Category Archives: Technology

Highered IT Leadership Responsibility: Understand Customers/Users

I once read a line related to application development that goes something like this “we (application/web developers) design and build for end-users and we are not the end-users.” One of the biggest mistakes IT folks commit, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this, is designing products and services for ourselves rather than for the end-users. It’s too easy to get caught in this trap of designing for ourselves when we never leave the comfort of the office and do not understand those who will use the systems we build. To build effective systems, IT folks need to understand their end-users, those who will either benefit from the IT products/services provided or unfortunately, will suffer the daily consequences of having to use systems that are either ineffective or inflict physical/mental pains. If you think I’m being over-dramatic with the last sentence, imagine using a system that requires one to have to repetitively use the mouse to scroll up and down web pages hundreds of times a day. After awhile, you’ll develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Or, what about websites that are not responsive and so the width of the page is wider than the size of the screens the users are using which require them to have to scroll sideways to see the entire page. That could be very frustrating, right? How about web sites that are so heavy with graphics that it takes forever to display (yes, there are still folks around the world who are connected to the internet on slow networks) which leads to frustrations? Developers and designers need to keep end-users in mind when building effective applications that satisfy the needs of the end-users.

For higher ed IT leaders (or IT leaders in any industry), the burden of responsibility to understand those they serve and their needs are even higher because when at the leadership level, they are essentially dealing not only with technology but business, organizational, and cultural transformations as well. The quality of service and products provided by IT are influenced and driven by their leaders. Consider the following scenario: an IT leader thinks their organization’s role is to “keep the lights on” and so they pursue a strategy where they don’t pursue innovation and attempts to introduce new ideas, which at times could lead to disruptions in services, are punished. Consider another scenario where an IT leader thinks cloud, social media, and mobile computing are all fads and so he/she tell their staff to ignore these fads since they’re wasteful investments anyway.

The scenarios I described above are unfortunately not hypothetical. From articles, blogs, etc and from my conversations with other IT leaders, there’s a disconnect between IT and the business units when it comes to understanding what the priorities are and/or how services/products are designed. A big part of this disconnect is the lack of understanding when it comes to what business users want and need. Without understanding the business needs and the end-users, IT will use technology to drive the business needs rather than business needs defining what technologies are to be used.

How should IT leaders begin to understand their customers/users and their needs? In higher education, I’ve found several ways to do this:

1) Be part of campus strategic planning processes. When IT leaders gets involved after technology-related decisions have been made, these decisions often have to be re-visited as factors that are only evident to IT folks may not have been considered. IT leaders also need to think like business leaders instead of technologists so they can frame how their organizations can best address business problems and not just use technology for technology’s sake. The efforts of IT organizations must be driven by the missions of their campus and so IT leaders need to understand the missions and priorities of their campus.

2) Understand technology trends. IT leaders are often in no position to be technology experts given their responsibilities as strategists but they should be cognizant of technology trends that impact their campus and higher education in general. For example publications/orgs such as Pew Research, Educause, Gartner, as well as national higher education organizations from time to time have articles on future technology trends and technology use of different demographics. Attend conferences but not only technology conferences. IT leaders also need to go to conferences attended by the functional business users. For example, student affairs IT should attend conferences held by NASPA and ACPA, the two major student affairs organizations as well as conferences for specific functional units like AACRAO for enrollment management departments.

3) Get out of the office and walk around campus. Observe what devices students are using as they will probably be ahead of IT organizations, especially when it comes to consumer products like social media and mobile computing, and the next wave of computing – internet of things.

4) Get on social media. Some IT folks tell me with pride “I am not on social media because it’s a waste of time!” Frankly, I think that’s a misguided way of thinking. IT folks can learn a lot from the network of other technology and business experts/leaders not only in higher education but other industries as well. Personally, I follow the health care industry because of the similarities between that industry and student affairs, specifically the nature of high tech/high touch service must operate.

There are many more ways IT leaders can begin to understand their customers/users and it’s a continuous process. Not only is technology evolving faster than ever but the business challenges/opportunities in higher education driven by the needs of students, economy, and politics are so dynamic and complex that IT leaders cannot afford to be left behind and fail to understand those they serve.

