Ask Me Anything

From smart campuses to smart cities with Klara Jelinkova, CIO of Rice University

Digital Transformation

February 11, 2020
min read
An image of Klara Jelinkova, CIO of Rice University

Seeing a smart campus as a microcosm of a smart city allowed CIO Klara Jelinkova of Rice University scope and perspective to think about universities of the future. In this AMA with Pulse, Jelinkova plots out the most pressing issues on campus.

What intrigued you most about taking on an IT role on a campus?

Part of the reason why it’s sometimes interesting to look at a campus is because campuses are kind of like microcosm of little cities. Especially if you’re part of a residential campus experience, you have housing, dining, police departments etc. So you can do small pilots for what cities could be on a campus. You can do smart buildings and a lot of automation, especially on campuses that are private universities that are enclosed.

We use our campus to do wireless networking events. So we have a project called Renew that is next-generation wireless and it is highly experimental. Right. It allows you to think about what networking could be in the future.

Can we get from smart campuses to smart cities?

It’s really about scaling. Something that is fairly controlled and planned into a larger area. Let’s say you have an enclosed campus and you have traffic and parking and all of those pieces. How would you then apply it to a larger city? One of the really interesting cities to take a look at because of how it operates is Las Vegas, because so much of it is actually controlled: the real estate by the casinos for example. When you go into one of the casinos, it’s a fully immersive experience going from parking to everything else. Cities are going to be more integrated or people will know where you are and services are going to anticipate you more readily.

How do you draw the balance between privacy and security?

There are really two angles: one angle is privacy and the other security. In some ways we are moving more and more toward people having control over the data that is collected about them. Maybe not as much in the United States. You have legislature in California, that has been definitely leading the way in the space where people can collect data about you, but they have to tell you that they’re doing it and they need to have a way to get it back to you.

Over time, it’s legislatively going to become untenable to collect information about people and use it for commercial gain without addressing the issue of your privacy and human dignity.

The other piece is security. Right? You have these caches of information that people can get into. The obligation is the company’s obligation. If you collect it, you have to protect it. Is it a high stakes game? It absolutely is. That’s why I think this pendulum is really going to start swinging more towards right of the individual versus the right of the company to your data.

What’s the most pressing issue around emerging tech today?

We have an institute that I’m on the advisory board for technology, culture and society. Ethical AI is one of the topics emerging from this and universities play a role in this forward-thinking topic. How can you make sure that technology is actually observing the societal values that we have around AI? There is some work that needs to be done around that.

How does IT governance work on campus?

I’m the Vice President for international operations and technology. So I also have this part of my role that has to do with international operations. A lot of IT has to do with tracking and partnerships with other universities.

But in the IP portion, there’s obviously a technology strategy for governance at the university. We are partially distributed. So how do you oversee an IP ecosystem that the central organization does not necessarily control? We are moving to a situation where more and more CIOs are seen as people that are not just heads of an assembly line, but are managing this larger IT ecosystem.

It’s a really great thing for CIOs to learn how to manage your own company. Let’s say you talk to the audit committee about cyber risk and then it goes to the investment committee which results in big asks for IP projects. That really makes it hard for the CIO to lay out a technology vision.

I’m encouraged though because I’m hearing more and more about other boards looking at technology and innovation, digital transformation, those types of committees, to really have the conversations about how technology is changing the work.

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