What makes an Effective Technology Committee in Education

NOTE:  I adapted this work from a Tech Planning Model from a Law Firm for use in an education setting.  The link broke where I referenced this and I haven’t yet found it again.  If someone sees something similar let me know as the core idea certainly isn’t mine. 

Working as chair of the technology committee at Casper College makes my third go around as the chair of the technology committee at an institution of higher education. Working in the chair capacity and with technology committees at other institutions (K12 & higher ed) in the role of a observer/consultant I have  seen large committee and small committees operate at differing levels of effectiveness.    My experience in working effectively with a campus technology committee is it can be a positive experience and technology projects which have been most successful, are those which have been endorsed and driven by an institutional Technology Committee.    IT directors usually describe the transition of major enterprise systems in not so flattering terms.  However, it is possible to make this a relatively pleasant experience.  My favorite example of this was the successfully transition from WebCT to Moodle(a major enterprise system) at my previous intuition. This was in large part because of a really engaged technology committee participating in all phases of the process : brainstorming, research, evaluation, testing, piloting, training, conversion, and most importantly communicating with each other and the larger campus community.   There is not just one standardized formula for making a technology committee successful.  There are simply too many personalities, expectations, technology “crises” and other issues to state that this model or that model will work in a given situation.    Flexibility and a willingness to work are the key factors for membership on a given technology committee.  A few things to keep in mind:

  1. All ideas are good.  There are no stupid questions.
  2. It’s easy to be conservative and stay years behind the technology curve
  3. Watch each others technological back.  Lean on each other for consolidation of knowledge about information technologies.  There is simply too much out there for any one person to be able to filter.   
  4. Technology is often one of the largest expenditures at a college and seems to be one of the least controllable costs for an institution.  
  5. Technology suffers from “acronyminitis” explain acronyms when possible
  6. Technology often becomes one of the least understandable issues on campus
  7. Technology is a mission critical component at every level of the institution. Everyone is almost totally dependent on computers. So technology is a management issue. Technical considerations should yield to management goals and expectations.
  8. There is infinitely more technology available than the IT department has time or resources to make available to the institution. As such, there always seems to be an extensive backlog of projects.
  9. The “consumerization of technologies make the previous issue even more challenging with an ever swelling array of tools and concepts to filter through.

An amazing trend

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nNe8BbXDj8

There are a lot of benefits to a smoothly running committee. For the CTO/ IT director, and the institutional administrators, the committee is a useful way to help channel the many demands for IT products and resources. A well run technology committee is an effective liaison between the user community and the IT department. The technology committee can explain and define the user community’s requirements to the IT staff. A good technology committee understands the role of the IT staff and can effectively explain IT potentials and issues to the institution. Finally the technology committee can see to it that the IT department receives the credit it deserves for a job well done.

There are a number of possible functions of a technology committee. Among them are to:

  1. Review and endorse strategic technology strategic plans.
  2. Advise as to the appropriateness of the technology plan to the overall campus strategic plan
  3. Provide input on utilization of institutional financial resources for technology.
  4. Work with the IT management to establish institutional priorities and update the strategic plan regularly.
  5. Review and endorse technology annual budgets.
  6. Develop, review and approve technology policies (not procedures).
  7. Review and endorse major technology projects/initiatives
  8. Provide input on business requirements for technology initiatives (let the IT staff find products to meet those requirements).
  9. Review and approve major technology decisions (e.g., the selection of a new ERP system).
  10. Review and approve plans for major technology projects.
  11. Have oversight responsibility for the user-related aspects of major technology projects – including user involvement in requirements, roll-out planning, acceptance testing and service level agreements.
  12. Set priorities and adjust as necessary (always considering opportunity costs on time, staff and money).
  13. Be informed of the status on major projects and major project changes.
  14. Communicate technology issues they should be addressed to IT management and administration.  the management of the institution (problems that they are aware of, issues that they believe should be addressed).
  15. Support technology management with administration.

