Shark Tank or Symposium? Coaching IT Business Innovation

Ten excited IT service teams gathered at UCI on October 9 to pitch IT services – maybe a secure cloud, or student voting system, or website SaaS – and convince an expert panel that the services could be expanded to other locations, and that customers would want to buy them.

The UC version of “Shark Tank”? Actually, the UC IT Innovate Symposium was a forum for coaching IT service owners on how to shape and sell a service that meets customer needs. It’s part of a larger initiative to drive greater collaboration across the system. At UC, we talk a lot about “shared services” as we look to increase efficiency and improve service quality. But shared services must offer customer value to be successful.

UC has a number of shared services already in place. UCPath, our soon-to-be-launched new HR/payroll system, is one model, centrally led and implemented. Others have been “campus-led,” starting at a campus and expanding to support other locations. Examples include UC Recruit, UC Risk and Safety Solutions, or the Mobile Web Framework. I believe this “location led, UC supported” model is more in line with our UC culture.

The symposium was organized by Kian Colestock (Assistant CIO, UCI), Safa Hussain (Executive Director, UC Risk and Safety Solutions, UCD), and Gabe Youtsey (CIO, Agriculture and Natural Resources). They have been analyzing existing IT shared services and drafting a “playbook” to help IT service managers evaluate and scale their services to be adopted at other locations. As Colestock said, we want to learn “how to develop a service to be shareable in a more scalable fashion.”

Teams had ten minutes to present, plus five minutes for questions from the panel: Maria Anguiano (Vice Chancellor for Planning and Budget, UCR), Elias Lopez (University Registrar, Director of the Office of Technology, UCD), Dana Roode (Chief Information Officer, UCI), Ken Smith (Executive Director, UC Environmental Health and Safety, UCOP), and me (UC CIO).

All teams were passionate about their services and did a great job. I found myself asking questions like, “Who is the buyer, who pays? What’s the value proposition in succinct words? Have you assessed the competitive landscape for like offerings?” Panelist Anguiano urged participants to “know the pain point, know what problem you’re solving. Focus on what the customer is going to see as a cost structure.” The organizers and I will follow up with the teams to coach them on developing their service into a potential shared service. We want to encourage them to continue to innovate.

Selling your service may be novel at UC, but as Hussain said, “It is a survival issue – this system is underfunded.” We have to find innovative ways to lower the costs of IT and still support the UC mission. Anything is possible, from providing a service to another UC location, to offering it to customers across higher ed. As Youtsey said to the group, “Innovation isn’t in your formal job description, but you’re doing it!”

The symposium was a great learning opportunity for all of us. Let’s start thinking like entrepreneurs!

Comment (1)

  1. Travis Duke


    It’s great to see the UC System approaching innovation similar to that of enterprises. I think the IT teams will appreciate this video from DIRECTV. They hosted a similar shark tank scenario to drive innovation.

    Keep up the great work!



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.