Confessions of a CIO at his first CANHEIT Conference

Posted on Friday, August 3, 2018

On July 19, CIO, Martin Bernier, debriefed IT personnel on what he’d learned at this year’s conference for Canadian higher education IT leaders. Thirty people showed up at the debrief held in the new Learning Crossroads building. A second session is already planned to allow others to benefit from what Martin learned.

This image shows uOttawa employees in a meeting in a classroom

Listening attentively at the debrief session.

The CANHEIT-TECC 2018 conference was held at Simon Fraser University from June 18-21, 2018 in beautiful British Columbia, welcoming over 600 attendees. The conference is the largest gathering of Canadian campus IT leaders and advanced IT experts. It offers a forum to explore the latest best practices, opportunities and challenges within the realm of higher education technology.

This year’s theme was Peak Above the Cloud and the streams centered around security, student success, leading & partnering, data, people, and technology & trends. The richness of the conference content prompted uOttawa CIO, Martin Bernier, to offer a lunch & learn with IT personnel so that they could benefit from it too. Our very own CIO was a presenter on a panel with CIOs from Toronto, Windsor, McMaster, Emily Carr University of Art and Design on “Yikes – what did I get myself into? Confessions of a new CIO.”

This image shows uOttawa’s CIO accompanied by two men and two women, all smiling

Fellow newbies on the panel


In this session, each panel member talked about their thoughts on being a CIO at a new organization and answered five questions. Here are the highlights Martin gave:

1: What did you see as the greatest challenge before coming in?

Martin anticipated that the culture of the University would be one of his greatest challenges despite having worked in research-related organizations.


2. What was the greatest challenge once you showed up?

This image shows Martin Bernier, sitting down, explaining something using his hands

Martin emphasizing the challenges that can also be viewed as opportunities.

Once at the University, he quickly realized that managing his schedule would be an issue. So many people wanted to meet with him and in return, there were many that he wanted to meet! Managing expectations came as a close second.


3. What did you do in your first 90 days (180 days)?

He definitely connected with people. That meant meeting his team and learning more about them and from them; meet faculties, services, and management. Additionally, external stakeholders were important too. Given his crammed scheduled, who should he prioritize to build more quickly in-depth relationships with? Martin allocated time during this period to build collaborations and partnerships. As far as he’s concerned, it all starts by building trust. A sizeable amount of time was also spent in finding out how the University works and understanding what makes it tick; universities are definitely different types of organizations than other public and private entities.


4. What is next?

Martin is now focused on strategic planning, IT governance, more collaborations, more partnerships, and strengthening communications.


5. If you could give ONE piece of advice to someone new to a leadership role, what would  that be?

Martin’s nugget of gold on this: “Trust your people.” Yes, IT manages all kinds of things such as hardware, resources, projects, etc. but at the end of the day, people make the difference.


This image shows uOttawa employees smiling and talking

Faculty and service IT reps were also interested in the debrief session.

Martin ended up attending quite a few sessions. Some of the ones he highlighted were about the importance of client engagement for attaining organizational goals, bridging the gap between the office of research and central IT, successful projects with collaboration, benchmarking security, O365 projects, federated identities for research, transformation IT/client relationships, and improving the student experience.

He realized during the conference that most universities are doing the same thing albeit possibly at a difference pace. But why are universities not working more together to leverage each other’s expertise and accelerate their own initiatives?

Martin reflected on security too: security should be viewed as a culture of how people think and act and not a as a blocker preventing them from doing things. Thoughts were shared on how engagement is the glue that makes things work, and that we need to continue working on enhancing the user experience. And, in assessing how all IT members at universities can work better together, it is clear that if we better leverage the collective skills and experience of everyone, together we will be stronger than if we remain separate. More work is needed on all these fronts.

This image shows uOttawa CIO and employees in a classroom looking at two screens

A lunch hour well-spent learning about what IT is doing in other universities

Based on the debrief Martin gave staff on July 19, we’ve formulated a new set of confessions to accompany those he shared at the conference.

This image shows an uOttawa employee, smiling, sitting in front of a window

Laughter from the group at some of Martin's lessons learned!


First CIO confession: He got lost trying to find the registration desk … despite the taxi delivering him at the university’s doorstep. Finding the building took 3-4 circles around the campus.

And … turns out Sunday is not a good day to find a lot of open restaurants. Martin shared how, luckily, he found a banana and snacks because everything nearby was closed! And, when he finally located a restaurant that would open at 5:00 p.m., he was told they might not be able to serve him since he didn’t have a reservation!



This image shows a sign indicating the beginning of a trail

They’re just joking when they say 500 ... right?



Second CIO confession: He didn’t believe what the signs told him …  and learned to regret it.

He started looking around the campus and found a great trail. What better way to spend a bit of time than to be in the great outdoors? The sign stated it was 500 steps long. But, he thought, is it really that long or just an expression? Well, 400 steps later and still not at the end of the trail, hungry and tired, Martin realized it was likely literally true and headed back to the campus.






This image shows a sunny student room with a bed and a desk

Back to the good old student days when you stayed in residence!


Third CIO confession: It had been a LONG time since he’d lived the life of a student ... and some of it took adjustments.

Not just being on campus and listen to sessions for several days, but also living in residence. Martin chuckled a bit as he related his experience staying in a sweltering room (it was very sunny during the conference) AND sharing it with three other roommates! Fortunately, they were great people but he did admit that he couldn’t bring himself to work on his laptop at night when it was 30 degrees Celsius.




This image shows Martin Bernier talking to uOttawa employees next to a giant screen

Martin encourages all to think about presenting at CANHEIT based on his positive experience at the conference.

Martin’s conclusion? All in all, CANHEIT offers truly memorable times as it is a fascinating conference with many knowledgeable people. Great experiences are shared that we could be using to accelerate our own projects. A conference well-worth attending!

For those interested in learning more about what took place, a rich selection of the conference highlights are available on CANHEIT-TECC 2018’s website. Interested in attending next year? Or presenting? Just so that you know, many universities want those who want to attend CANHEIT conferences to also present. Start thinking about it now! CANHEIT 2019 will be held June 18-21, 2019 at the University of Winnipeg. Take a peek at their invitation!

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