Saturday, November 12, 2011

Part 1 - Non-interference is the Prime Directive.

(This is part 1 in a series of 16 posts about IT leadership in higher education titled Everything I Need to Know about IT Management I Learned from Star Trek. See Part 0 - Introduction for the full list.)

In Star Trek the Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal development of civilizations. To me, that means support and allow multiple computing cultures to grow on campus. In most university environments there is a central IT group and many smaller distributed IT shops.

My advice to the folks in leadership roles in the central IT organization is to compete in your core competencies, and cooperate everywhere else. So what is a core competency? It is a service that you can perform more efficiently than anyone else on campus. Therefore, you focus on what you’re good at and the institution benefits from optimal use of its resources.

As a central group part of your role should be to enable distributed IT organizations to perform localized specialization more efficiently. For example, we introduced a single email, calendaring, and collaboration tool to our campus. This enabled many distributed IT groups to shutdown their standalone independent email systems and move to the central system. Nobody actually reduced headcount. What we did was enable those distributed IT folks to stop worrying about administering email and begin to focus on IT services that directly improved their functional areas. We helped them move up the food chain while at the same time the University benefitted from greater economies of scale and scope of a centralized service.

To help with these types of initiatives we created something called the Campus Systems Council. We hosted a monthly meeting of leading folks from the distributed IT groups across campus where we shared an update on everything the central IT group did. The meeting was a great opportunity to inform them of technology changes. Similarly, they shared their updates with the group too. The meeting becomes a great forum for communication and it helped build trust amongst the various IT tribes across campus.

If you work for a central IT department, don’t interfere with other good IT work on campus. If you want to get involved, look for ways to nurture and support the distributed folks. Non-interference should be your prime directive in areas outside of your core competencies.


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