at the airport in Frankfurt on my way to Rome for a days work with Marymount International School and their faculty on 1 to 1 Laptops. Time to reflect in the waiting lounge about the ECIS IT Conference in Frankfurt last week, a wonderful reminder that it is not about IT but learning. The conference days a good blend of keynotes: Jamie McKenzie, David Warlick and Scott Klosoky, workshops, and informal sidebar conversations. The event and conversations have spiked some good reflections for me. It has been very hectic and intense year, and the last week were at times my tech support team was down to one person from the original 5 due to illness, injury and recuperation from hospital. It is maybe when you are down to one technician that suddenly you are reminded again how critical the systems, and services we set up, monitor, maintain and develop as an IT Department have become to the day functioning of an international school. Information Technology and its associated services that support the day to day functioning of most international schools, have now become mandatory. Then this sudden shift to an unwritten expectation of 24/7 services and connectivity. Many International Schools have so many of their day to day tasks/work flows tied to IT systems that the non stop functioning becomes a non-negotiable. This topic came back in many of the conversations I had with fellow IT Directors from the ECIS region attending the conference. One thing which is becoming quite clear to me as I have these conversations IT Directors and IT Staff are being stretched more and more as new systems become a non negotiable critical part of the school day. With this a growing cultural expectation of the users and school of access: anywhere, anytime. There is a developing cost to this for IT Directors and their teams. One is that you start juggling more and more tasks, your team which in many schools tend to be quite small, has to be able to deal with a wider variety of complex issues and integrated systems. A common case especially here in European International Schools, as systems get added, new programs or hardware, no extra people are brought in. So the task lists gets longer, the job description for many of the Technical Support team changes by the minute and somehow extra resources in humans and money tend to be elusive. This too often not by fault but by necessity were International Schools work with small budgets and have often little flexibility to add people. There is a danger that can develop that you start having over stretched IT Departments providing 24/7 services but no organizational structure to support this growth, and then all your eggs are in one basket, hoping the IT Department small as it maybe can sustain and support the pressures and demands long term. Is there a breaking point? Is it sustainable?
I have no clear answer but what I am realizing and in conversations with others, IT Directors are starting to feel the stretch and strain. This comes in a mix of pressures that I personally feel has a cost to the health and well being of the person. As new systems get added, expectations become greater, connectivity and seamless availability of services 24/7 all add up to an intense mix of tasks and workload to sustain. This then becomes the responsibility of the IT Teams and the task of IT Director’s leadership to manage and facilitate these pressures. The IT Director who has to provide guidance, rally the tech. support folks (often under paid and under valued), creatively deliver solutions with tight budgets, and juggle the emotions, personalities and tensions often associated with the change process of integrating or introducing of new systems. procedures or hardware to different stakeholders.
The solution? Each international school has such unique dynamics that I do not think there is one simple solution and answer. The start is maybe having honest and candid conversations with the schools leadership teams and clearly articulating the expectations of services and up keep of systems that support the school day. Thinking strategically what support systems can be developed to ensure if new systems, hardware and 24/7 connectivity and delivery of services are expected how this plays out with your current set up and staffing. Looking for creative solutions to shift services to the cloud, or put more responsibility on the users to independently manage the devices and services they use to support their work day. This of course then becomes an important conversations regarding what professional development support will be provided, expectations of skills and managing a significant cultural expectation of who is responsible for what.
At some point the IT Team and IT Director need to also unplug and regroup, which for many of us is a challenge and near to impossible. Even when we are off campus or away the systems have to be managed, maintained and serviced, and we need to be connected to the various stakeholder groups we support, there is this growing expectation.
…as with any challenge engaging in a conversation, defining the expectations explicitly to all, and being willing to think beyond our own walls and perspectives can be the first step. This then tied to a long term strategic understanding that however essential and critical our schools services are, connected to this is a group of people trying to juggle a more and more complex set of dynamics and expectations. We need to engage in an awareness that over stretching folks can have a negative impact on sustaining your own systems and anywhere anytime connectivity. I believe there is a potential for a better balance for all.
Let us have this conversation…………..