 

Intelligent Students of Tomorrow – A Visual Diagram

The prospect of how students will engage and navigate their campus lives in the next few years is intriguing. The general availability of consumer technologies (social media, cloud, mobile, internet of things wearable computing) coupled with advances in enterprise computing practices (big data and algorithms, security, artificial intelligence (bots), application programming interfaces) can lead to students using technology in new ways we may not have even seen. The image below shows how different technologies can work together for students’ benefits. While I titled it “Intelligent Students of Tomorrow”, the reality is that “tomorrow” is now the present but the scenario presented in the diagram will become more common.

click image above to see pdf

click image above to see pdf

What’s your vision of tomorrow and how students will use technology?

The Quantified Life

bodyMonitor_collage-filtered-1024x800Cloud, mobile, social media, wearable computing, and internet of things are now making it possible for those who see the value of being able to quantify their lives for the sake of improving themselves. Devices and applications that measure financial, health, work, and social activities are readily available today. What I’ve found is that the data themselves don’t create change but they do play in changing one’s behavior. There’s an adage that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and personally, that applies to me. There are elements built into these apps such as timely alerts and gamification which involves rewards and social interactions to encourage positive changes. Of course, whether those using these devices and apps are aware of the security implications, is another topic to be discussed. Wit that said, below is a partial list of apps and devices I’ve personally used as part of a movement called “quantified self.”

  • Automatic driving system. This is a combination of a hardware (car adapter) that is plugged into vehicles and is accompanied with a mobile app to measure driving performance and vehicle diagnostics.
  • Mint mobile app. This app provides financial data and activities that is real-time and easily accessible.
  • Toggl time tracking tool. This app provides the user the ability to track time spent on any activity. Some co-workers have started using this app to analyze where they are spending their time at work. I’ve started using this recently, and I use it mainly to analyze how much time I spend studying as well as physical activities.
  • Fitbit activity tracker. This is a wearable device that tracks activities. It has an accompanying mobile app that can be synched real-time to provide data such as number of steps, as well as reminders of progress towards daily and weekly goals.
  • iWatch. There are many features I like about this new device including notifications of text, emails, etc. A set of features I really like are health related. It has sensors that can measure heartbeat and physical activities like walking. It also has reminders (via haptic feedback) to encourage certain good habits like standing up every hour.
  • Weightwatchers mobile app. This is an app that tracks food intake, activities, and weight. Given a stated weight loss goal, the app provides the user a number of “points” per day. It also has a built-in real-time chat app that provides users access to support so if there are questions about food and activities, a user can easily connect with a staff using the mobile app.

Ultimately, a person has to be motivated to change for these apps to work. I remember a quote from an Anthony Robbins book called “Awakening the Giant Within” which I read way back in the mid-1990s as I was going through a break-up that still sticks to me today. The quote goes something like “A person will only go through change if the prospect of change is so good they’ll want to change or their circumstance is so bad they are forced to change.”

What apps do you use?

Image credit:  http://www.peelapom.com/technology/quantified-self-and-aging/

 

 

My IT Organization’s Guiding Values and Principles

SIST_principlesAn IT organization that can effectively deliver quality service and keep up with the dynamic wants and needs of its customers requires guiding values and principles as foundations upon which it operates.Below are what I shared with my organization at our retreat soon after I became the Acting Executive Director for my IT organization in November 2014.The opportunity to be in this position was certainly unexpected and so the transition was short (one month) and within that time, I had to define and communicate my concepts and vision for our organization.It was my preference that we as an our organization go through a process defining these guiding principles and values, but given the circumstance, several of the staff wanted me to share my own ideas as a starting point for the organization to consider and discuss.Upon discussions, the guiding values and principles were adopted for our organization.

As I’ve been with my organization for more than 15 years, I have a good sense of our culture, our strengths, capabilities, and areas of improvements. I firmly believe that we are a very capable organization proven by what we’ve been able to do and we can continue/improve our delivery of quality solutions and excellent customer service. We have a dedicated, highly knowledgeable and skilled team with strong support from our senior management. It is for these reasons that I strive for the idea that when people think of THE model higher education IT, they think UCSB SIS&T!  

