Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Law of Diminishing returns as it applies to ICT in schools

Several of my previous posts have focused on how effective and efficient ICT Departments operate in Schools.  This is true if you look at the number of users and most other metrics used by IT.  However, maintaining this efficiency could be a much bigger impact.

I can see that by having very small IT teams, projects are completed.  It's the next stage optimisation, which is invariably under resourced. Optimisation ensures the installation incorporates into the operational practices. There is usually a significant overhead in user coaching; users will not always understand why technology has made it's way into their life.  Over time it will be used.  But to ensure technology is used appropriately and immediately, we need to allocate resources to training users.   Sometimes these resources can be more expensive than the rest of the project.

In addition we don't normally get to complete any standard IT Industry 'best practice' such as bench marking, and stress testing systems or completing full documentation.  This should be built into the project plan but is often the easiest to remove in reducing costs with a plan to do it 'soon' after the project is completed.

Even though the IT part of the project is complete the School really doesn't obtain the full potential advantages of the system.

Is this a critical shortcoming?  No, but it means full value isn't always achieved.  The most difficult part of this scenario is the expenditure to complete these important stages and can often push the cost of the projects out to a point where they're not even actively considered.

As a decision making Manager, what do you do with a shrink wrapped piece of software that looked fantastic in the demonstration?  How do you ensure proper utilisation for some new piece of hardware sitting in a classroom waiting for the teacher to understand how to use it?

We invariably try to get it done but we're not in the position to finalise it in a way we're entirely comfortable with.

The end user application of technology seems to be a management/organisational issue and beyond our scope of authority.

I remember an operations meeting where I was quizzed as to why an enhancement to our School Management System was going to cost so much when we had paid a 'fortune' for the installation and more money each year to maintain it.  The disconcerting part of the conversation was all of the critical records for the School were on this system and the cost was minute when considered against similar software for a Corporate.  This distorted perception of the value of any IT system is part of the challenge faced by the senior IT staff in schools, either Director or Manager.

So what does this mean for us?

Should the IT Manager be the champion selling the value statement to School Management?

I don't believe they can be the champion for every system. It's not sensible for the IT specialist to know exactly what the workflows for every department look like.  However, consultation regarding IT should be highlighted as the best way forward enabling the optimisation of IT to deliver real benefits across all business units.  The business unit can then take real ownership of business based technology project.

This seems like basic business theory doesn't it?  However, from my experience I believe it's not always the case that this methodology is used within schools.