Thursday, March 5, 2015

As I See It: #7 on Providing User Support in 'The New Normal', 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced last fall at the Educause conference in Orlando and officially released in January to the public [http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/research/top-10-it-issues]. This entry is my seventh in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #7: Providing user support in the new normal—mobile, online education, cloud, and BYOD environments.

On the path to my first college degree, I took breaks now and then to 'experience life'. On my final break prior to earning my B.A. in Communication (technology, who knew?), I worked for a bit at the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas, TX. Certainly a wild time, but a pervasively transformative time for me as well. The Hard Rock spirit and mantra truly stuck. Throughout my career, all levels, all times and all situations, the 'Love All, Serve All' spirit prevailed and continues to prevail.

For anyone that knows me, it is immediately apparent that user experience is my 'sweet spot'. I get the majority of my enthusiasm for technology from knowing how impactful technology should be to the user. Any user. All users. Yes this topic is on 'user support' and not necessarily 'user service', however the two are intertwined.

User support begins from the 'glimmer in the eye' point. As we are identifying need and conceptualizing solution, the support aspect should be ingrained throughout.

Example: We need to implement a virtual desktop environment to facilitate stronger classroom support while offsetting student responsibility for high-cost, specialized software fees. Great plan. How are we going to support that? 
  • If you remove the installation of specialized software on the student device, the accessibility ownership no longer resides with the device. 
  • If you remove requiring the student to visit a particular campus computer lab to access the specialized software, you remove both the boundary/location of support and the established supported device. 
Discussions about support should occur before the solution delivery stage because it can oftentimes streamline the decision process itself. 

So from the example above, the bullet-points tell me that we can go one of two ways: build the solution on campus or choose a hosted solution. As this ties directly in to coursework, we want 24/7 access and support. Can I staff for that? Do I want to staff for that? Do I want to invest significant dollars in the hardware to initially build then continuously improve an environment sure to rapidly change? Do I want to secure budget going to staff and materials to support this offering or would I prefer my staff focus on more strategic, innovative directions and outsource the service altogether? Can a hosted solution provide better 24/7 support for their product at all tier-levels than I can provide at the same price-point?

In the end, we chose to hit the cloud for this. Guaranteed up-time, competitive contract term, solid technology, and better support than I could build in-house at a reasonable cost. I can mark this one complete (for now), the service and support is great and the delivery is absolutely agile and nimble, enabling responsiveness should needs change within the next year.

Support for technology should be a part of every level of discussion. As we all know, technology is only as successful as the act of using it, which relies on support.

Part of the vision statement for Information Technology Services (ITS) at Fairfield University states:  
We envision a future in which Fairfield University's dynamic living and learning communities have limitless access to individualized information, unfettered by reliability issues, distance and choice of device.
Well, that future is now. 99% of our students BYOD, over 60% of our campus rely on Mac over PC,  we are 60-70% in the cloud, our students print wirelessly from whatever device they choose to a multitude of printing kiosks placed across campus. In response to this landscape, we've relocated our Help Desk (ITS4U) - yes picked it up and placed it - from the ITS building to smack-dab in the middle of the campus on the main floor of the DiMenna-Nyselius Library. We've improved our online knowledge-base resulting in significantly decreasing numbers of help tickets, while our help ticket turnaround time has decreased thanks to improved responsiveness. We support and our campus knows it.

It can't be stated enough - support as a priority directly impacts efficacy of technology. If there are any lingering old-school thoughts of, 'Well I don't need to support THAT...' - wipe that out of your mind. Yes you do. Because: IoT. The Internet of Everything is here to stay. If it isn't one device it's another and as technology department team members - it's love all, serve all time. Not if but when something new pops up, if you aren't looking at this as an opportunity to learn something new you might be in the wrong field.

User support in 'the new normal' is what user support should always be - targeted, comprehensive and responsive support to your user devoid of limitation to environment. It's better to say, 'I'm not sure let me figure this out' over 'We don't support that'. Every time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

As I See It: #6 on IT Organization's Management of Change, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced last fall at the Educause conference in Orlando and officially released recently to the public [http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/research/top-10-it-issues]. This entry is my sixth in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #6: Increasing the IT organization's capacity for managing change, despite differing community needs, priorities, and abilities.