I believe the guiding values and principles of my organization have to be able to stand through time in the midst of ever-changing technology landscapes and dynamic customer services and needs. It is with this mindset that these guiding values and principles were formulated.

Mission:

SIS&T is committed to contributing to the success of UCSB students in their pursuit of learning and with their personal developments by providing current, effective, reliable, and secure information technology delivered through exceptional and professional customer service.

Three Components: PEOPLE, PROCESSES, PHILOSOPHY

PEOPLE:

  • We trust, respect, and value diversity and inclusion of ideas.
  • We strive to develop a sense of community, and worth/values are not defined by our organizational roles and hierarchy.
  • We are committed to helping others – our colleagues, our partners (staff/faculty), and customers (students, parents, community).

PROCESSES:

  • We will define processes and frameworks that add value and effectiveness of our work.
  • We will be disciplined in implementing these processes and frameworks.
  • We will make adjustments to these processes and frameworks as necessary.

PHILOSOPHIES:

    • We are an adaptive and learning organization.
      * Supportive and learning environment
      * Concrete learning processes and practices
      * Leadership that reinforces learning
    • We are customer-focused.
      *People, Objective, Strategy, Technology (POST)
    • We must perform as a team.
      * “Teams win championships” – VC Michael Young

It has been about six months since our retreat and I believe we have made some strides towards our goals to be an even better organization. Here are some of my observations:

– Changing the organizational culture, as I’ve found, takes time and requires leadership to model the behaviors we want to see in our organization. Communicating our guiding values and principles must be done through the leadership’s actions and words and they must be practiced consistently.

– It requires participation/contribution from our entire organization to make change happen.

– At times, the environment that encourages diversity and inclusion of ideas, have resulted in honest/frank conversations, from different parts of our organization. I have welcomed and encouraged these sometimes uncomfortable conversations as I believe this a sign of a healthy, evolving organization.

– I expected some missteps on my part in my attempt to implement some changes and I have. But, I acknowledged this at the retreat, and as a matter of fact, I encouraged the idea that at times, we will “fail” with the ideas we try but that’s perfectly okay.

Issues and Considerations with Evolving Student Affairs Technologies

Here are some technologies I think will become more integral parts of student affairs business in the next years – internet of things, wearable computing, big data, analytics, social media, mobile, and cloud. Of course, some of these technologies are already in place but internet of things, big data, and wearable computing will become even more significant in how student affairs organizations will do business and communicate with our students and customers. The future trend will evolve towards greater personalization in how information/services are delivered and what information is made available based on context. Can you imagine the possibility I wrote about in this post? The changing student population (non-traditional, international, veterans, …), political pressures for accountability in the midst of increasing tuition costs, and technology advancements are just a few variables that will shape the use of technology in student affairs.

While I can discuss the specific uses of the technologies I mentioned above, I’d like to focus more on the topics that we, as student affairs and IT professionals, must keep in mind as we consider the use of new technologies. This blog post will explore some of the the challenges involving the use of new technologies and it will also discuss some considerations to keep in mind when it comes to the effective use of technology in the context of student affairs.

One of the challenges in predicting about the future of anything is that basically, does anyone really know about the future? One can only look at potential scenarios based on history, current events, and factors (political, economic, social, technology, environment, legal – PESTEL) at different levels (local, national, global) and make some assumptions. In the world of student affairs and higher ed technology, another challenge is trying to determine at what point to adopt new technologies as part of the way we do business. Of course, for the adoptions of new technologies to happen at the institutional level, individuals who have the authority to allocate resources towards these efforts must be convinced that the benefits outweigh the risks and that these new technologies add value to the goals of the institution. In some cases, these individuals might not even be motivated by institutional goals and risk/value analysis, but rather, the questions are more personal – “what’s in it for me?” and “does this add more work for me?”

Another topic that’s also central to the use of technology in student affairs is the concept of high touch/high tech in how we conduct our business, particularly in working with students. But technology cannot and should not replace all our interactions with our customers, but rather complement them, as I discussed in this blog post.

