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The Ever-Transforming Role of a Chief Information Officer

By July 9, 2019 July 17th, 2019 No Comments

Edge’s Gregg Chottiner Provides Technology Leadership in New Jersey

Not long ago, an organization’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) spent most of his or her time hovering over computers in a dark backroom. These early CIOs were rarely seen leaving the call center, unless equipment or a program was in need of repair.

The influx of digital technology has drastically altered this perception. The CIO’s transforming role has taken them from seldom-seen members of an organization to serving in a place of prominence, while also being an innovative and strategic partner within an organization.

“The position is no longer just a person who supports desktop computers and back office services,” said Gregg Chottiner, Edge’s Vice President for Technology Advancement and Chief Information Officer. “The entire mindset has shifted. Organizations that have a CIO position in senior leadership or at the cabinet level value the strategic role technology plays at their business or institution.”

For example, in institutions of higher education the CIO needs to be an innovative leader who makes sure each initiative is advantageous to the institution. Their role means taking a hard look at the existing organizational structure and determining whether a program or service could be outsourced.

“Analyzing the full organizational structure involves asking questions on whether certain services could be outsourced so critical resources can be spent focusing on more strategic elements of the organization,” Chottiner said. “Innovation and access to new tools completely changed the enterprise. Legacy operations can no longer continue to run the way they have been for years. The world is changing and the CIO’s need to change with the next wave of transformation or be left behind.”

Chottiner Rounds Out Edge’s Executive Team

Chottiner joined Edge’s efforts in assisting New Jersey’s technology leaders in March 2018. His vast experience in technology leadership, mainly in the higher education and government sectors, and extensive involvement in systems engineering, uniquely equipped him for providing executive leadership in emerging technologies, migrations of legacy systems, and solutions for complex business and technology programs and projects at Edge and its member-focused community.

With over 20 years of experience in the public and private sector as a CIO and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chottiner most recently spent two years as a Cluster CIO for New York State government, five years as CIO and Vice President of Technology at University of Maryland University College (UMUC), and 10 years as CIO and Vice President of Technology for the State University of New York.

Holding an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering and a graduate degree in Information Technology Management and Systems, Chottiner understands how to handle the difficult and complex nature of today’s changing technical environments.

In his role at Edge, he also focuses on advancing technology and assisting New Jersey CIOs with successful technology initiatives.

Chottiner believes the non-profit technology consortium can serve as a technology thought leader for the state, while also aiding the role of digital transformation throughout the different verticals and sectors Edge supports.

“Edge has a tremendous ability to identify new technologies and research the latest trends,” he said. “We are a trusted partner and not a vendor trying to sell something. We want to help an organization make a wise investment and hopefully avoid a potentially poor decision.”

The importance of being a trusted partner is why Edge assesses its products and tools before prospective solutions are even recommended to members. The Edge team takes a deep dive approach when evaluating a program’s background and makes sure they have a complete understanding of how a product or solution works so that, upon launch, the team can provide training and technical assistance.

Establishing EdgePro at Edge

Over the past months, Chottiner has also been diligently working to establish EdgePro, a professional services offering for Edge. His goal is to use the program to create a bridge between Edge and other organizations.

“I think we help translate the other components of the Edge ecosystem, those solutions, so the organizations understand the value proposition,” he said. “Under that framework, EdgePro makes sense to be within Edge.”

The difficulty is discovering the needs of the membership and aligning the different pieces of the ecosystem to comply with the challenges. Part of the discovery process involves helping a member find the right solution, whether the particular solution pertains to EdgeCloud, EdgeMedia, or EdgeSecure – to name a few of Edge’s solution brands.

“We provide a solution that will remediate or resolve a member’s challenges and provide efficiencies and cost reductions,” Chottiner said. “EdgePro serves as the bridge between Edge’s services and products which allows the organizations to focus on solutions.”

The goal is to simplify everything and prevent organizations from being overwhelmed with information.

Because of these changes, Chottiner and his staff have been meeting with school presidents, CFOs, president’s cabinets, and IT leaders. Edge is focusing on understanding the challenges faced by leadership and engineering solutions for those challenges.

“Individuals in decision-making roles want to know that Edge can provide solutions that help save an organization money, help them gain efficiencies, and ultimately provide better value to students or citizens – whatever that constituent group happens to be,” he said.

IT’s Role Transforming Within an Organization

The budget framework of an IT department has been transformed by technology’s escalation and its rising costs. Organizations are choosing to outsource their primary data centers or various services to the cloud which allows a transition from Capital Expenditures (CapEx) spending to Operating Expenses (OpEx) spending. Capital expenditures [CapEx] refers to the money a company spends towards fixed assets, such as the purchase, maintenance, and improvements of buildings, vehicles, equipment, or land while operating expenses [OpEx] refer to funds an organization uses to run its day-to-day business. OpEx items are generally used up within the year they are purchased. Amidst these shifts in spending, many organizations are outsourcing less strategic operational activities that, in turn, are causing some IT departments to reallocate resources to strategic projects.

“For many organizations, the costs to maintain legacy equipment or critical environmental equipment are frightening,” he said. “Organizations look at the cost of their CapEx structure, and they don’t have sufficient funding available to replace old antiquated equipment.”