Once again we come back to the importance of building relationships and practicing transparency. Change is happening and if you're not managing it, it's managing you. Especially in the IT arena.
  1. Hopefully by now all in our career path have set reasonable expectations about change - that it's happening, that it will continue to happen and that we can be relied on to smooth the transitions to innovation, every time, in every situation.
  2. Is your governance structure working for you? Strong 'administrative technology' and 'academic technology' committees are oftentimes your very best friend as it pertains to defining priority for IT efforts. Why? Having representatives from across campus - this includes administration (academic, too!), faculty, students - identify needs and collaboratively prioritize projects eliminates the perception that we in IT define and rule. We conceptualize, we plan, we test and we execute - we don't need the additional load of 'prioritizing need' across an entire campus of differing levels of need. Let the owners reach consensus on what's the most important, second most important and so on.
  3. How's your staff handling the pace of change? For years the IT department staff lurked in basements, only seen when issues bubbled up. For the longest time, a main attractor for an IT job was peace, quiet and coding. No more. Technology now requires interaction and communication, integration and interoperability, and responsive service to the friendliest degree. Our 'customer' now knows what to expect performance-wise. They've experienced excellent technical customer service from their very own homes. Expectations have been set for us - and it's our job to respond. Time for slower-moving staff to pick up the pace and get energized about what's to come. Truly - we are only as strong as our weakest link. One IT rep displays complacence stymies everyone's best effort. Adapt. Respond. Enjoy the ride!
 Meet with your team members. Find their areas of interest and expertise. Envision a morphing department and be agile enough to match talent with new positions. If this particular feature of IT doesn't excite you - change - it should by now because: Grumpy Cat.


And for more information...

The EDUCAUSE 2015 Top 10 IT Issues

Monday, November 17, 2014

As I See It: #5 on the Business Value of IT, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced recently at the Educause conference in Orlando. This entry is my fifth in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues. (Halfway mark - hurray!)

Issue #5: Demonstrating the business value of IT and how IT can help the institution achieve its goals

Well this is an easy one, right? Technology departments have made the not-too-far leap from utilitarian to omnipresent within the past decade, most notably within the past few years. We've always had that slant, but as innovative leaders enter the playing field and the focus on data and process as it pertains to efficiency increases, our integrative and immersive nature has naturally bubbled to the surface.
  • Back office operations piling up? Improve your workflows.
  • Need more project collaboration? Document management.
  • Too much focus on administrative, too little on strategy? Automate.
  • Not getting the reports you need to justify expendtiures? Analytics. 
  • More mobile, less wired? Infrastructure, bandwidth, wireless.
There are endless similar examples with the bottom line being - technology.

I'm going to break this down; where we were (past) and where we need to be (at the latest, today) and where we're going (tomorrow).

IT 1.0: Historically, no one liked IT. Interacting with the IT department ranked up there with dental work. We were the nerds in the back rooms, scurrying in the walls and raised floors, wiring and perspiring. When we were invited to meetings, we didn't quite consider our audience in our communication style. There were acronyms, undecipherable tech-speak and way more detail than anyone at the table needed to be privy to. We kept things running, kept systems patched and updated, you likely only saw us or heard from us when something was down or you purchased new equipment. And that was fine. In fact, chances are it was fine from both sides.

Like any good technology, as a team we recognized our strengths and our weaknesses and pushed forward in the next version to improve both.

IT 2.0: So we evolved. IT still keeps everything running. Granted we're also pushing services/systems to the cloud with even higher up-times. More is seamless, integrated, multifunctional, intuitive. Despite the persistently fast pace of technology change, our IT department/personal presence is actually the largest improvement over the past few years. Decades of mistrust and awkward conversations took their toll pushing us to break down walls and strive for business relationships within our own institutions/companies. We discovered technology improvement could only work if we actively participated in the planning as well as the implementation through results-gathering. We knew the power of technology but recognized pretty quickly (and by quickly I mean over 2 decades) that the only thing that scared people more than technology was the needed change to implement technology. We have been forced to build trust, collaborate and - guess what? Suddenly IT is oftentimes the frontrunner in collaboration. Suddenly, we are immersive and without walls/boundaries and that has unleashed a certain power and presence that matches the scope of technology - immersive, omnipresent. Who knew?