Note that all of these responsibilities assume that the committee will work at a reasonably high level. The committee exists to represent the end-user community on campus.  So a good technology committee limits itself to defining and prioritizing IT requirements (for products and services), setting IT related policies, and providing general oversight for the technology functions in the institution.

The technology committee does not directly manage the IT department. The effective technology committee does not engage in a lot of “day-to-day” activities. Among the activities which the technology committee should avoid are:

  1.      Setting technology procedures. The committee sets policies. They do not define the procedures to implement policies.
  2.      Making specific hardware decisions(input is reasonable). Extended discussions on specific PC brands and features are a sure sign that the committee needs to rethink its role.
  3.      Reviewing technology staffing decisions (except the lead position). Leave it up to the IT director to run the department.
  4.      Managing the specifics of technology projects.
  5.      Approving purchases for previously budgeted items.
  6.      Acting as the Help Desk. They should not involve themselves in “day-to-day” IT questions and problems.
  7.      The technology committee is not the first level escalation path for IT problems. This should be left to the IT department.

The composition of the technology committee should not necessarily be filled with “uber” geeks, should not assume that younger employees, since they use computers all the time must somehow magically know how to deal with tech issues and must not be fill with members who are the biggest complainers as a way to appease them with a thought process which says since they are included they can at least be heard and if not then its their own fault.   All of these strategies are almost sure to lead to failure. They indicate a failure to properly understand the role of the committee. Consider some of the attributes of the successful committee members:

  1. They put student learning and success above all else in technology recomendations
  2. They understand the role of technology in the strategic direction of the institution. This implies that they have some understanding of the institution’s strategic plan. This, in turn implies that there is a strong link between the technology committee and the institution’s management committee. Good practice suggests that at least one member of the technology committee also serve on the institution’s highest executive committee/council.
  3. They appreciate the use of technology in the institution; they likely use the technology themselves; but they are not necessarily the interested in having “the most” or “the latest and greatest” or “the first.”
  4. They represent and can speak for the interests of the end-user community – administration, faculty, staff and students. This implies that they have some engagement and /or tenure with the institution and are well respected by others in the end-user community.
  5. They have enough vision to appreciate how technology may help the institution achieve its strategic goals. On the other hand, they are not “technological visionaries” – they understand that technology only works within the cultural confines set by the institution. They know that simply adding new technology for the sake of adding technology does not result in worthwhile change.

There are a lot of advantages to having the membership consist of those with similar backgrounds and management interests. However, the defining mark for technology and its use in any institution is set by the students. Their needs must be met first.

Few faculty understand or appreciate technology from the perspective of the secretaries. Few administrators understand or appreciate technology from the perspective of the IT staff.   Few IT staff  understand or appreciate technology from the perspective of the the physical plant.  Few college employees understand or appreciate technology from the perspective of the student.   The higher education technology committee must have connections to the entire institution. Technology committees come in various sizes. But every group, no matter how large, must have champions who will represent the needs of their particular area.  

Our Challenges:

  1. Our biggest challenge is to not give ourselves off target affirmation that we have done our job well if we do not add value to the strategic plans mission and vision of the institution.
  2. To communicate with those who do not have the enthusiasm we may  have for all things technical.  Geek talk and Acronyms must be translated so the end user can benefit from our efforts.
  3. Embrace the power of consumer oriented tools when appropriate (blog, Twitter etc)
  4. Using technology to stabilize costs, increase revenue and stop rising tuition
  5. That which we always thought is stable…may not be.
An amazing trend

newspaperdeathwatch.com

 

  1. The Human Side: Working with people to develop a shared vision, being an effective communicator, marketer internally, relationship manager, developer of human capitol, partnership builder
  2. To accept failure…but fail quickly and cheaply as possible and move on.
  3. Hiring nice, smart adaptable, non-risk adverse people  
  4. Cloud computing enables end users to gain access to tools and technologies which allows end users to solve their own IT issues.
  5. To not over “Technify” technical solutions as well as solutions that don’t need technology
  6. Aligning IT goals with Presidential and Institutional Goals ( recent literature indicates they more often than not do not match, see below)
Educause 2011 Top IT List