I offered the challenges above because as we move to a likely scenario of what student affairs technology may look like in the near future, I think we can learn from lessons of the past. Consider the following responses I’ve received in my effort to introduce new technologies at my institution. These are sentiments from some of my IT colleagues and business users.

~1996 – “What do we need web sites for? They’re a fads. We have brochures.”
~2007 – “Social media? They’re a fads. Security risks.”
~2009 – “Mobile? Students don’t uses mobile. They’re fads. Security risks.”
~2012 – “Cloud? Our data center is more secure. They’re fads. Security risks.”

History shows that while platforms/tools within the types of technologies mentioned above may change (remember MySpace, Second Life), it seems to me these technologies will be around for a while and that they’ve become integral components in student affairs organizations. They’ve transformed how we do business. Here’s the reality – there are security risks involved in making data available online so as technology providers and end-users, this risk must always be considered. Furthermore, the use of technology in general introduce issues related to ethics and privacy. These must also be addressed.

As the idea of incorporating internet of things and wearable computing into student affairs become a wider discussion, I suspect, I will receive the same reactions as above – “They’re fads. Security risks. No one use them. They’re toys.” The problem of that response is that by rejecting the possibilities (maybe even inevitability) is that it takes time to learn about these technologies, and even longer to implement them. From IT perspective, the design and approach to new systems must also change. Consider the idea that user interfaces are no longer limited to screens but now include voice (aural) like Siri and Amazon Echo, gestures such as Leap Motion, wearable computing such as iWatch and Google Glass, as well as through geo-location like iBeacons.

Even a more significant challenge is that there’s a mindset as well as practical skills and knowledge within the organization that must evolve along with the use of these new technologies.

By the time our institutions come to the realization that they’re behind the realities of the needs and wants of their customers, we are now having to play catch up. We find ourselves in reactive vs adaptive mode which could lead to ineffective/costly implementations and even worse, solutions that customers and end-users don’t find entirely usable. However, there’s also the danger of using new technologies for the sake of technologies. A key aspect, perhaps, the most important aspect in how technology is used in student affairs should be why we are using them in the first place. It is too easy to get caught up in the excitement of using new technologies because everyone is using them or there’s the sense that we could get left behind.  Finding the right time to adopt a new technology for use in our organization is indeed a difficult challenge.Perhaps, one way to approach the challenge above is keep in mind the goals of student affairs, student learning, development, and success, when discussing technology implementation and use. As I wrote in this blog post, student affairs organizations and professionals need to maintain the core mission and keep up with the trends.

Just this week, the proposed technology competencies was made available by NASPA/ACPA to the general public for feedback. That technology, which was previously a “thread” in the current list of competencies, is now a proposed competency is the right approach to addressing how technology fits into our student affairs roles as educators.  The summary of the proposed technology competency I think effectively puts into context of how technology can be used in the student affairs. The proposed competencies are constructed at a level that can be used across time and not geared towards specific technologies.

“The educational technology competency area focuses on the use of digital tools, resources, and technologies for the advancement of student learning, development, and success as well as the improved performance of student affairs professionals. Included within this area are knowledge, skills, and dispositions that lead to the generation of digital literacy and digital citizenship within communities of students, student affairs professionals and faculty members, and colleges and universities.”‘

The competencies and the efforts put forth by ACPA’s Digital Task Force and NASPA’s Technology Knowledge Committee ensure that technology use in student affairs is guided through the right frameworks.

For student affairs professionals to develop these competencies, organizations must commit to the culture of providing opportunities for staff (as well as students) to learn and practice them. This require technology leadership at the senior student affairs officers table and these technology leaders must have knowledge/skills that includes both student affairs/higher ed history, theories, contemporary issues and  enterprise technology level implementations.  Senior student affairs officers themselves must also accept the reality that they need to play the role as information technology managers.

Graduate programs must also play their part in educating future professionals about technology use in student affairs.

So, as we discuss the likely scenario of the future of student affairs technology, let’s keep in mind lessons learned from the past, keep our core missions as guiding principles, and develop skills/knowledge as well as adopt an open-minded mentality that will allow us to adaptive and not reactive to be able to keep up with the dynamic needs of our ever-changing students we serve.

What’s your vision of the future of student affairs technology?