Q&A: Ken Pflueger To Retire After 14 Years as Pomona's ITS Director

Wesley Liang • The Student Life

Ken Pflueger, Pomona College’s chief information officer and director of Information Technology Services (ITS), will be retiring in December 2015 after 14 years of service. Pflueger sat down with TSL to speak about ITS's constantly evolving role at the college and how technology changes the way information is transmitted at Pomona—and in Fiji, where he will spend three weeks in January.

TSL: How long have you worked at Pomona and how did you start?

Ken Pflueger: I’ve worked here for 14 years. Before coming to Pomona, I was the associate provost for ITS at Cal Lutheran [California Lutheran University]. I was recruited by the firm conducting Pomona’s search for a new CIS [Computer Information System] and was asked to apply for the position.

TSL: What is your role as CIO and Director of ITS?

KP: Essentially I’m responsible for managing the department. I have a managing team that oversees staff that deals with day-to-day activities. It’s really the overall budgeting, planning, HR personnel issues that come up. Given the consortium, there’s a good amount of my time that is taken up with consortium work...interacting with my colleagues at the other schools. Given the institution that Pomona is, one tends to get called on for service outside the consortium too. I’m involved in some national organizations, and been asked to serve on accreditation visitation teams.

TSL: Is it stressful when something goes wrong with ITS?

KP: My old boss once said to me, “You’re one of the few people I can think of that when you come to work every day you’re faced with the fact that if anything goes wrong, it’s going to impact the entire operation.” When something goes wrong, a large segment of the campus is going to notice. So there’s a certain amount of stress to the job... that’s one thing I won’t miss.

TSL: How has the role of ITS changed since you started working here in 2001?

KP: The department has matured a lot in the past 14 years. Things haven’t always been as stable. However, in some ways it used to be easier because we didn’t have this explosion of personal devices. We used to have some control over the actual equipment [people] were using, so if something went wrong it was easier to diagnose. The challenge today is everybody has multiple devices they’re using. That part of IT has become more complicated.

I think the other thing that’s changing is we used to run a lot of systems in-house, and those services are increasingly being moved to the cloud. The admissions department got a new system that’s being run by a third party, and the new finance system for budgeting is also being outsourced. This changes the nature of our work because instead of running the system, we’re managing the work of another vendor.

TSL: Why has outsourcing increased?

KP: In part, it’s recognition that systems are becoming more complex and people expect to have access to the systems anywhere. It’s easier to have third party management. There’s also a move toward “best in breed” software. Fourteen years ago, the systems at universities were integrated. Now, for example, the admissions system is no longer integrated with the other systems used here; they have a system that is very strong for admissions itself, and it’s our job to build bridges between all the systems. This has become a major issue within the last five, six years. 

TSL: What have been some of your best memories working here?

KP: I anticipated Pomona would be a dream job, and in many ways it has been. The kind of support I’ve received from the administration has been very gratifying, and I’ve been able to get all the resources to do the work that needs to get done. I remember during the economic downturn of 2008, I would be in meetings with colleagues from other schools and they would be talking about how much money they had to cut from their budgets, while I only had to cut a little bit. I’m lucky to be at an institution that has the resources for me to get my job done. Hopefully I am leaving the department and college in a good position.

TSL: What direction do you hope to see Pomona ITS go in?

KP: Already, the Consortium is looking to have more central services in the IT area for the 5Cs. This is very appropriate for a lot of infrastructural things. IT at Pomona should be focusing on things that are unique to Pomona to distinguish it from its competitors. Certainly the move of services to the cloud will continue to have an impact on the department. One of the big challenges I see for my successor is seeing the department evolve over time, because most of the work we’ve been doing won’t need to be done in the future. We need someone who can manage vendors and deal with the expectations that Pomona has versus the vendor’s supply.

TSL: How did you become involved in the ITS field?

KP: I have a background in library science, but I was always interested in the computer side. I used to be the University Librarian at Cal Lutheran, and I wrote a couple of grants to put technology into their new library. This put me in a leadership position in terms of technology, and I put in a proposal to get wireless for the campus in 1994. With that project, I was promoted to Associate Provost of ITS. With many people of my age, there aren’t many trained professionals with technology services because the area was still evolving; it was whoever was interested. Now it’s different because people get degrees in these kind of fields.

TSL: What are you looking forward to upon retiring?

KP: One of the big things I’m looking forward to is not having to commute. I live in Simi Valley, 70 miles from here, so I’m looking forward to not spending three hours every day driving. I am planning on going to to Fiji for three weeks in January. I spent a year working there working at University of the South Pacific in 1991, and have many friends there... it’s a second home for me. I would like to do some work for the university in the future. 

TSL: Are you interested to see how Fiji has changed?

KP: I’ve been back many times over the years, and have seen many changes. One of the things I noticed most was how television has impacted how people spend their time. On Sundays, people would spend their time visiting neighbors and friends. Now people have cinemas and TVs and internet and cell phones. It is a real different kind of experience. I’m glad I experienced it before because it really is a different place now. In smaller places, technology has disrupted the natural connections between people.

Editor's note: this interview has been edited for clarity and length.