The period following this type of analysis is when institutions consider converting services into subscription based or select OpEx with its monthly or annual fees. While the technology or processes may not be owned in an OpEx scenario, those selecting this approach can leverage and use the services, thus enabling the institutions and/or organizations to become more agile and adaptable in a technology-driven world.

“With all of the new technologies, especially in a data center, new levels of skill sets and training are required that traditionally people in those positions haven’t obtained,” Chottiner said. “The technological shift can become a scary proposition of not only implementing new technology, but getting your own people up to speed to support those technologies.”

Edge can provide assessments and recommendations for organizations looking to make a switch or aid the training process – reducing feelings of frustration or being overwhelmed.

“We can help talk an organization through the process and give them options and recommendations to move forward,” he said.

Chottiner went on to say the Edge team can also help a group work through budget constraints, while still providing high levels of services and support.

“I think Edge can be the thought leader for an organization to demonstrate areas where funding can be reduced, whether the process involves looking at cloud solutions or new infrastructure solutions,” he said.

Providing CIO Leadership

Chottiner is looking to foster fractional or virtual CIO services to an interested organization. He said there are times when an institution doesn’t have someone with a CIO perspective or maybe doesn’t have the resources to hire a full-time CIO. Others have a less seasoned CIO who would like to be mentored by a senior IT leader.

“I think this is a great opportunity to secure the help they need,” he said. “Institutions and organizations can still gain the needed knowledge base, but don’t have to actually budget for a full-time position. Edge can provide significant levels of support to those needing the extra assistance.”

IT budgets constitute a significant portion of an organization’s budget, whether the sector is higher education, K-12, healthcare, or another industry altogether. In the past, Edge had only partnered with a few in the healthcare and government sectors. This audience is beginning to change as these organizations also desire technology solutions and security.

“I think the solutions and experience Edge has translates well into the different markets,” he said. “The ability to deliver services and information to constituents is similar between entities.”

The problem is some of the organizations feel they are different, when they really need a strong CIO at their administrative table.

“From a technology perspective, they’re all very similar. I think what we’re offering to all sectors is very translatable, even those we traditionally haven’t been partnered with. Organizations need to understand that what they’re doing isn’t necessarily unique because there are tremendous similarities,” Chottiner said.

Colleges can have a similar viewpoint in where they believe they’re all different and customize their systems. Chottiner says uniqueness is accurate, but not necessarily in terms of technology. When updates or new technology become available the organization discovers the complexity and costs to implement.

“Regardless of your sector, your competition is now offering a new service and you want to be able to compete, so you want to offer the same level of service, but you can’t because it’s too expensive to add to your system. Systems have been customized to an extent where the system can’t accommodate the new service,” Chottiner said.

Edge’s Versatility

Chottiner began working at Edge this past March, and he enjoys helping the different organizations around the state. In the past, he mainly worked with one institution at a time.

“When you work with only one organization, you get to know the inner workings really well,” he said. “You learn all of the processes and people, which is useful, because the singular focus allowed me to gain lots of experience and knowledge. Now the fun part is getting opportunities to deploy some of that experience and knowledge across a much wider canvas instead of one particular institution or organization.”

In particular, Chottiner is enjoying being able to see how different organizations leverage technology. His past experiences also allow him to provide guidance to Edge members maneuvering the changing technology landscapes because he has been where almost all of the different organizations are, or have been, during their respective technology transformations.

“Working with Edge provides you with opportunities to plug and play around the state,” Chottiner said. “You get to help all of the organizations reach a steady state of where they would like to be in order to best serve their constituent groups.”

In November 2018, Chottiner was at the New Jersey School Board meeting when the Department of Education asked for advice.

“They were having some challenges that others also face,” he said. “The same exact problem could exist in higher education or the government because the challenge isn’t usually as unique as organizations perceive them to be.”

In this particular scenario, Edge had the ability to provide solutions for the organization, but Chottiner noted the same solution could easily work for another group with a bit of tweaking. Taking this approach also meant that helping a group where the IT leader did not have the opportunity to receive the necessary training to execute the technology solution should not be viewed as an obstacle because Edge can guide them through the implementation process.

Part of the product and/or service selection process involves Chottiner visiting the organization and asking questions: What are you trying to achieve? What are your goals? What are your challenges now? His group then takes the needed requirements and designs and develops a solution that is affordable and sustainable. The Edge team can then help level the playing field so affordable technologies can be introduced and all of the entities can be on the same page.

“We find what works for you, instead of you telling us we want Microsoft or Google. Very often vendors talk to other vendors and they try and sell a solution, even though they don’t really understand what the problem is. An organization can become locked into solutions before the requirements have actually been defined,” Chottiner said.

“Edge can help alleviate this scenario because we have technology people developing technology requirements which allows organizations to purchase and fully understand these solutions without having to spend countless hours and funds developing the solution on their own.”

Despite how digital technology has transformed the world, Chottiner understands the products and the services. He provides guidance to the Edge membership through his expertise and knowledge, while helping New Jersey’s CIOs rise into strategic roles at their institutions and organizations.

Most of all, there’s no need to be afraid of the changing landscape – Chottiner is available to help a CIO walk through the maze of digital transformation.

For more information on NJEdge’s CIO services, visit njedge.wpengine.com/solutions/edgepro/.