Build trust - check. Build relationships - check. Eliminate the fear from technology - check. Add value - check.

IT 3.0: So what's next? Sounds trite but more of the same. The shocked face and surprised satisfaction after a particularly pleasing and helpful IT interaction will only continue. We recognize our value and the majority of us (dare I say 'all') are all about service and adding measurable value. The future IT will be more present, more engaged and more part of the plan. Every plan. IT within the next several years will have infiltrated all facets of any business environment because we do add value. The key is in the delivery. Through effective marketing and thoughtful, consistent communication in conjunction with a helpful but strong presence, technology IS business in the near and foreseeable future.

So how can we demonstrate the business value of IT? Find a time-intensive process or task and simplify it. Find a cumbersome procedure and cut it down by 80%. These acts are often easily accommodated by technology already owned and deployed. It's simply about identifying the process and bringing teams together to discuses the end goal. Technology facilitates better process.
 
As an aside, here is a book I highly recommend: http://www.gartner.com/it/products/research/media_products/REAL_IT/home.jsp. Written by Richard Hunter and George Westerman, it translates the current environment really well and offers a thoroughly doable path to selling technology value to even the most technically-weak-at-heart.

Friday, November 7, 2014

As I See It: #4 on Student Outcomes, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced recently at the Educause conference in Orlando. This entry is my fourth in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #4: Improving student outcomes through an institutional approach that strategically leverages technology

Student outcomes is defined as referring "to either (1) the desired learning objectives or standards that schools and teachers want students to achieve, or (2) the educational, societal, and life effects that result from students being educated. In the first case, student outcomes are the intended goals of a course, program, or learning experience; in the second case, student outcomes are the actual results that students either achieve or fail to achieve during their education or later on in life."[http://edglossary.org/student-outcomes/]

In simpler terms, I tend to link student outcomes to the success of the whole student - in life, in practice, in work. How well do we throughout a student's educational career prepare them for their life post-graduation? How exactly can an institutional approach using technology improve a student's educational experience through life preparedness?

Technology is pervasive. It encompasses every moment in our lives whether we see it or not. The extent of impact ties directly in with adoption, adapting, embracing. For some, technology is viewed as a threat. It's your job to educate these individuals on the benefits of technology and the impactful use of technology to help allay the fear. For others, technology is viewed as an irritant. Sure it's always there, but rather than glare at it, find a way (or ways) to integrate technology in a useful way into your life and/or classroom. For most, I hope, technology is embraced as a wonderful facilitator for process improvement and time savings. Here are just a few examples on how to impact student outcomes through the use of technology:

  1. Increase communication/feedback between student and faculty. It is common for an LMS system to offer a variety of ways to enhance communication between the teacher and the taught. Masking personal contact numbers/information yet allowing text-like functionality empowers faculty to send messages and students to receive them via their preferred device(s). A learner's engagement is tied directly to consistent feedback. "When appropriately timed, constructive and encouraging feedback supports student learning, can motivate students to do their best, and helps to instill an ethic of continuous improvement." [http://concordiacollege.edu/files/resources/whatfacultycando.pdf] Find out what your LMS is capable of doing for you and use the tools provided. If you need help, contact your technology department.
  2. Increase student engagement on campus, especially during their first-year experience. Track the 'first-year' events and non-academic participation to ensure that engagement opportunities aren't being missed or ignored. At Fairfield University, we've implemented OrgSync to most effectively track student participation in activities outside the classroom. Why? "Participating in high-impact activities such as learning communities early in college can launch students on a trajectory of achievement that benefits them both in college and beyond." [https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/what-student-engagement-data-tell-us-about-college-readiness] Make sure that your campus activities are targeted and substantial, then track student participation and be aware of 'early warning signs' via non-participation. Can you tie this into a requirement? Even better.
  3. The path to graduation. From core curriculum through defining major and advising (and perchance major changing), a student needs to play a pivotal role in their educational path and feel like a participant every step of the way. A software like DegreeWorks provides faculty access to their advisee data, a student access to their current path and a variety of what-if scenarios - what if I want to change my major?, what if I take this course instead of that course?, what if I get a C in this class, how will that impact my GPA? DegreeWorks provides an attractive, web-based environment to plan a future. It can help a student avoid taking a class that might negatively impact their planned graduation date. It provides a real-time status on degree completion. It provides a 24/7 feedback environment for students as they make degree choices. 
Technology can be a scary word for some and the root is commonly fear and the unknown. The sooner you empower technology adoption and excitement on your campus, the sooner you can use technology to have a direct and positive impact on student outcomes.  

