TechKnowFile Opening Remarks

May 7, 2014

Check against delivery.

Good morning and welcome to the 2014 edition of TechKnowFile.

Thank you Mr. Kemp for your kind introduction and to the TechKnowFile organizers for the privilege of opening the conference this year. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for being here and for participating in one of our most interesting and significant annual conferences.

Techknowfile owes some of its importance to what I might call, with apologies to Gordon Moore, Gertler’s Law. That is: The number of IT related challenges and opportunities at the University of Toronto doubles every two years.

The individuals in this room represent both the University’s brain trust in responding to the challenges and, more vitally, the University’s innovative leaders in identifying the opportunities. These two functions are critically and increasingly important. Allow me to make three amateur observations about why I think this is so…

First: Information technology is ubiquitous. We used to believe this 10 or even 20 years ago. If they could only see us now… Today, we carry it, wear it, walk on it, smile at it, listen with it, speak with it, look at it or through it, and perhaps most saliently for us, learn with its help.

Second: The pace of change in IT is daunting. Technological change joins global urbanization as the two most rapidly and massively disruptive forces on the planet. From social media to MOOCs, from cyber security to privacy, our digital landscape is evolving faster than we can react to it. Indeed, some of us are beta-testing version 9 before we have mastered all the features in version 2.

Third, The University of Toronto is as nimble as a fully-loaded ocean super tanker. The only counterexample I can think of to the blinding pace of change in IT has been our move from ROSI to the NGSIS. And that’s been brisk for a leviathan university such as ours!

In fact, the NGSIS is an excellent example of the pervasiveness, significance, and transformation of IT.
It is not just about modernizing a student information system for course registration, transcripts, and such. It is about making life easier and better for students, faculty, and staff alike — for example by freeing registrarial staff to focus more on the creative, high-level advice students are asking for in planning their future educational and career paths. ROSI was the fully-loaded ocean super tanker – NGSIS will be a collection of high-speed, high-response, next generation watercraft – to push the metaphor maybe too far.

At the intersection of these three forces – ubiquity, pace, and response – are the remarkable individuals in this room. Your work and support is fundamental to the operation of our University. Whether it is one-on-one tech support or building the virtual environments that sustain our huge and elaborate research and pedagogical enterprises, the University would simply grind to a halt without your constant efforts. In fact, I am a little dismayed that we allow everyone in this room to be all in the same place at the same time…

More seriously, as many here will know, two of the three strategic priorities I mentioned in my installation address six months ago involved partnerships: building international partnerships and developing and leveraging local partnerships.

I alluded to another: Enhancing our digital partnerships. Digital partnerships will be as crucial to our future success as international and local partnerships will be. To this end, as important as it is to have sophisticated instruments – and, dare I say it, cool toys – it is far more important to depend upon the talented, dedicated, and highly intelligent people behind them.

In other words, people more than processors are the vital key to our future.

This is why I think Techknowfile is so valuable. Techknowfile provides an opportunity for all of you to come together to share ideas, innovations, and inspirations… to learn from each other, and build the relationships and partnerships that are the backbone of our IT environment.

Techknowfile also gives me a rare chance to recognize you and thank you all for everything you do for the University of Toronto. I want you to know that your skills, efforts, and not least your hours are recognized as integral to making our University function, and to enhancing the experience of not only our students, but of our faculty and staff as well.

Thank you again – and I wish you all a successful conference.