Written by Debbie Karcher
This article discusses the resource and expertise deficit that school districts’ Information Technology (IT) organizations face today. It suggests that IT organizations adopt a One-Time Resource Model that uses contracted expertise to fulfill a single need or requirement. As a former Chief Information Officer from 2000 to 2018, I was fortunate enough to experience the technological advances that ultimately moved the teacher from the front of the classroom to models that include project-based learning, online learning, and flipped learning. IT was usually trying to catch-up to meet the technological requirements of these new pedagogies such as providing wi-fi in every classroom, supporting 1:1 computing, and insuring a stable internet. At the same time, IT was also charged with managing and implementing business systems, portals, dashboards, and maintaining a safe learning environment. It wasn’t long until districts required employees who had expertise in many new IT disciplines that included data and project governance, web development, identification and access management, data stores and interfaces, data security, and new programming languages.
As all these new IT initiatives were being implemented districts experienced reduced budgets and central administration positions were eliminated or not filled leaving large gaps in existing and future support areas. Many employees found themselves supporting multiple systems, users, and infrastructures with little knowledge and training to accommodate the lost positions. Then, when districts could recruit and hire new employees and these new employees become experienced, they were often recruited for higher salaries and promotions. Overtime, IT employees’ goals become less about innovation and development and more about maintaining legacy systems. And without the infusion of new people and ideals the IT unit becomes less capable of responding to new technology and internal requests.
While IT is trying to maintain systems and operations other areas of the organization are moving forward with their initiatives that also require IT’s support. Just in the last year we have seen initiatives that focus on school safety and cyber security. Many of the school safety initiatives include either infrastructure enhancements and/or systems integration. The district’s IT could be tasked with developing a cybersecurity strategy or plan. Deciding the approach to either of these important areas, using existing resources, would either add to an employee’s workload, reprioritizing of projects, or incomplete and fragmented implementations. And it is doubtful whether the expertise is even available to create a strategy or plan!
As much as I support the hiring of new employees and the creation of job descriptions to keep up with technological changes I recommend the One-Time Resource Model to manage new projects. Continuing with the cybersecurity example a district could very quickly implement a strategy if they choose to purchase the skill sets needed to create a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat (SWOT) analysis of the current cybersecurity environment followed by a rapid development of the cybersecurity strategy. Once the strategy or framework is put in place the district could choose to use the same external resource to perform the change management function of this new strategy until it is institutionalized, and the knowledge transfer and ownership is moved to someone in the organization.
This model has several advantages. By hiring an organization like Worldgate that does this work on a regular basis and understands the K-12 organization districts receive resources with current knowledge and expertise. Worldgate can quickly evaluate an organization’s needs because this is their core business and they have access to resources in several disciplines such as systems development, change management, and training. They have templates and examples they have used before, so resources are not spent reinventing the wheel but using a wheel that has been developed and improved with each engagement.
Having a third party evaluate the organization allows for an objective analysis that is not political nor personal. The final report and recommendations are based on evidence and information collected, analysis of the current environment, cost, and industry best practices. As a second phase, this recommendation can be followed and implemented by the same external organization, but this is not a requirement. The SWOT should provide a detailed blueprint so that the district’s project owner could implement the recommendations.
However, the benefit of having the third party implement some or all the recommendations is this resource can support the organization and enforce the new procedures objectively. Changing the cybersecurity culture requires training, new policies, and consequences when the polices are violated. Internal staff could risk jeopardizing relationships as they become the enforcer. As the new strategy is institutionalized, as a final step, the external resource can be used to train the owner of the new cybersecurity responsibilities. If there is a need for the group to return because of personnel losses or changes to the laws, infrastructure, or technology, they already know the systems, policies and procedures.
The term One-Time Resource Model is used because the SWOT and change management are only needed once. There is not any need to hire employee(s) who are expert in these areas who demand high salaries, and who will become a reoccurring cost. The analysis of current state, development and implementation of the cybersecurity strategy and framework does not have to be repeated if, after implementing, the plan is maintained and supported by the owner of the cybersecurity framework.