Monday, November 14, 2011

Part 2 - Seek out new life and new civilizations.

(This is part 2 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.)

For IT folks, the Star Trek rule "seek out new life and new civilizations" means there are always new technologies available, so experiment, play, and learn from them.

A great example of this rule was the “Click-to-Call” project at my university. One of our Network leaders, Diane, came to me one day with what appeared to be a crazy idea. The concept was a web-page hyper-link enabling anyone, anywhere to phone anybody at the university for free from a web-attached computer. We struggled a lot with the idea because it seemed to be kind of far-fetched at the time. But we liked to foster a culture of innovation, so we piloted it, tested it extensively, talked to our clients about its potential uses, and 6 months later we became the first university in the world to implement Diane’s crazy idea.

What made this new idea so interesting was its impact on four areas of our business:

  1. We were able to put an instant phone link on our Admissions web page. Foreign students and parents could call the university for free to get information. So this tool can help grow enrolment.
  2. Researchers could telephone their colleagues at our university for no cost. So this tool supported the University in its strategic mission to become a research-intensive institution
  3. Looking up phone numbers on our Directory web page led to click-to-call instead of reading, jotting down the number then dialling ... then realizing you made an error and dialling again! The new capability simply improved the efficiency of our institution.
  4. Email tag lines made it easier to return messages with a quick person-to-person call. I had this link to my phone embedded in my email signature. I quite often got calls through this mechanism from folks who were travelling and didn't want to use a hotel phone or incur cell phone roaming charges.

At my university we learned a lot from this Star Trek rule. Our primary discovery was that there is huge business value in seeking out new life and new civilizations; or in other words, always be on the lookout for new opportunities and nothing is crazy if it saves money and works.

Now I have to admit, I’ve noticed one drawback to this system. I had one caller who tried to phone me without a microphone and speaker on their computer. Nothing is perfect and never ignore the human element!


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