Don’t Over-Enterprise Your School IT

“Schools need to be run more like businesses.” We’ve all heard people say this, and it typically comes from those who have never worked in education. Trust me, I’ve worked in business and run my own business and having worked in schools for more than 20 years, I can say emphatically that schools should absolutely not be run like businesses. Of course, that’s not say that schools can’t learn from businesses, but even well-run businesses have very different missions than schools.

Nevertheless, the idea of being more business-like has been creeping into schools and the IT department in particular. There are certainly some good lessons that can be learned from well-run business IT departments, but district CIOs need to be careful of when to apply business-like IT practices.

First let’s start with the business-like IT practices that schools would do well to copy.

Know the business. That means teaching and learning, finance, facilities, transportation, etc. IT services must be aligned to the diverse needs of school district customers.

  • Establish and regularly review policies, procedures and processes for a wide range of issues.
  • Ensure current documentation of processes, inventory, job descriptions, etc.
  • Hire qualified, trained and certified IT professionals. Being a “nice computer lab assistant” does not qualify for an advanced technical role.
  • Security, privacy and disaster recovery matter. They need to be priorities.
  • Develop and measure both quantitative and qualitative measures of IT’s performance and value to the school district, both in education and business services.

On the other hand, I’ve seen some school CIOs get carried away with the idea of “enterprise.” Enterprise-like does not mean that you need to run your 15,000 student school district like you a Fortune 500 company. Some common, misguided practices are:

  • Misunderstanding the idea of “enterprise.” Enterprise is about efficiency, scalability and reliability, not size. Education is messy and inherently inefficient.  The best run business IT departments do everything they can to enable and support the business. School district IT departments have to allow flexibility and to accept some messiness.
  • Forgetting that schools and school districts, whether public or private, have a culture in which stakeholders want and expect input into decisions that affect them. You can’t make decisions that are “in the best interest of the district” in a vacuum.
  • Creating roadblocks and challenges for teachers who have more of those than they need.  Inflexible, overly locked-down IT environments only create more challenges. Don’t be the department of “no.”
  • Over-protecting students. Students need to explore and to be allowed to make mistakes to grown and learn. It can be too easy to prohibit certain websites or tools in the name of student safety or for fear of litigation. Don’t base IT policies and practices on the worst case scenario. If CIOs focused as much on security and disaster recovery as they do locking students down, the interests of the district would be better served.

Incorporating some IT practices commonly found in businesses can be a good thing. District CIOs should be cautioned though to not get carried away with “enterprise” practices. Business and school districts have very different purposes and their end users are very different. Never lose sight of the fact that students and teachers have very different needs than corporate employees. 

Bob Moore has enjoyed a career of 26 years in education technology. His work has included more than two decades as a CIO in K12 schools and several years as lead strategist for a multi-billion dollar global ed-tech business, as well many years of active leadership in organizations such as CoSN. In 2012 Bob founded RJM Strategies LLC and works with schools and ed-tech business clients as a strategist, advisor and subject matter expert. His life’s work is grounded in his tenacious commitment to vision, innovation, integrity and practicality. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMEdTech. See Bob's Profile and Connect on LinkedIn at  

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