Attendants gathered for the Harvard IT Summit to discuss data and its management and fair use.

Photo by Michelle Jay

Campus & Community

Parsing the data — together

4 min read

IT Summit featured 40 sessions, two keynote speeches, and 1,500 attendees

Data, and conversations about its management and fair use, took center stage at the ninth annual Harvard IT Summit last week, held on the campus of Harvard Business School (HBS). The full day of programming featured nearly 40 individual sessions, as well as keynotes from the CEO of Kraft Analytics, Jessica Gelman ’97, M.B.A. ’02, and Scott Snook, MBA Class of 1958 Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at HBS.

“When the CIO council envisioned this summit nine years ago, we knew that the key to advancing Harvard’s mission through technology was all of you,” said Vice President and University Chief Information Officer Anne Margulies in opening remarks to the more than 1,500 Harvard IT professionals at the event. “We’re thrilled that this IT Summit has endured. But investing in the IT workforce can’t just happen one day per year. … Investing in you has been a priority in our strategic plan. And over the past few years we’ve launched a number of initiatives to support our IT staff.”

Sections throughout the day focused some of these initiatives, as well as on topics such as diversity and tech in higher education, using artificial intelligence to improve collaboration, and how to help support good online behavior through technology design. Key members of Harvard’s team supporting its nascent Digital Accessibility Policy also presented on the role that everyone in the Harvard community can play in creating a more accessible online environment.

Gelman’s keynote was one of many conversations that delved into data usage. As head of an analytics company that works with professional franchises from four of the nation’s five major-leagues sports, she offered the audience at HBS’ gleaming new Klarman Hall several case studies into how her company helps clients use data to grow their businesses.

“Our focus is, how do we make this use of data simple to folks in the sports industry?” Gelman explained. “How do we give them a golden record? The first component is data management … [for] all of the systems that go into running a sports organization. How do we pull that information? How do we get a single view of our customers?”

More than 1,500 participants convened for Harvard’s ninth annual IT Summit.

Photo by Michelle Jay

A morning session on research data management and compliance outlined how the University is thinking about a “New Data Life Cycle,” creating working groups to address the significant challenges of handling the truly massive influx of data — which has grown 100-fold over the past 10 years — for which the University’s IT professionals are responsible. Mercè Crosas, chief data science and technology officer at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, explained how collaborative efforts across the University are critical to successfully addressing this reality, which is both daunting and exciting in terms of the limitless research-related possibilities provided by massive data management.

Other sections focused on virtual servers, how Harvard uses the Cloud, what universities can learn from big data, and using application programming interfaces (APIs) to store data correctly.

Of course, the summit also covered how IT initiatives are supporting the work and aspirations of those who matter the most — students. An afternoon session showcased how a new program from the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT) is providing student social innovators with microgrants for “tech startup-like” projects that enhance access to education. HILT’s director of strategic projects and innovation grants, Jaime Goldstein, shared the work of awardees, including the three founders of ColorFULL, which won first prize in the 2019 Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Innovation and Ventures in Education (HIVE) Pitch Competition. ColorFULL collaborates with educators and their students to create culturally affirming literary, audio, and visual content and curricula, with a particular focus on youth of color.

Goldstein highlighted the important role of data when she convened the working group for this budding program supporting student innovation, and she shared outcome measurements from its four funding cycles over the course of its first year. She also talked about how this data will inform HILT’s future plans for the initiative.

“We approached this year like a startup ourselves … collect the data, iterate, start, go and [find out] what can we learn really quickly,” said Goldstein. She said student responses, both from the program’s pilot-year awardees and from the growing numbers of those interested in applying for grants, suggest that this approach was a resounding success.