“One of the most fundamental challenges we struggle with in higher education is simply trying to keep up with all of the new capabilities that come with technology,” said Michele Norin, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Rutgers University. “We’re kind of in two spaces at the same time. One space is learning to leverage the tools we already have to the fullest extent, while the other involves keeping our eye on emerging tools and capabilities.”

As the University’s CIO, Norin has a wide range of responsibilities and areas where she provides leadership. She has direct responsibility for the enterprise IT division, Office of Information Technology (OIT), in provisioning a broad suite of IT services, tools, and support programs at the institution. Norin is also a member of the President’s Cabinet, where she works with the executive team on strategic initiatives and general oversight of IT.

Norin’s vision for Rutgers is to continue the University’s prominence for delivering state-of-the-art technological capabilities, using the fastest networks and the best tools.

The institution is considered a national leader in research and education, and Norin has played a significant role in these achievements. These efforts have been recognized by others in New Jersey, and on October 3, Norin was named the New Jersey Tech Council 2018 CIO of the Year (Nonprofit category).

“It’s a great honor, and the acknowledgment says a lot about Rutgers,” she said. “It’s my sincere desire to make sure Rutgers continues as a state-of-the-art institution in technological capabilities. Our faculty and students expect a high caliber of performance, and it’s essential in helping Rutgers remain a leader in higher education.“

Fundamental Technology Challenges

At Rutgers, there are fundamental challenges Norin grapples with on a regular basis, including characteristics bound by geographic constraints while simultaneously maintaining the institution’s mission.

“We’re coming up to speed in areas where we may be slightly behind and have other areas where we’re more on the cutting edge,” she said. “One of my ongoing goals is to try to navigate all of the challenges and opportunities that keep us moving forward as an institution while also helping our community. We all want to be marching down the same path as we learn how to take on these new capabilities.”

One way Rutgers studies technology requirements is by analyzing operational and academic services for gaps and needs. Norin also stays informed by learning about technology being unveiled throughout other industries, as each industry leverages their tools in different ways and can provide valuable insight to CIOs like Norin.

“It’s important to watch what others are doing and ask how we can learn from those insights,” Norin said.

Norin appreciates her talented staff that tackle the hard work of provisioning and maintaining systems and providing support.

“I can’t do it all by myself. I’ve got a great team and everyone does their part to keep all of the bases covered. We are all focused on the same things,” she said.

Research institutions like Rutgers have particular complexities to constantly balance and accommodate needs, whether they’re providing support for science or assisting with production operations.

Norin has a multi-faceted approach for dedicating resources towards research. There are esteemed colleagues like Rutgers’ Dr. James Barr von Oehsen, who is specifically devoted to advanced research computing.

Dr. von Oehsen’s group assists researchers with the computing environment, including understanding high compute capabilities, storage solutions, and unique network transport capabilities.

“The advanced research computing team’s whole job and focus is to understand what it’s like to be a researcher, what their needs are and to work directly with them,” Norin said. “We want our research community to understand the powerful resources available to them, to advocate for it, and to have confidence in it.”

Norin has a similar team devoted to the health sciences division that works to understand the importance of the health sciences dynamics. This team focuses on understanding the people, the initiatives, and the lingo associated with health sciences.

“It’s a different type of environment and language so the team understands this dynamic and focuses on it,” Norin said. “In each department, we try to be as agile and flexible as we can.”

In order to keep up with increasing demand, Norin keeps an eye on what tasks and requests are coming from the different divisions, so the University can stay in sync and understand where to focus its energy.

With her leadership team, she also looks for ways to navigate technology needs by understanding which strategic elements and tactical day-to-day actions must be accomplished, while minimizing redundancy.

“From an IT perspective, Rutgers is a big complex place with many different pieces. We have to navigate it as best we can,” Norin said.

Technology Partnerships

An example of how Rutgers ties research and education networks together is through its involvement with the Internet2 organization, which operates the nation’s largest and fastest, coast-to-coast research and education network. Norin says higher education relies on Internet2, because without this infrastructure, collaborating would become much more difficult. The network’s goal is to provide a mature environment, so the infrastructure remains cutting edge, without disruptions.

