From IT employee to university-wide partner – How Avi Badwal drives success and efficiency at UC Merced

Avi Badwal: Director-of-Enterprise-Products-and-Services-UC-Merced

The UC IT blog editors were grateful to have the opportunity to speak with Avi Badwal, UC Merced’s Director of Enterprise Products and Services. His unique outlook, including how he views his role in IT, along with the distinct management techniques he deploys at different times during team projects, help explain the reason for his recent success as project lead for the team that won the UC Tech Golden Award for Design in 2022, “Improving the Road to UC Merced.” [Applications for the 2023 UC Tech Awards program are open until May 1, 2023 at 5:00 pm apply now.]

[Transcript, edited for clarity and based on an interview with Avi Badwal.]

Redefining the role of IT

I used to consider myself solely an employee of IT, but that’s no longer the case.

Avi Badwal on a re-defining his role from IT-specific to that of a business + innovation partner

I used to consider myself solely an employee of IT, but that’s no longer the case. Given the scope of my work, I see myself as a vital part of every department, tasked with driving success and efficiency for the entire university. My team’s mission is to help clients work more effectively and efficiently, taking work off their plates instead of adding to their workload. Once I establish myself as their business and innovation partner, working to support them through technology solutions, they are more willing to collaborate with me and my team.

Our process begins by leading with design. This approach allows stakeholders to visualize where they have been and where they are headed, with our ultimate goal being to provide a 10x improvement in the time and effort they dedicate to a project. We focus on thinking carefully about the problem and generating solutions before taking action.

The story behind ground-breaking change: the blank slate focused on problem-definition

… thinking about the human problem rather than the technology solution

Meeting objectives effectively by focusing on human problems vs technologies

I start with a human-centric design approach, thinking about the human problem rather than the technology solution. This essential step is counter-intuitive to some, but it is critical to finding the right solution.

Next, I consider the design challenges that arise from those problems and examine the pipeline of tickets to understand the larger context of the problems we see in our department. We build functionality only where our stakeholders and their customers are experiencing challenges.

We do exercises that discipline us to think broadly before converging in on specific ideas….

On the art and science of shifting the team mindset based on the project phase

At UC Merced, we believe strongly in divergent thinking. We do exercises that discipline us to think broadly before converging in on specific ideas where we will eventually focus our efforts. This approach helps us aim high, shooting for the stars, to land in the outer atmosphere, instead of settling for minor improvements to the existing landscape.

A career informed by tech, retail, real estate and higher education

My career journey started in technology, doing desktop support service-type roles, before moving on to UNIX and Windows administration at Silicon Graphics, then to Sun Microsystems as a Solaris administrator. After a break to learn about renovations and mortgages in the real estate market, I returned to school to learn Oracle development and administration. I then became a supervisor of an IT startup, an apparel retailer, managing their server rooms and ERP applications, before becoming the supervisor of a digital transformation group in higher education.

During my tenure as the director of enterprise application at the University of San Diego, we achieved many successes, including implementing CRM, Salesforce, integration and digital transformation, and upgrades to the student information system. We also set up voice processing through Alexa, built out multiple mobile applications for the student body, and received many awards in the innovation space.

At UC Merced IT: Being at the intersection of tech and User Experience (UX)

Now, at UC Merced, my team and I lead in scaling up and driving success and efficiency through technology solutions. My most meaningful work involves enhancing the constituent experience across faculty, staff, students and alumni. Being at the intersection of technology and the user experience (UX), I enjoy helping people solve their most difficult challenges and improving their organizations to meet their mission.

About Avi Badwal

Avi Badwal [LinkedIn Profile]
Director of Enterprise Products and Services
UC Merced

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