Always remember, if there is a process, there is a way to improve it via technology. Once you map out your campus processes in full, you can easily identify duplication of efforts and cumbersome lags that oftentimes inhibit student success. Try to ensure that as you consider technology as a solution, you are eliminating complexity in the process and not adding to it. Our students are golden eggs that should be coddled through graduation and beyond. Ensure that their experience is positive and their path seamless.

Monday, November 3, 2014

How to Make Sure Your Team is Suited to 21st-Century Higher Ed

Higher education is on a continuous path of improvement as we all clamor to meet the educational needs of an ever-evolving student base. Fairfield University is no exception. We’ve embarked on a high-energy, campus-wide strategic planning initiative titled “Fairfield 2020: Building a More Sustainable Future.” Like #Fairfield2020, improvement efforts assume all are working as a cohesive unit with a goal of formalizing best practice via strong collaboration. In most cases, a successful operation at its most basic level is a transparent reflection of one thing: its people.

Today’s learners are different, decisions are pondered via metrics and, as the creation of a simple headcount report is no longer considered witchcraft, clearly our users on campus have higher expectations and increased knowledge of how to interact with technology.

Technology itself is all about change. When managed effectively, that change organically results in improvement. An improved process. Additional steps eliminated. Automating a cumbersome, repetitive task. The same is true for change within technology staffing and support. The staffing make-up of a technology department should morph to best reflect and serve current and future need. Let’s face it. Technology itself changes rapidly, so an ever-evolving support system should be expected.

Naturally as a CIO, my industry-focus is technology. We are accustomed to rapid change. But it’s critical for all campus areas to continually focus on staffing structures and talent assessment. The entire higher education climate is continuously evolving and, to remain competitive, your staff needs to as well. Our customers have educated themselves on our areas of expertise. Time previously spent explaining standard process is better used at higher levels of conversation. To quote Daft Punk, we all need to be working Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

From new managers to long-time institutional C-level executives, it’s never too late to get a climate check on your staff and reevaluate structure. It’s also easier than you could ever imagine.

First things first. Think about your department as an integral piece of the business puzzle. Envision beyond the operational (in technology this is up-time, reliability of service, wiring) and bring institutional business–goals, value, mission, finances, products–into the puzzle. The technology department impacts, directly and indirectly, every single facet of the institution’s business. Now look at your organizational structure. How is that structure aligned with driving exceptional impact on the total business? Map it out now. Look at other organizational structures. Look beyond peers. Look at institutions that you want to emulate. I’ve found most leaders are open to sharing ideas on organizational structure and efficiency. So, draft two documents: One, how your organization is aligned today and two, a very rough draft of possible changes to better serve the whole puzzle.

Second, it’s important to know who’s working for you. From a small staff of five to a fleet of five hundred, meet your team members. Set up 15-minute sessions with each employee to reacquaint yourself with the people who can make or break your effectiveness and impact. This time is important. Find out who they are, what they do, what they want to do and what their goals are. Is there a new trend or path that’s piquing their interest? There are many questions to ask, but getting the answers is key. Who’s open to change and who is staunchly anti-change? Who is change-adverse and who just really has a passion for what they’re currently doing? Note: There is a difference. If your staff levels are too high to accommodate one-on-one meetings with each individual, create a quick survey or rely on your management team to fully vet their respective staff and provide an update to you. Speaking of your management team, vet them too.

