It takes time to curate the information required to make the most-informed decisions. Interestingly, I continue to be surprised at how work and assessment we completed, or at least started, minutes before COVID-19 struck, is really shaping up to be a bit of a saving grace for us. Not a day goes by on this 20-week technology transformation challenge that I’m not struck by our preparedness to respond to and act in such an unexpectedly intentional way. If I had a nickel for every time I stated some version of, “I feel like every moment leading up to March 11 prepared us for today” I’d have at least ten extra dollars in my pocket. How sick folks must be of hearing me declare those words; but, the amazement I’m expressing is authentic.
In last week’s entry, I hit pause for a few and pointed out the importance of taking a breather, using stolen moments to personally reflect on what truly matters, and then shared an update resulting basically in, “Things are progressing.” For those of you in leadership positions, especially within IT, you know how important it is to keep momentum going in the larger projects. You also know that the struggle is truly real in keeping tech projects exciting and update-worthy to a non-technical crowd. Well, here we are.
While technology is transformational and absolutely does facilitate less time spent on transactional tasks and daily busywork, all technology project timelines are littered with the most unexceptional, boring milestones ever.
The Timeline Perfect Storm
I’ve now been at the University of Tulsa (TU) for a bit over ten months. When I join any institution, I hope that I’m handed a fairly comprehensive, quasi-recent technology landscape assessment. Fortunately, one had been completed within a year of my arrival at TU so it served as a terrific reality-setter and base for next steps.
Tip: If you plan on folding in new IT leadership at your business, please hire someone to assess your current technology environment. Staff to infrastructure, culture to expectations.
Aside from getting to know the campus, we as an IT team rapidly embarked on deeper assessments in the areas of network and infrastructure, business systems [read: enterprise resource planning, or ERP], campus safety, and technology spending. These efforts, in combination with what I continued to learn every day, resulted in a multi-year plan to get TU where TU deserved to be. Frankly, to get TU’s technology on-level with the quality of education we had been effectively providing for 125 years. My goal? Five years. Five years to gut to the studs then rebuild for excellence, sustainability, and responsiveness.
At the same time of our technology deep-dive, TU was already in the midst of assessing the university as a whole. Online program offerings, fiscal remediation, administrative, support efficiency, and more.
The assessment reports for each of these areas landed in our hot little hands by end of January 2020. We started building a response and negotiating next steps in some areas as early as winter 2019. By mid-February 2020, our path, our plans, our priorities, were already set.
So, Here We Are (the Technology Part)
- Network and Infrastructure. We know where we need to go and, just this week, we embarked on numerous multi-day, hours-long sessions that will result in a selected partner to work alongside TU as we implement a best-in-class wireless environment, pursue a seamless mobile-first and digitally connected campus experience, and map a plan to deliver foundational-through-exceptional service to our campus over the next many years. These meetings will result in a decision that will then result in action. COVID connection: One year ago, I could not confidently ensure our campus that our network could accommodate unexpected technology needs COVID will surely require of us. Each of the plans we’ve seen this week will rapidly get us where we need to be to empower a strong foundation capable of supporting additional health and safety measures.
- Business Systems (ERP). What started with, “Should we replace our ERP system?” led to a treasure trove of realities and a decision to stick with our current investment and fix the actual issues. The next question, “Do we outsource areas?” led to a similar reality that outsourcing tends to serve as an exceptionally-priced bandaid that also doesn’t fix the underlying issues. So now for the first time in decades, we are in a true assessment phase of every portion of our ERP system, fixing some bits as we progress, documenting other needed areas of improvement to ensure we reassess and redevelop most-if-not-all business processes and procedures from the inside, out. Some assessments, for example, Financial Aid, are complete and the work completed-to-underway, resulting in significant time savings and user experience improvements. Other assessments are near completion and will result in more work to be done over the coming months. Even more assessments are just kicking into high-gear and will result in quick wins alongside more long-term work. We are actively redefining our talent priorities as well to best support these refined systems. Long overdue, but much-needed. We are starting those conversations now.
- Technology standards and cost-savings. In January, we introduced a technology spending freeze. In April, we implemented new technology standards. Recently we communicated the requirement for technology exception approvals will continue for the next several years to ensure we drive a new culture of keeping to standards. We are negotiating everything, eliminating contracts we don’t need/don’t use/can’t afford, and consolidating duplicative software and technology arrangements. No stone will be left unturned.
The Bigger, More Long-Term Change-Culture Efforts
Concurrently, the university is executing on similar over-arching projects geared to position us in a way that ensures TU excels for another 125 years! Guess who is the Executive Sponsor of those projects? (raises hand) Improvements are often difficult to move from conception to completion, especially when they require driving a substantial new culture shift at the same time. But everyone agreed changes need to happen; and I love a good change challenge.
Tip: If you are having a hard time identifying an internal leader for enterprise-wide projects involving change and, especially, culture shifts, your technology leader is likely poised and ready to drive these efforts. Are you non-technical and still mystified by technology leadership? I wrote an easy guide (Demystifying IT: A Pocket Guide for the Non-Technical) to clarify IT, explained in understandable language, and spells out what you should expect from your CIO. It’s currently free on Kindle Unlimited.
Once again, I feel like every moment leading up to March 11 prepared us for today. The assessments and OPM relationships many are scurrying to take on right now were already in our rearview mirror by March 11. Our plans were already set. Yes, many additional conversations of a more reactive nature spring up and continue and will continue. But for the foundational, right-set, proactive needs? They keep moving forward; at times at a frighteningly escalated pace. The best part? As of now, I feel we can absolutely manage that pace.
Until next week(s),
Almost 15 weeks ago the department of Information Technology at the University of Tulsa embarked on a 20-week challenge aimed at driving not only institutional technology change, but supporting a larger effort of driving an irresistible culture of embracing change and modernization in general. Given much of what’s needed tomorrow (ok, likely ten years ago) relies on a complete overhaul of our foundational technology systems and solutions, we challenged ourselves. End of fiscal year is a big check-in point for accomplishment and remaining time to completion.
Because we can. We’ve discovered in this new-found remote environment we have the capacity for more of different.
- We know where we stand. (week 1)
- We know where we need to be. (week 2)
- We take some hits. (week 3)
- We face a significant, unexpected obstacle(s). (week 4)
- We’re making progress and celebrating every step. (week 5)
- We’re on the path and we are empowering MORE. (week 6)
- Reinforce your weak spots for complete understanding. (week 7)
- Ignore boundaries and make a difference. (week 8)
- Know your limits. Then add more. (week 9)
- Halfway there! (week 10)
- Behind and coasting (weeks 11 and 12)
- Assessments keep us moving, ahead (weeks 13-14)