In this post, Senior Consultant Joanna Grama shares her thoughts and insights from the 2018 NACUBO Conference in Long Beach, California.

What is NACUBO?

From the opening reception on the Queen Mary, to a bold and amazing keynote speaker, the NACUBO Annual Conference held in Long Beach from July 21-24 was a chock-full of unexpected surprises.

NACUBO is the National Association of College and University Business Officers, a membership organization representing more than 1,900 colleges and universities across the country. Most of the participants represent the professionals who manage the business and accounting side of colleges and universities  and include roles such as chief business officers, financial officers, and business managers.

As a longtime IT and information security professional for higher education, I was attending my first NACUBO conference as a speaker on a panel discussion about cybersecurity risks and how business officers and IT can work together.

Joanna Grama NACUBO Guide Book

My well-worn guidebook for the NACUBO event

Kicking off NACUBO on the Queen Mary

While workshops and special meetings are held in advance of the conference, the general conference kicked off in earnest with an opening reception on the Queen Mary.  First launched in 1934, the Queen Mary has a storied history and is now a popular hotel and event venue in Long Beach. The ship’s history is fascinating. Before reaching its final destination in Long Beach Harbor, the Queen Mary set an Atlantic crossing speed record that it held for 14 years, carried more than 2.2 million passengers in peacetime, and transported about 810,000 military personnel during World War II.

The opening reception on the Queen Mary really captured the conference tagline, “Anchored in Culture, Ingenuity and Pride.”

Day 1 of NACUBO: Storytelling and the Value of IT

The first full conference day kicked off bright and early with the conference welcome and opening keynote by Matthew Luhn, one of the original story creators at Pixar Animation Studios.

In his highly engaging keynote, Luhn shared the secrets of how to capture your audience and share your message through effective storytelling. Since IT professionals are not always known for being engaging story tellers, there are many takeaways from this keynote including that stories are meaningful because they’re memorable, impactful and personal The point that resonated most for me was the importance of authentic storytelling. Authenticity establishes trust, which is crucial for getting any important message across to an audience.

Tweet from @NACUBO With Some Takeaways from Matthew Luhn

Another session I found very helpful on day 1 was on aligning technology investments to institutional strategic plans. The presenters really focused on dissecting the IT Value Hierarchy (which is loosely based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), focusing on moving IT operations from technology planning that focuses on infrastructure and connectivity (the most basic level of technology need) to using technology in paradigm shifting ways that strategically advances an institution. One point that the session presenters stressed repeatedly, and that I believe as well, is that IT cannot exist as its own strategy–it must be a function with a strategy that is in service to an institution’s overall strategy.

Day 2 of NACUBO:  Hot Topics in Risk and Racism

The first full day of the conference set a high bar for cross-over content that was interesting and useful to an IT professional. Similarly, day two did not disappoint.

I started my day at an early morning panel presentation discussion on hot topics in risk management. This panel was well-run, and the presenters had great stories and actionable advice to share. Facilitated by the executive director of University Risk Management & Insurance Association (URMIA), the session included live polling and deep-dive explanation of key risk areas that each campus was facing.

While none of the institutions featured focused on cybersecurity or technology risk, it was clear from the examples presented that technology has a clear role to play in facilitating timely communications amongst campus leaders during a crisis.

The highlight of day 2 was the keynote presentation from W. Kamau Bell, comedian, commentator on race relations in modern society, and host of CNN’s “United Shades of America.”

My snapshot of W. Kamau Bell

Bell’s keynote on race relations was thought-provoking and many of his comments, while incisive, were delivered with perfect comedic timing to ease the sting. Bell made several points during his presentation that resonated with me personally as points of pride and shame. I left his keynote in deep thought, feeling both uncomfortable and energized. Based on conversations after the keynote, I have a feeling that Bell positively motivated many audience members in profound ways. My hat is off to NACUBO for featuring a bold keynote speaker who really did entertain and challenge this professional audience.

Day 3 of NACUBO: Cloud Computing and Information Security

On the final day of the conference I attended a session focused on how one institution gained cost and operational efficiencies from moving their financial and HR systems to a cloud solution provider. Institutional representatives shared their successes and pain points during the session. One of the best slides of the session compared parts of the project that worked well to those parts of the project that could have been better.

My second session of the day was where I was part of a panel presentation discussing cybersecurity risk and how business officers and IT professionals can work together. Our session covered how chief information security officers (CISOs) and chief business officers (CBOs) can proactively work together to improve institutional information security.

My Cybersecurity Panel Session

In addition to talking about some current information security threats, data breaches, and compliance requirements, we touched on the fact that CBOs and CISOs probably share a similar language with respect to resource protection. For example, CBOs and CISOs are both uniquely poised to address risk and protect institutional resources (financial and data/IT), maximize the use of institutional resources, and deal with complicated compliance requirements. This shared point of view could be leveraged to help proactively improve an institution’s information security posture.

Joanna Grama with James O'Brien and Keith McIntosh

A picture of me and my co-panelists right before our session (Joanna Grama, John O’Brien, President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, and Keith McIntosh, VP for IT and CIO at University of Richmond)

Key Insights Takeaways from NACUBO 2018

It is always hard to sum-up a comprehensive event into a few pithy points especially when the NACUBO 2018 had sessions that appealed to many different interests, but here is my best shot:

  1. The importance of authentic storytelling to communicate a message.
  2. I have an important role to play in improving race relations and can, and should, do more.
  3. IT cannot exist for its own sake but should be in service to the institutional mission
  4. When implemented thoughtfully, efficiencies can be realized with cloud computing solutions.
  5. CISOs and CBOs have a lot more in common than they think and can work together to proactively minimize information security risks in higher education