Sunday, April 24, 2011

Where do we go from here? Part 2

Part 1 of this series discussed the ways in which IT organizations have contributed to higher education in the past. The current challenge for IT organizations, our present “chapter of the book”, is about becoming effective at evangelizing and advocating for the transformative power of technology. This challenge is fundamentally different from building computing centers, connecting networks, installing desktops, and Web enabling software applications. This shift poses the biggest challenge that IT organizations have faced yet because it requires them to make fundamental changes in the way they understand and approach their work. 

First, what got us where we are – technical skills – are not the attributes that correlate highly with success if we are to become effective advocates and evangelists regarding technology. In 2007, we challenged our IT organization at Pepperdine to articulate those competencies that distinguish high and low performers across the organization. Technical skills were only one of twenty competencies that were identified, and of the twenty, strong technical skills correlated only with a limited, order-taking role and were not sufficient for success when engaging others outside the IT organization. Competencies such as building relationships, business enterprise knowledge, and change advocacy were the attributes that are more important. This is the point of “Technical Skills No Longer Matter.”

Second, the nature of the world has dramatically changed. Because of the power of Internet-based, collaborative technologies and social networks, we have entered an era where individuals no longer need to depend on institutions or organizations for information, for resources, or even for things as simple as basic IT services. The nature of the world has shifted from one of “one to many” hierarchical relationships to one of “many to many” flat relationships. This has huge ramifications for communication and collaboration, and it’s how a group of loosely organized dissidents recently toppled a thirty-year-old dictatorship in Egypt. If you are an IT organization, this means that end users who used to depend solely on you are now choosers in their own right, who are free to select from a myriad of cloud-based alternatives to your services. Traditional notions of hierarchy, authority, and control go out the window. As mentioned in part 1, leadership becomes more about convening conversations and equipping individuals to participate in the discussion, as opposed to making decisions or performing a gatekeeping function.

So, how must IT organizations change in order to be successful in this new world?

The choice is either to perform up the IT value curve or to face a future of diminishing returns. Separating tactical and thought leadership regarding IT is a mistake because it limits the potential of technology across the enterprise. Every institution has an organization that it looks to for advice, counsel, and thought leadership when it comes to the effective use of technology. Is the IT organization demonstrating the competencies above and beyond technical skills necessary for credible performance of this role? Organizations whose performance is limited to a transactional role are left out of important discussions regarding technology and are more apt to bear the burden of expense reduction efforts in difficult economic times.

The trains must run on time. Nothing is more important for building and sustaining an IT organization’s credibility than their reputation for consistent, reliable, and responsive IT services. However, most organizations define consistency, reliability, and responsiveness in a technology centric way that most end users find alienating. These concepts must be defined from the perspective of those outside the IT organization; our traditional IT notions of these concepts must change. Assessment tools such as those from the Higher Education TechQual+ Project can help you ascertain what your end user community really thinks about your services.

Strategic planning is incredibly important. In a world of limited resources, deciding what not to do is the most important decision IT organizations can make. Effective assessment and strategic planning practices helps to ensure that limited resources are devoted to projects that have significant and tangible benefits, while also helping to ensure that the IT organization avoids a recurring cycle of over commitment and underperformance that destroys organizational credibility. Setting priorities is a must.

IT organizations that successfully demonstrate competencies above and beyond technical skills, who are able to ensure that IT services perform consistently, reliably, and responsively from an end user point of view, and who regularly engage in a cycle of assessment, reflection, and strategic planning, are ones who are able to credibly convene conversations that go to the heart of the institutional mission. That is the challenge of technology advocacy and evangelism.

1 comment:

  1. Breda Burke-RichardsApril 24, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    Great article... you raised several critical points... points that badly needed to be raised, bravo... I will refer your article to other sites who could benefit from IT 'evangelism'!