Unifying Technology for Efficiency

Envision a university with a 20k headcount…or a public school system with 15k students. Now imagine that each of the schools within the university or district basically ‘does its own thing’ regarding just about everything technology-wise from buying computers and software to housing data, wiring the classrooms and communicating with parents. Is this efficient?

Envision you’re moving into a new home. You need cable, phone and Internet. Do you go to six different vendors to accomplish this? Imagine the fees, taxes, misc. costs and total installation expense and timeline. Is this efficient? Most will bargain shop, seek deals and say, “If I do ALL of this business with one vendor, what kind of deal will you give me?”
It is not uncommon for larger universities, schools and districts to have their technology splayed out all over the place. Two ERP systems here, three LMS systems there and, in between, multitudes of identical individual software license agreements and ways to get from a to b. Why?
The Big Myth: We are all so different and have wildly unique needs.
Wrong. And right. You can still share basic services and structure. Do all houses look the same? No. But they all have items in common like a solid foundation, walls, in-wall wiring, basics (plumbing, electricity, etc.), a front door and similar. Technology works the same way. We can all share the same strong infrastructure, the basics (data storage, ERP, LMS) and we can also all have our unique add-ons (health professions needs simulation equipment, all faculty need a good evaluation tool, Human Resources needs applicant tracking software, students need a shuttle locator app).
If savings and efficiencies can be optimized with basic-level shared services, why so many silos and disparate systems?
Someone has to make it happen.
And there might be pushback. Rephrase: there will be pushback…initially.
Fear. Change jump-starts fear. Until you involve everyone in the discussions or at a minimum make the conversations transparent, i.e. stream live or YouTube discussions, publish transcripts or notes online.
Fear. If we consolidate services, people will lose their jobs. Sure, redundant tasks will be identified. Does this mean that likely any warm body will not be needed? No. This is 2013. Technology is moving faster than all of us. Responsibilities might shift, but they’ll never go away.
Fear. Everyone will have to learn new things. This is a fact. With everything. But introductory and on-going training needs to play an active role in the unification plan, the technology strategic plan and the overall culture of any institution or system. We work in education. Education never stops. Think continuous improvement.
“I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”
First steps include attaining a leader that thrives on strategy, collaboration and communication and let them canvas the customer base. Every square inch. Second step is creating a current technology atlas/map, i.e. everything ‘technology’ on a campus (or within a district or – even dare I say – state system). Third step, create a strategy and connect the dots between current technology atlas and duplicated services/systems. Fourth step, a plan of baby steps with multitudes of tiny milestones so your campus can celebrate each and every accomplishment.
Unifying technology and change is a great thing. The money saved on the not-so-small stuff lends to bigger innovations that can be highly publicized and revered. Any active technology leader strives to reach a point of consolidation in order to start doing the fun stuff. And with each hurdle jumped, students experience the results and their satisfaction is measurable, and they tell two friends and so on.

It’s not easy but it’s certainly a no-brainer for top-notch efficiency. And it all hinges on a cohesive, collaborative unifying strategic vision for technology. Better get a handle on it starting like yesterday, because technology continues to put the pedal to the metal.

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