CIO Spotlight: Michael L. Mathews, Oral Roberts University

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? "Artificial intelligence, Blockchain, and micro-innovations."

Name: Michael L. Mathews

Company: Oral Roberts University

Job title: CIO, VP of Technology and Innovation

Date started current role: April 1, 2014

Location: Tulsa Oklahoma and 106 nations around the world via the Global Learning Center

Michael L. Mathews (Mike), CIO and VP for Innovation at Oral Roberts University has over 24-years of experience as a senior-level IT executive bringing creative solutions that value the end-users of technology and business process management. Mathews has a deep and rich work history including 12-years at Cray Research as an instructor and global training manager; as well as 10-years at SunGard Higher Education where he served as chief information officer, and vice president of academic services.


What was your first job? An Engineer at Cray Research, Supercomputer company managing the supercomputer data centre and testing and installing supercomputers around the world.

Did you always want to work in IT? Yes, but mainly due to the potential change possible with technology.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? Combined 1. AS degree in Computer Systems, BA in Pastoral/Biblical Studies and three quarters of the way through MS in applied technology.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I fell in love with working at Cray Research for 12 years and meeting people around the world who know everything from PCs to supercomputers. After 12 years I was asked to lead a national education project (1996-1998) to bring education between 17 colleges into a national consortium. This took three years and I was able to put the first educational programs on the internet alongside Duke U. and Oxford U, while also using video conferencing to connect remote students into graduation services from different parts of the world. I then invested 12 years working for SunGard Data Systems (now Ellucian). I was a CIO for 4-years, VP of Academic Technology, and general manager for 12 CIOs at various colleges and universities. As part of this journey, I invented the first career navigation systems for education and was invited to the White House on three occasions. In 2014 I joined Oral Roberts University as the CIO to transform their education and technology. This produced a world class Global Learning Center and over 500 publications and reports, and 10 technology awards. You can read many of the accomplishments and media at 

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year?  Artificial intelligence, Blockchain, and micro-innovations.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Transform education on a global scale with AI, Blockchain, and micro-innovations. We are partnering with the top companies in the business and leveraging our years of innovative experience to become the world leaders in this area.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Yes, the CIO role still holds too many operational aspects that should be owned by the business units. For this reason we have myself as the CIO and myself as the VP of Innovation.  Yes, my job has become both the Chief Digital Officer and Chief Innovator to ensure we are leveraging the best of resources, technology, talent, and reputation. I have developed the first digital transformation index for higher education with 30 metrics for success. Also, I have personally branded my overall CIO mission as ‘Helping all constituents survive and thrive in the digital wold we find ourselves.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? Yes to all the above. Our Digital Transformation Index over the past five years has all measurements including revenue and customer service experience.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Yes with traditional IT, but now we are looking for the next generation of transformation with AI and Blockchain.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Culture fit has become easier over time as we have aligned the deliverables, product and IT with the mission. This mission is to reach 195 nations with the value of education, knowledge and intelligence. We have gone from 85 nations to 106 during the last 3.5 years through trademarking the concept/product ‘Geovision Technology.' This branding and very focused mission/vision has helped recruit the right talent, select the best vendors, and find generous donors.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The skill of flexible-minds with creativity. IT skills are somewhat difficult, but to put intelligence around the world at the speed of light is a worthy and needed goal that requires out of the box thinking.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Be exuberant while cautiously taking risks that no one else will.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes, but it is a 3-5-year plan to ensure sustainability with the soft skills and hard skills. The plan is critical for the university, and the challenges really remain quite simple: Be patient, pick energy and attitude over skill while correcting the weaknesses that I have in the future leaders.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders?

What has been your greatest career achievement? Any of the below three are all equal. 1. Being in Bangalore, India to design the first K12 Artificial Intelligence system and having a 15-foot tree planted in my name as I did something no one else could do.  2. Being picked up on the tarmac by the Chinese Government in 2018 to show the government how to simplify the implementation of augmented and virtual reality. 3. Being a 2018 CIO 100 Award Winner

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Taken a few more risks at the right time.


What are you reading now? Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Most people don't know that I… Love to encourage others to be champions of their careers while balancing their energy and passion.

In my spare time, I like to…Ride bike, put together educational snippets with avatars and other learning tools.

Ask me to do anything but… discourage or dishearten people who are willing to change.