From Smart Campuses to Smart Cities: Ask Me Anything with Klara Jelinkova

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 also use our campus to advance wireless research. One of our projects is called RENEW. The project is developing next-generation wireless and it is highly experimental. Being part of next generation research allows you to think about what networking or other technologies could be in the future. 

Can we get from smart campuses to smart cities?

It’s really about scaling a pilot 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 and the technology deployed in support of the entertainment industry. When you go into one of the casinos, it’s a fully immersive experience going from parking to the main floor, etc. Following this example cities could become more integrated, your location may be known so services can anticipate you more readily.

How do you draw the balance between privacy and security?

There are 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. The EU has led this with GDPR. In the United States the individual states have taken action. You have legislature in California, that has been definitely leading the way in the space with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Companies can collect data about you, but they have to tell you that they’re doing it and using it and they need to have a way to remove it.

As more states take action and the geopolitical landscape evolves, it’s 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. Companies have caches of information that people can and want to get into. The obligation to protect the data 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 going to start swinging more towards the right of the individual versus the right of the company to your data.

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

I’m on the advisory board for Rice’s Institute for technology, Culture and Society. Ethical AI is one of the topics emerging from our work 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?

There’s obviously a technology strategy and technology governance at the university. We are partially distributed. With our governance we try to address the oversight of an IT ecosystem that the central organization does not necessarily fully control? The IT Executive Committee manages technology related projects and expenses across the university. We also have faculty and student advisory committees to incorporate the voice of the people who use technology into our planning.

Increasingly the CIO role is not just about technology but also about business acumen. 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 and partnering with the business.

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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