(IT Leader Perspective on What IT Issues are most important)

Inside Higher Ed 2011

(Presidential Perspective on the Effectiveness of Campus Investments in IT)

1.   Funding IT

2.   Administrative/ERP/Information Systems

3.   Teaching and Learning with Technology

4.   Security

5.   Mobile Technologies

6.  Agility/ Adaptability/Responsiveness

7.   Governance, Portfolio/Project

Management

8.  Infrastructure/Cyber infrastructure

9.   Disaster Recovery / Business Continuity

10.  Strategic Planning

1.       Online/ Distance Ed Courses & Programs

2.       On-campus teaching and instruction

3.       Library resources and services

4.       Administrative Info Systems & Operations

5.       Data Analysis and Managerial Analytics

6.       Academic Support Services

7.       Student Resources and Services

8.       Student Recruitment

9.       Research and Scholarship & Development efforts

10.   Alumni activities / Engagement


The group should meet regularly—at least monthly and sometimes more often on projects which will have a major impact on the institution.  A formal (regular) agenda should be set for each meeting. Notes should be kept, action items formulated and reported on at subsequent meetings. The IT committee chair should have responsibility for organizing the meetings and for follow-up as required.

Finally, it takes time for a good technology committee to learn to work together. It takes a long time to learn enough about technology and its application in the law institution. Since technology cuts across every area of the institution, technology committee members must be allowed the time to learn about the issues and concerns in every area of the institution (including the administrative areas). Don’t expect results overnight. Practice and patience will bring rewards.

 

Background Reading

Anderson, Larry, and John Perry. “Technology Planning: Recipe for Success.” National Center for Technology Planning. National Center for Technology Planning,Mississippi State University, Mar. 1994. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.nctp.com/tp.recipe.html>.

Brooks, Kent. “A Great Big Pile of Perspective and The Current Challenges Facing IT in the Educational Environment Part 1 – Kentbrooks.” Kentbrooks – I Was Just Thinking. KentBrooks.com, 22 June 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://kentbrooks.ning.com/profiles/blogs/a-great-big-pile-of>.

Green, Kenneth. “Presidents Confront Technology | Inside Higher Ed.” Inside Higher Ed | Higher Education News, Career Advice, Events and Jobs. 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/digital_tweed/presidents_confront_technology>.

Ingerman, Bret, and Catherine Yang. “Top-Ten IT Issues, 2010.” EDUCAUSE Review, Vol. 45, No. 3 (May/June 2010): 46-60. Educause, May 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2011. <http://www.educause.edu/EDUCAUSE+Review/EDUCAUSEReviewMagazineVolume45/TopTenITIssues2010/205503>.

Koester, Jolene. “Information Technology and Tomorrow’s University.” Http://net.educause.edu/. Educause, Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM1111.pdf>.

Lederman, Doug. “Perspectives on the Downturn: A Survey of Presidents | Inside Higher Ed.” Inside Higher Ed | Higher Education News, Career Advice, Events and Jobs. Inside, 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.insidehighered.com/news/survey/perspectives-downturn-survey-presidents>.

Reilly, Rob. “The Technology Committee: Building a Foundation for Assessment.” Information Today, Inc. The Net Works. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.infotoday.com/mmschools/mar02/reilly.htm>.

Wiley, Sandra L. “Building a Successful Technology Team.” MACPA – Maryland Association of CPAs | For the Maryland CPA. Maryland Association of CPA’s. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://www.macpa.org/Content/22021.aspx>.

“Technology Planning in Transition.” Criu.org. Web. 20 Jan. 2012. <http://csriu.org/onlinedocs/pdf/techplanning.pdf>.

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