“We are very active in making sure Internet2 and our local regional networks are successful because we know without the infrastructure it becomes harder to do our jobs and collaborate on research,” Norin said.

Edge is the regional network for Rutgers and other institutions in the state. Norin believes Edge plays an important role in supporting all of its members and helping each grow and contribute to each other.

“This level of support is critical from a national perspective, especially as we look to work with our colleagues from other institutions,” she said.

Rutgers also places its infrastructure on campus at high importance, integrating its network with Edge and Internet2. The University has just completed a 10-year network master plan and outlining a set of objectives focused on coverage, reliability, security, capacity, and growth.

“The network is the single most strategic asset that we have here at Rutgers,” Norin said. “We really can’t operate without the network.”

As an example, before Norin’s time at Rutgers, the University experienced a series of Internet outages in which the network was overwhelmed by traffic from outside the network. The outages meant the work of faculty, staff, and students was disrupted due to the lack of online access.

“The Internet and technology are so ingrained now. Without the network, you are stuck in a lot of places,” Norin said. “It’s crucial the network be fast, work seamlessly all the time, and have the capability to transfer a lot of data. The network must be pervasively both wired and wireless. We must continuously plan for and make the necessary investments in these requirements.”

Leading Others in Technology

Besides being named New Jersey’s 2018 CIO of the Year, Norin’s leadership at Rutgers has led to her selection as one of the executive sponsors of Edge’s newest professional network, Women Leaders in Technology. Her experience and success are inspiring to others in executive management at technology organizations and companies.

“I try to encourage women to be willing to take risks and to be open to new opportunities,” Norin said.

Norin also believes it’s important to speak up when necessary. If an idea requires vocalization, don’t hold back. The expressed comment in question might be the different perspective needed for a situation.

“I really try to encourage everyone to look for ways to grow, whether their growth follows a traditional path or a broader area of leadership,” she said. “Growth is that comfortable way to progress.”

For Norin, she focuses on people interested in IT willing to persevere, no matter the challenge.

“As leaders, we need to provide safe zones for people to grow into their positions, be innovative and, take on new challenges,” Norin said. “I find that sometimes people tend to learn and absorb more information when they’re outside their comfort zone.”

Norin’s leadership experiences are a big draw and why she is often asked to speak at local, regional and national events on technology in higher education. She enjoys being a part of the national conversation on technology and connecting with other CIOs.

“It’s exciting to be a part of higher education because of its bigger mission to educate students and help people from any age group learn, grow or rebuild their careers,” she said. “We have the opportunity to influence others with new cool tools and devices.”

Managing Technology’s New Tools and Ideas

CIOs look for ways to bring the worlds of technology and higher education together, constantly comparing notes and learning from each other.

Norin says the CIO community learns a lot from each other. Their ongoing conversations are filled with new ideas about how to improve the role of the CIO and its influence on their respective institutions.

“Higher education has an extraordinary opportunity to reshape itself for the future leveraging technology,” Norin said. “We’re sometimes viewed as the industry that hasn’t quite seen the transformation technology has brought to other industries.”

This conversation is always on the table as CIOs work to change this mindset and keep technology transformation at the forefront of each of their institutions. The problem is not everyone’s pace is the same and there are different drivers that influence how change takes place.

“Sometimes the slower pace is good allowing for a thoughtful approach, and other times we find ourselves catching up,” Norin said. “In either case, the higher education environment is always a very active scene.”

Exciting Technology and Challenges

The process can be challenging to make sure an institution’s environment is flexible and agile. Environments have to be configured in ways that support the fluid lives of students. Some students live on campus while others live close to campus. Similarly, there are students focused on online degrees versus the traditional student pathway. The varying types of students and degree programs all come with different needs.

In keeping pace, Norin and other CIOs throughout New Jersey actively monitor trends, technology tools and capabilities in higher education.

These ongoing conversations keep the momentum of technological innovation flowing throughout Rutgers as well as countless institutions of higher education throughout New Jersey. Norin’s dedication to continuous advancement is precisely why she is a well respected leader and innovator in the technology world as she effectively and efficiently guides her teams towards future technological transformations.