Annie Stunden, CIO at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annie Stunden, CIO at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Many organizations talk a good game about interpersonal skills, influence and collaboration, but when it comes right down to it, there’s a pretty clear chain of command that runs right down the middle. As director of the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Annie Stunden manages 500 staff. But because there are at least that many more staff with IT responsibilities in other departments on campus, a traditional chain of command doesn’t exist.


As a result, Stunden really has two jobs. The first is to be CIO. Here she uses her influence and collegial skills to set the university’s technological direction. The second is to be the leader of DoIT, which calls on more traditional management and organizational skills.
While Stunden doesn’t think the split is all that unusual for a CIO, the level of financial independence across the university creates special challenges.
She’s responsible for the network and other infrastructure, but doesn’t manage all the network nodes or applications that put demands on that infrastructure. She frequently finds herself and DoIT in the middle, trying to meet the demands of several applications competing for the same data or bandwidth. DoIT staff, as well as campus department staff, have different requirements for the same technology.
Integrating the campus’s applications requires a big-picture view of architecture and design. Stunden says university’s clear strategic plan helps her in this quest. She ties the technology strategies to the university plan and then puts on her CIO hat and starts collaborating, lobbying and selling to build support for IT directions across all those independent entities on campus.
“At this university, the CIO job is as much about selling strategic directions for technology as it is about managing technology,” Stunden said.
She also relies on her colleagues throughout the University of Wisconsin System and the vendor community for support and perspective in navigating the complex maze of applications, infrastructure and organization that is part of any large university. She mentions both groups when talking about the strengths of the Wisconsin technology environment and cites the IT Academy program as an example of the rewards for that kind of collaboration.

At this university, the CIO job is as much about selling strategic directions for technology as it is about managing technology

The IT Academy brings high-school students to campus during the summer starting in ninth grade. The students are recommended for the program from their respective schools with a focus on students who might not otherwise get exposed to college or to technology. The first class is “graduating” after four years of the program, and all of the participants are going on to college.
“Berbee and Inacom were really good partners in this program,” Stunden said.
Any strength taken to an extreme can become a challenge. With this in mind, Stunden laughs about what she calls “Wisconsin Nice.” The same basic Midwestern politeness and home-spun diplomacy that makes for a great collegial and collaborative environment can sometimes make direct and frank discussion more difficult.
Stunden says she’s New York born and bred, and used to frank discussion. She’s had to work hard to build an environment where her colleagues will just come out and tell her if she’s wrong about something.
DoIT is keeping an eye on the continued convergence of devices. This includes cellular and wireless network functions and how they will affect student demand for access. Voice over IP (VoIP) is on the table, though she’s asking what justifies replacing a working system. That said, she has just set up Vonage at home so she can get some first-hand exposure. Despite being the CIO of a university, she still takes time to learn about the technology and try it out.
In that spirit, Stunden also recently started her own blog. Another project getting her attention is the leading-edge work being done at DoIT by Julian Lombardi on the Croquet Operating System.
The Vonage experiment and the blog are just two examples of a wider curiosity about technology and organization structures that help people work more effectively. It is somehow appropriate that one of Stunden’s hobbies is quilting. Just as she brings together various unrelated pieces of fabric to form a greater unified whole, the CIO job requires providing a technology foundation for bringing together the university’s intellectual creativity and investigation.
It all fits for an institution that strives for &ldquothat continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth is found.”

Q&A with Annie Stunden

What’s the latest book you’ve read?
“What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America” by Thomas Frank
“Leading Geeks” by Paul Glenn
“Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
What magazines do you read regularly?
Newsweek, Madison, Chronicle of Higher Education
What web sites do you visit regularly?
DoIT, Educause, CIC
What’s your favorite quote on leadership?
“When you come to a fork in the road, take it! —Yogi Berra

Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC of Madison Wis. Prairie Star specializes in managing the organizational impacts of technology. He can be contacted via e-mail at or via telephone at 608/345-3958.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.