Homogeneous is good if it’s milk, bad if it’s innovation

We want to be the best. Who doesn’t? If we just wanted to be good, no organization would need a strategic IT leader. They could just get by with a manager, someone who delivers IT services at the lowest possible cost, with nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing differentiating. Just something that’s safe, predictable, and easily managed (sounds like much of IT delivered now, doesn’t it?).

One of the key tools of safe IT leadership is the concept of standardization, or homogeneity. Homogeneity is the state of conformity. For example, milk from various sources is mixed together to become homogeneous so that every sip will taste consistent.

Now before you jump down to the comments section and furiously type what’s going through your mind right now, I’m not against standards or quality control. But I am against the concept of universal application of technology to the lowest common denominator so that everyone gets the same level of service, or everyone has the same equipment. This works well with a product like milk because everyone who consumes milk has pretty much the same requirement from the stuff. Not so with technology.

The trouble is, the lowest common denominator leaves a bad taste in the mouths of our users, with the possible exception of the CFO, since we’ve curtailed operational costs so much. From the people who are hindered from being effective in their jobs because of inadequate computer resources, or are not able to send or receive any email since someone sent them a proposal that exceeded their inbox quota, to the teacher that has a fantastic new tool to engage students which she can’t use because of network restrictions, IT becomes a gatekeeper, a roadblock, or in extreme cases, perceived as the enemy.

This is not a way to get IT invited to the executive leadership table. But neither is creating a completely unstructured, Wild West model of anarchy. You still need to ensure your organization is in compliance with all regulatory and privacy legislation. Your network and data need to be available all the time, from wherever your users need to access it. You still need to deliver high value for technology investment.

But you also need to provide relevant IT services to each unique operational area of your organization. Forcing everyone to use the same level of technology misses the mark. IT has been good at differentiating mobile and non-mobile users, but we need to expand our vision a bit, and not be constrained by our “standards”. For some, a simple configuration will provide them all the computing power they need. Others need more. Developers, DBA’s, number-crunchers, graphic designers, media specialists – each tend to require more than the standard configuration.

And what do you do if a department in your organization asks for a workstation made by (gasp!) Apple? Are the first words out of your mouth “NO WAY IN HELL!” or “Interesting! How would having an iMac make your team better? What could it allow you to do you are not doing now?”

I know there are a huge number of network, configuration and management issues that go along with bringing a whole other ecosystem into your tightly controlled environment, but if your ecosystem can’t deliver the tools and functionality your users need, then I would suggest that you consider expanding your world.

I’ve recently changed the wording I use to describe our environment here. I used to say “We are a 100% 1:1 pen-based tablet school!”, but now it’s different. We are not a PC school. We are not an Apple school. We are not a tablet school. We are now officially a “Best technology for the task school!”

This means we have a standard baseline computing platform. It also means that there are exceptions. We have studios of high end iMacs for post-production on student media projects. It means our developers, DBAs, number-crunchers have beefed up equipment to eliminate the waiting caused by under-powered computing platforms. It means we let user-provided equipment onto the network. It also means we have moved much of the management of our ecosystem into the network layer, rather than tightly controlling the endpoints.

We have invested in creating a technology ecosystem that is strong enough to handle the complexity of end point device agnosticism, but for the user it creates an open platform for innovation. The solutions that we used may not be suitable for every organization or IT department. But that’s okay, because there is no cookie cutter approach to IT. It’s not like pouring the same milk in different cartons. It’s about defining individual needs and meeting them with answers.

Which is what IT really should be about.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Kevin Pashuk
Kevin Pashukhttp://www.TurningTechInvisible.com
Kevin Pashuk blogs regularly about his life as a Chief Information Officer in the educational sector. His writings cover educational technology, IT leadership, and whatever else might be on his mind. Some people even agree with him.

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