No longer the 'department of NO': Shedding the bad reputation of higher ed IT

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As a chief information officer at Palm Beach State College, and as CIO at a different college before that, I understood why people thought of information technology departments not as “I-T” but as “N-O” — the Department of NO.

It’s what people expected to hear from us.

“No, we can’t do that.”

“No, I have no idea when it will be done.”

“No, I’m not sure why it’s taking so long.”

But thanks to a new approach and some new tools, I’m starting to spell it K-N-O-W. And I think we should think of it accordingly.

After all, if we’re in the information business, we should have it and we should be able to share it. When you think about it, sharing information is the core competency of information technology. Or at least it should be. And at Palm Beach State, that’s what we’re making it.

We started by bringing in TeamDynamix, an experienced IT, project and workforce management partner who understands the unique dynamics of higher education institutions. Together we built a plan and a custom system that is transforming IT and project management into a premier self-help, self-solve platform and efficiency engine for our entire campus.

That starts with search criteria and articles that are custom designed and written for our system and our school. We want those we serve to understand the information or technology challenges they are facing and, where possible, resolve those issues personally.

While that self-service approach may not work in every setting, our investment in it has not only increased user satisfaction but reduced the number of help requests entering our system. Reducing the overall volume of help requests has, naturally, increased our ability to efficiently leverage resources against more complex and challenging cases and invest in not only making longer-range goals but fulfilling them.

Being more efficient in how we plan for and distribute our limited resources to those we serve, while important and worthwhile on its own, was not the only goal of our IT transition. And it has not been the only benefit.

Our new system and mindset allow us to examine our internal operations in ways that were previously impossible because we now have data we simply did not know existed. With real-time, detailed and customizable data, we can design unique management solutions to deploy on different types of projects. We can, for the first, time show school leaders in other departments or in the administration how we use our existing resources and exactly why we need new or different ones.

This platform allows us to have an IT asset inventory system — that can be expanded to include all college assets, not just IT assets. These are managed through an integrated bar code system that lets us coordinate and plan projects with other departments such as facilities, media services and others. The ability to know what’s happening, plan for it, coordinate and manage our resources and share that information with others has been a big shift in how we do our business and meet the expectations of our colleagues, students and administrators.

And people are noticing. Our experience in IT and the overall, campus-wide response to the new tools has been overwhelmingly positive, so much so that other departments are asking about using TeamDynamix for their project and resource management needs.

Marketing, HR, institutional research, facilities and other departments can easily launch their own custom management and tracking systems — fully coordinated with and connected to a central portal, of course. As that happens, everyone at Palm Beach State will have even more information about what we’re doing, how well we’re doing it and how we can deliver better quality, faster service and harvest clear data all in one place and all at the same time. That goal is what I call one platform, one campus, one approach.

It won’t come all at once or without some predictable and expected bumps — few transitions of this scale do. And because you can’t take good advantage of a tool unless you really know how to use it, one approach will require some education, too. We’ll have to learn how these new management tools work to be able to harness their power to improve what we do or imagine new ways to fulfill our missions.

It’s no coincidence that we’re doing essentially the same thing with our current IT service users — helping them get the most out of their tools by investing in becoming their solution-focused education provider.

It requires more than fixing a problem when someone asks for help. Doing it right requires having a partner in the education industry who understands that education is their business. Everyone on every campus, regardless of why they are there, should insist on that from every department. And every department at every school should expect no less of those who help us make that possible.

When it happens, we do more than change “no” to “yes,” we change “no” to “know.” And since we’re literally in the education business, that’s exactly what we should be doing.

Kenneth Libutti is the chief information officer of Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Florida. Prior to joining Palm Beach State, he worked in the IT department at Broward College for 17 years.

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