Provost's Newsletter – January 2019

Across Our Campus

Across Campus

Meet Purdue’s new VP for information technology and chief information officer

Gary DesaiGary Desai (pronounced deh-SIGH) is Purdue's new vice president for information technology and chief information officer. He most recently served as senior vice president and CIO for the Icahn Automotive Group in Detroit, the largest end-to-end automotive aftermarket company with holdings in AutoPlus, Federal-Mogul, Hertz, Lyft and Pep Boys. He's new to Purdue so we asked him share a bit about himself and his vision.

Q: Please tell us more about your background and your family.

I’m from Mumbai, India, originally. My grandfather was a professor of mathematics and my father was an engineer. I earned a bachelor of technology in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology and an MBA in management information systems from Northeastern University in Boston. This was located close to Boston’s Route 128, which rivaled Silicon Valley as a world-leading center for electronics innovation with pioneering companies such as Data General, Digital Equipment and Wang. The experience really sparked my interest in computer systems and programming, generally and in a university setting, and it built from there. My wife and I are in the process of house hunting in the Purdue area. We have two daughters, one of whom earned an MBA in human resources from Purdue’s Krannert School of Management. She now works in HR for a biotech startup in Silicon Valley. Our younger daughter is graduating from Michigan State and going to work for Kraft-Heinz in marketing.

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?

I spend most of my free time with my family, play a little bridge and walk for exercise. I like to travel. I have  a curious mind. Anything new is good. I like to discover things. Travel enables that, talking to people, listening to different languages, experiencing different cultures, eating different foods.

Q: What are your words to live by?

Respect the system and the system will respect you. When I say that, I don’t just mean systems but respecting people as well. I think if you approach people with respect and have respect for process, you tend to get success and results back in return. Living with integrity and transparency to people tends to keep life free of stress.

Q: What are your favorite books or movies?

“Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins. He and his research team identified a set of elite companies that made the leap to great results and sustained those results for at least 15 years, then tried to find out how their leadership was able to do it. A big takeaway is the importance of putting people before strategy. “First who, then what.” How do you get the right people on the bus and in the right seat on the bus? I’ve really put it to good use in both national and international forums.

Q: You have led multiple IT transformations. What have these taught you?

One thing they’ve taught me is that a transformation is not a revolution. Both are about change but transformation is essentially different. Revolutions happen from the bottom up and rarely to the pleasure of the people at the top. Transformations are architected from top down but successful transformations, especially if you want them to happen in timely fashion, require buy-in from the bottom up. To get that buy-in requires communication, constant communication, down and across the organization, and in Purdue IT’s case with our customers, partners and users. In addition, transformations tend to involve cultural evolution in an organization, and your plan needs to consider how that change is going to be promoted and implemented. In a transformation, I also think you have to be willing to think outside the box. One has to proactively search for innovative ideas and systems outside one’s own industry but potentially applicable to it. That said, decisions need to be built on a foundation of data and information that can inform accurate projections of the outcomes – desired and otherwise – and the strategies for getting the outcomes you want and avoiding, or mitigating, undesirable outcomes. Planning for measuring outcomes is a must for successful transformations.

Q: We are in the middle of change, which we call "Transform Purdue." What is left to be done? What projects are next?

The Transform Purdue initiative is designed to streamline, simplify, organize and automate Purdue business processes and related systems. The transformation of Purdue’s enterprise business systems is well under way, giving us capabilities such as managing information in real time, transparency and consistency across campus, and eliminating a voluminous amount of paper forms and red tape to get things done. The new reporting mechanisms and tools give us a sound foundation for uniformity in reporting. Now we can begin focusing on how all this enables strategic analysis and new ways to add value to the university’s mission. The next major element of Transform Purdue, happening now, is the implementation of SuccessFactors, the new human resources system and a complete recruit-to-retire solution for talent management. All of this is a digital transformation, underpinned by SAP.

ITaP and Purdue IT have had, and will continue to have, a role in getting these systems online and functional as well as adjusting, improving and eventually upgrading them. Beyond the Transform project, work being done on data warehousing and interoperability can facilitate applying data and analytics to teaching and learning in new ways. How are our students doing? What does something like study abroad, for example, add to their learning experience? What else can we do to make the learning experience more fruitful?

We also have a learning management system review in progress that is going to lead to a replacement for Blackboard Learn, which will be a big change in teaching and learning. In research computing, we’re adding a large-scale graphical processing unit-based supercomputing cluster for complex artificial intelligence and machine learning problems. It will provide new storage and accelerated networking options to better facilitate analysis of and simulation with data held by Purdue researchers, including improved secure storage options for controlled, regulated and restricted types of data.

Q: In the IT world, security is an ongoing concern. What are your biggest concerns and how can we meet them?

I am sure you have heard about the huge data breaches in the news recently, which involved major firms like Marriott and Equifax and exposed the data of hundreds of millions of people. That gives an idea of what the stakes are in this area. As a large institution with an extensive computer network and a lot of desirable data, Purdue is constantly targeted. It is important that we have technology and procedures in place – and regularly review and update them – to mitigate the risk of University data being compromised. The bad guys are always upping their game so the University must do likewise.

Individuals in the campus community can help — and help protect their own personal data at the same time. The first line of defense is to be diligent with the credentials used to access their Purdue and other online accounts. Use two-factor authentication like Purdue’s BoilerKey and strong passwords and don’t reuse Purdue credentials on non-Purdue systems. If these non-Purdue systems, such as Facebook, are compromised and you have used your Purdue credentials for this site, it could make your access to Purdue likewise vulnerable. Finally, question any unexpected emails you receive — especially ones that are asking for financial or password information. If you fall victim to any of these questionable emails, then immediately reset your password and inform

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