Get Out of My Way: what your IT staff can do for you

At the NITLE summit, Michael Wesch of “The Machine is Us/ing Us” fame presented on his use of a variety of tools in his classes. At the end of the presentation, someone asked him how central IT could help him, and he said, mostly nicely, “get out of my way.” Ah, sweet sweet users. It’s like payback for the day of the bastard operator from hell, when IT staff operated in a “deny all” mode.


So I’ve decided even if we end up outsourcing or no-sourcing all coolness, innovation, and utilities, there are two areas where IT staff in higher education might always need to support: identity management and assessment. Higher ed institutions may just become the authoritative providers of certain attributes of people and we may also become the repository of data about what we’ve done and how well we’ve done it. We sell roles, relationships, and can provide info on how well these roles and relationships have fulfilled their expectations. Is that it?

5 Responses to “Get Out of My Way: what your IT staff can do for you”

  1. seth vidal said:

    Apr 07, 08 at 11:57 am

    Seems like Central IT should be the clearinghouse for all commodity functionality:

    – Directory Services
    – Network Access
    – Disk space
    – Commodity services (web hosting, mail, etc)
    – ‘messaging’ of various types (IM, etc)

    beyond that, let your people innovate around the edges and then be prepared to subsume those services once they reach commodity/expected-service level.

  2. seth vidal said:

    Apr 07, 08 at 9:00 pm

    Notably what I explained above is exactly what oit at duke did wrong, over and over again.

    The attempted to provide the above services but they could never make the services work. I mean the mail service was/is a mess, the file(afs) services are pretty ridiculous, too. And let’s not even discuss the backup functionality.

    That’s what you have to avoid doing. If your central it group takes over services you have to be sure you don’t make them less successful/functional than when they were the innovative service. If you have to lose some functionality it better be because you made them massively more cost effective or scalable.

  3. g-bot said:

    Apr 08, 08 at 6:34 am

    Admin, please expand on this when you find a moment.

    Also, google OS went preview yesterday in the unlikely event any of us missed it.

  4. admin said:

    Apr 08, 08 at 12:35 pm

    At my school, all school-provided IT services are centrally provided. I think this is typical of liberal arts colleges. Our “competition” (if you will), is not with innovative IT groups on campus (this would be so much more exciting if that were the case) but with commercial providers, like gmail/google apps, etc.

    The first two services Seth lists above are ones which, together with assessment, I believe we will always need to provide/own/manage/lead. The other services may be candidates to consider for different sourcing options.

    For example, email is a utility. I’m not sure our email service is a strategic differentiator for us. In fact, Google’s mail interface and performance seems better than ours. Should we revamp our email to make it more like Google’s or just outsource it to Google? If we outsource it, then we might have more time to spend developing tools to distinguish our academic mission rather than our administrative services.

    However, there are certain things which only we can/should do: understand our community (manage identities: x is a student, y is a teacher, z is a townie with whom x & y are doing a research project) and assess how well we are doing our business, e.g. learning outcomes, efficiency, effectiveness, etc. The later is particularly necessary for accreditation, the former is necessary to create a framework with which we can allow the right access to the right stuff and pass along that identity info to third party apps.

  5. g-bot said:

    Apr 08, 08 at 3:45 pm

    Social Graph (sorry for the buzzword) and Business Intelligence? Sounds like a pretty stimulating place to work already!

    I bet you’ll do more effective/interesting things than restrict access, though.

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