Running IT Like a Business

We’ve all heard someone frustrated with public school services comment that “If only schools were run like a business.” For many years I would cringe when I heard this, although I had no actual experience working in or running a business.

My thinking has changed significantly in the past several years, having worked at Dell and as I built a consulting business and worked with ed-tech companies on competitive strategy. It was the idea of competition that started to impact me. Ed-tech companies in general are a dime-a-dozen. Just look at your choices for computers, interactive whiteboards, curriculum-related apps and all the rest. And the harsh reality is that having the “best” product or service is not enough. Your customers must really believe in the value of what your selling in order to be willing to spend their preciously small budgets.

In the first phase of my CTO career, I somewhat naively believed that if I worked really hard and if my technology team implemented all of the “best practices” that we would be recognized as being very effective and that we’d be automatically respected for our expertise so that I could run IT the way I thought it should be run. As much as I believed in and tried to practice great customer service, I always knew that we were a monopoly. I’ve seen the same thing in far too many of the schools I consulted with. Take it or leave it.

The Power of Choice

Guess what? If you have that attitude with the staff-customers in your school system today, many of them will go their own way. That’s the real impact of the consumerization of IT. IT customers have choices whether IT allows them or not.

When I arrived in Dallas ISD, I immediately realized that we had huge pent-up demand for GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and Chromebooks. Unfortunately, IT had been staunchly Microsoft-oriented, but to no surprise to me, some of the GAFE apps were being widely used and a few schools had bought Chromebooks on their own even though Windows, MacOS and iOS were the only “approved” operating systems. Customers will choose what they want even if you don’t offer the choice they want. (As I write this we are rapidly enabling Google services and Chromebooks alongside the rest. I’ve been told by a few that I am creating chaos. If enabling choices for our educator customers who know far better than me as to what the preferred tools are in their classrooms, is viewed as being chaos, maybe you’re in the wrong profession.)

Apps for Innovation

Another example that comes to mind is application development. In too many school districts, this IT function is little more than a cost center that consistently under-delivers for a range of reasons. In many organizations “shadow IT” functions pop-up to provide the services that IT cannot or will not provide. What if you ran your application development team like a business? It should not only pay for itself, but be profitable enough to engage in R&D for innovation. If that doesn’t work, then find a services company that has a group of off-shore coders. After all, that’s how the small ed-tech start-ups do it and in many cases their budgets pale in comparison to that of school district IT departments.

Bottom Line: Student Need

There are many more examples of why school CTOs should think of staff and students as customers who have choices, which they do have. Work to earn their business and work even harder to keep it. CTOs who can’t compete and win will quickly become irrelevant. That’s when you have chaos and that is definitely not in the best interest of students.

Bob Moore has enjoyed a career of 26 years in education technology and he is now Chief Technology Officer, Dallas ISD. Additionally, 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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