IT Writ Large

Mark D. Henderson
Mark D. Henderson, Pitt’s new chief information officer, doesn’t believe in using technology for its own sake.

“We do what we do to enhance the experience that our faculty and students have, and to support the teaching, researching and outreach missions of the University,” Henderson said.

He credits his predecessor, former CIO Jinx Walton, as having left the organization in very good shape. “The senior staff are all talented and sound, operations are all working well, and now we’re trying to look at how we can become more innovative and externally focused in support of the community.”

IT at Pitt: ‘Absolutely fabulous’

Henderson’s July arrival at Pitt may not be a homecoming, but it is a return to his roots. His father, Donald M. Henderson, ended his 23-year career at Pitt (19 as associate provost and four as provost) in 1993, his brother retired as a Pitt police officer and his daughter graduated from Pitt in 2014.

After years in both the private and higher education sectors, in organizations like GE, Proctor & Gamble, Westinghouse Electric Company, Case Western Reserve University and most recently the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Henderson is excited by the amount of opportunity he sees at Pitt. “It’s a good time to be in IT in higher education. It is absolutely fabulous to be in IT at the University of Pittsburgh.”

Henderson sees a need to enhance foundational technologies to enable innovations in systems and services for the campus community. He envisions the development of dashboards that enable the University community to see very clearly how critical IT systems are performing in real time.

His early focus will help drive bigger agenda items, which he delineates into five areas: the student experience, faculty and research support, campus innovation, community engagement and regional influence. “I’m interested in us thinking about IT writ large,” he said. He plans to engage stakeholders to help shape how those areas are approached.

He believes Pittsburgh is poised to stimulate organic innovation and attract companies in ways Silicon Valley might not. “Pittsburgh is a great environment. We’re a mecca for health sciences and medical breakthroughs. We want to build upon that by working with our technology partners to provide innovations that maintain our momentum, help attract other partners and contribute to the continued growth of the region.”

A culture of collaboration

While he was based in Cincinnati but leading teams all over the world for GE, Henderson saw that work isn’t necessarily a function of place, citing the number of technologies available to foster remote collaboration. “It could be a very interesting retention and recruiting tool [here at Pitt]. Because we ought to go find the very best talent wherever that talent exists.”

Henderson values the spirit of collaboration, which he contrasted to the environment at GE, where edicts from then-CEO Jack Welch quickly became directives; at Pitt, he said, shared governance creates an environment that requires openness and engagement across myriad stakeholders.

Here, it’s all in pursuit of the University mission. At GE and other private companies, Henderson said, that mission is frequently for profit – by building jet engines or power plants, or providing financial services.

“At the end of the day, we help to develop future leaders, future educators and future scientists who will cure cancer. We, in higher education, help shape what the world will be like going forward and we educate the people who will live in and lead us in that world.”