Take 5 with NYU Stern CIO Glenn Di Biasi

In our newest Take 5 series, hear from Glenn Di Biasi, Chief Information Officer at NYU Stern, on his perspective on data transformation and the impact it has on the changing face of higher education.

Tell us about your role at NYU Stern and the team you lead?

My role at NYU Stern is heading up IT as Chief Information Officer. I focus heavily on how to derive the most value from all our data to make better decisions, faster, which involves bringing together the right people, processes, and technology to deliver on our business goals.

Today, every company is a data company, whether they know it or not. What do you make of this idea and how does this resonate with you, the university and the industry you’re in?

There’s no question about it. A data company is an organization that harnesses data and transforms it into meaningful information, ultimately influencing their products and services in almost real-time. Top organizations, like Amazon, are already thinking of themselves as data companies because data is the lifeblood of an organization.

There are two challenges companies need to overcome in today’s highly-competitive world: sustained technology and disruptive technology. Disruption is happening in vertical and horizontal ways, and it takes a lot of courage to be disruptive because by its very definition, it might not meet the needs of your clients and customers right away.

Being data-driven takes a lot of effort and a huge investment by the entire group because you need some of the most sophisticated tools to look for patterns and forecast accurately. For example, we’re looking at admissions data and modeling it with careers data to influence future admissions. So let’s say Michelle and Glenn apply and they’re exactly scored alike, could we create a model that can help distinguish new admits and look to see if there’s new information we can learn through the application process?

What are some of the most important business priorities and goals for your organization and how does IT innovation at the organization relate to those goals?

All of higher education is still recuperating from the 2009 financial crisis in some way. While some universities got rid of their graduate programs, for an organization like Stern, our MBA program is core to our brand and tied to other programs at NYU. In order to better compete, we created new MBA programs tailored to the needs of future learners -- examples include the Fintech and Fashion & Luxury MBAs. Agile project methodologies, microservices, hybrid cloud, automated testing tools, proactive change management methods are important tenets of how we support these initiatives through tech and IT.

Disruption isn't unique to one industry, and there's growing competition among universities and colleges. What are some ways to evolve to meet modern day challenges?

One way is to stand up new programs. But as the market for online education grows, we’re experimenting with things like holographic teaching and immersive, synchronized learning environments (through mashme.io) to reimagine the online learning experience for our students all over the world. We don’t want our online degrees to be viewed as commoditized -- they need to be immersive and impactful.

How do you personally stay ahead of the curve with all the rapid changes in your industry?

It’s a consortium of things. Being tied to a university for nearly 30 years, I always try to keep one foot in academia while staying hands-on in the tech world. I kid around with a few of my history professor friends because they could have taught the same thing for decades. But there’s no way I could come close teaching semester to semester the same thing -- tech changes too fast.

This is also my fourth major platform. I started off in mainframe, then client server, web, and now mobile - consider all the technologies and changes associated with those platforms. I remain hands on, and I’ve been programming in python the last couple of years.

In short, I’m a hobbyist and enthusiast, immersing myself with smart people in the industry while keeping a foot in academia. You have to continue working and learning as a technology professional because technology changes so fast. It’s similar for lawyers because they have to keep up with the law, but technology changes even faster than the laws it seems.