Finally, here is where the rubber meets the road in defining your agility at strategizing. Now that you have a a full departmental climate check and a total picture of what your department needs to do to align with total business in conjunction with, it’s time to review your rough draft of possible changes. Map it out and plug it in. Becoming proficient in reallocating resources is crucial in this day and age. Restructuring can be a bold move but if you identify areas you would like to improve and document baseline, improvements are easy to see. Don’t keep a leader in leadership simply because they’ve always been there. Don’t impede an entry-level staff member’s future by keeping them in a stagnant position where they exceed expectations if you know in your gut they would excel on an upward path to management. Promote the engaged and effective and try to develop those doing just enough.

When all the puzzle pieces fit together, the effectiveness and efficiency of an institution will exponentially increase. The phrase, “we are only as strong as our weakest link” is so simplistic yet so very accurate in the business of higher education.

Change is not a buzzword. It’s a tangible, direct result of peeling back an onion and finding something that stinks.

At Fairfield University within the past 18 months, the Information Technology Services department has morphed to better serve our campus by splitting apart the support areas and giving each its own “legs.” We’ve eliminated a 20-plus year managed services arrangement for administrative computing (currently boasting substantially improved service, up-time, system usage and more). We’ve reallocated administrative support staff to academic support staff. We’ve repurposed a desktop support position to a help desk support position, and more. All of this shuffling has occurred while concurrently reducing our headcount footprint by three and aggressively cross training support staff on “what’s next” technologies.

Why reorganize and reenergize your staffing structure? Well, because it’s 2014. Today’s needs and climate require it. As expectations and strategies continue to evolve, a team standing still will simply watch progress go by. A responsive, agile, streamlined team is ready for the next change. Trust me. It’s coming.

Originally posted: http://www.evolllution.com/operations_efficiency/team-suited-21st-century-higher-ed/

Monday, October 20, 2014

As I See It: #3 on Funding, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced recently at the Educause conference in Orlando. This entry is my third in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #3: Developing IT funding models that sustain core service, support innovation and facilitate growth
 
For me, this is the big one. The super big one.

Remember when the easiest part of budgeting technology was the operational part? You knew you were going to get to keep your staff. The previous year's operational needs were mostly carried over with slight adjustment for expected annual increases. You must pay utilities, so no cuts to telephony, wiring, and licensing agreements. The big battle oftentimes took place in the 'capital' world. If you had a communicated desktop refresh plan, those dollars were less difficult to attain, but the 'big projects' were the kicker. The inevitable hassle of selling the SAN investment could often be lessened by simply using the phrase 'disaster recovery' in the ask. But remember when innovative meant capital? Trying to drive innovation via large-scale, one-time investments almost always required a heavy rotation of presentations to executive leadership, flanked by consultants, asking for the moon and being content when handed a tiny star. It was something. Remember when that was as tough as it got?

Suddenly (aka #suddenlynotsuddenly) we wake up and the entire need has flip-flopped, but the model is as stoic as a rock.

Suddenly we might need less capital. (Notice I simply said less.)

We thought it was tough to fighting for a large chunk of capital. Try fighting for increased operational.
  • Technology speed outpaces the speed of modeling.
  • We want to build less, and cloud more. Operational.
  • We want to have hosted so less maintenance. Operational.
  • I want my VDI in the cloud becomes less to own/maintain and 24/7 support. Operational.
  • Universities need to focus on efficiencies. 9 times out of 10 the smartest choice is the hosted solution. Operational.
  • Small hosted modules are more agile and responsive than large blocks of in-house software require in-house supported hardware. Operational. 
  • We need more bandwidth. Operational.
  • We need more wireless coverage for our students on campus. Operational.
  • We need more storage for streaming video. In fact, we need a comprehensive storage solution and we don't want to build it on campus. Operational.
  • Our business school wants to be able to communicate via video on a significant basis. It's part of their curriculum. Operational.
Basically, our (our meaning every higher education institution's ) current funding model supports clunky, labor-intensive, and archaic (meaning outdated 5 minutes ago) process. Our current funding models support a world where innovation equals capital. But innovation these days equals 'hosted', 'cloud', 'annual services', '24/7 maintenance' and 'collaborative solutions'.

