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100 technology wins in one year

Curt Carver promised to the staff, faculty and students that he would improve their lives in at least 100 ways during his first year as vice president and CIO at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It’s an ambitious goal he achieved, and this year he plans to do it again.

The list of technology wins isn’t something he puts together. For that, he turns to the people whose lives he promised to make better. One of the ways he collects ideas is through a crowdsourcing site called the SPARK initiative. There, the community can suggest ideas for what’s needed or vote ideas already suggested up or down.

“The best decisions come by getting the community involved, creating a voice for everyone, creating the healthy exchange of ideas so that the best ideas through a meritocracy rise to the top,” he said. “The ideas that have the greatest impact on the community are the ones that we act on first.”

The list includes everything from stronger passwords to a faster network for research. “We’re doing all of this genomics research, and, yet, our high-performance computer was being funded out of IT reserves, which means it was not being funded,” he said. “A year later, we’ve got the fastest high-performance computer in the state. There was a 10- or 11-fold increase, depending on whether you’re looking at computer power or storage power.”

Engagement with the community is a key component for the 100 tech wins in a year. The crowdsourcing site is one avenue, but another is a monthly newsletter, which recipients can opt out of if they choose. There, he keeps the community up to date on the newest wins. “We want to be transparent about the things we’re working on and how they align back to the institution’s strategic plan and our strategic plan,” he said.

The enthusiasm has been infectious. Carver said it has helped connect his IT staff to the greater university, giving them an ability to see how what they do affects how the community functions. And his ideas — the newsletter, the crowdsourcing site — have been replicated by other departments at the university. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” he said.

Perhaps most stunning to Carver is the reception he’s had from his colleagues. At the end of his first year on the job, he experienced “something that’s never occurred in my life,” he said. What he thought was a budget meeting with his staff turned out to be a celebration of the 100 wins. “I walked into the room, and there were 300 people with cake and a celebration going on,” he said.