In finance where budgeting and predictive analytics means, almost literally, the world, how can we be predictive at this pace of technology change? How can we budget when needs and requests continue to comprehensively change? We stick with the model, we stand still technology-wise because you can't fake innovation.

And all the while we still need capital dollars. The 'computer refreshes' of yesterday are the 'storage needs' and 'infrastructure refreshes' of today.

I'm not sure who's going to solve this riddle, but someone (or many someones) need to band together and identify needs first, then culminate a smart approach to address this. Is 'financial innovation' a phrase? If not, it needs to be pretty quick. Higher education has often been viewed in the past as a bit behind 'the corporate world'. We've made some significant headway while corporations have been tied up in legal red-tape over the cloud technologies and security breaches. Once they get that mess untangled, they'll be moving full-steam ahead and I'm thinking their funding models might be a little more agile than higher ed's. As a competitive person, I want US to get ahead of this. First. And with a quickness.

Friday, October 10, 2014

As I See It: #2 on Academic Technology, 2015 Educause Top 10 Issues

The Top 10 Issues of 2015 for higher education technology were announced recently at the Educause conference in Orlando. This entry is my second in a series of ten as I share my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue #2: Optimizing the use of technology in teaching and learning in collaboration with academic leadership, including understanding the appropriate level of technology to use

The first email in my inbox this morning? Coding with the kindergarten crowd [www.eschoolnews.com/2014/10/10/coding-in-kindergarten-653/], an article tying student success to kindergarten use of programming. "Teaching coding in kindergarten helps young students learn important creativity and problem-solving skills that will position them for success as they move through school," says Amanda Strawhacker from Tufts University in the article.

As an IT leader, of course I see the value in technology within the academic realm. Admittedly and quite obviously, I'm biased. It's not uncommon for me to step back and try to view a situation through the lenses of someone not in an technology-related field. With confidence I can state I do this weekly at a minimum. Why? In order to be effective, it's important that I look at technology realistically and remove any barriers that may exist between myself and the academic side of the house in reaching a consensus on the best way to move forward with an initiative.

It has been shown that technology helps engage learners at all ages. It seems as if we're going at this a bit backwards as we should have captured the interest of teachers and professors first. Now students are demanding something that not all faculty are on board with. So now what?

This is where the relationship between your academic technology team, your administrative technology team, your faculty leadership (power users, deans, associate deans) AND your technology leadership becomes really key. If the relationships aren't there, if there's a gap to be bridged, get on it. These relationships are a powerful ally. As a cohesive unit, you should be living and breathing your mission, developing a plan on how technology will help facilitate and drive that mission and setting a course and following it. The more you think about it, the more difficult it's going to be to get started. So just start. Baby steps are a great first step. What are others doing? If you're like me you want to establish attainable goals  that make sense to your institution and in the process just might be better than anyone has ever seen. Have I mentioned I'm competitive? What's the saying, 'Go big or go home'. But don't misunderstand, that doesn't mean go gauche or overboard.

Identify your needs and craft a technology solution that is more powerful than intended with a smaller footprint than ever imagined. Remember when it was cool to have a giant, clunky hunk of technology in the classroom? Yeah, me neither. But apparently that used to be the goal. Streamline your needs, make them mobile/agile/scalable/(insert another buzzword here) but with serious power. Think intuitive, plug-and-play classrooms where a professor can walk in with their personal device of choice, click a button and be 'connected' the the classroom. It's doable. And never forget: every school, college, program has different needs. There is no 'one size fits all' solution.


Never stop with the implementation. Technology selected and installed? Now you're on the never-ending reunion tour - reintroducing, retraining, and reselling this technology in a new way to all faculty that are willing to listen. After all, technology will only get used if it's beneficial and easy. A professor doesn't need to be embarrassed at the front of the classroom by a piece of non-functioning technology.

The value of technology in the classroom I believe is known or minimum 'heard of' by the majority in the academic world. But there's a sweet spot that needs to be hit - where teaching is effortless via the use of the technology, where the delivery vehicle knows its place as the facilitator but not the educator, and where continuous training and learning 'new ways' is comfortable, accessible and beneficial.