As schools continue to fight to justify budget and resource needs, I see an increased role and responsibility on school IT leaders to help bring some clarity and business sense to the never-ending school budgeting issues.
After reading a recent article in the Washington Post about yet another school district grappling with budget cuts, I harkened back to my days as an outsource IT provider.
Before my life as CEO of Campus Suite, I ran a 'managed service provider' business, or MSP, for 10 years. A MSP is a virtual IT department for a business that doesn't want to hire staff. Our group supported hundreds of businesses with thousands of users. When I was with my MSP, I had to justify my existence to my clients. (Playing solitaire and fixing a server look similar.)
As the IT provider, I needed to show the value of all the "hidden" things we did. Stakeholders can’t always visualize what your team does. I showed our value in the reports, which helped my clients visualize what we did on their behalf. I did this because my MSP was a business. My clients hired us to help their business.
IT departments must demonstrate value
I find that IT departments in most school districts don't approach IT as a business. IT is often looked at as a cost center by administrators. If you approach your department as a business, the conversations for budgets and expectations change. This approach is more than a concept.
While there is a certain degree of being the technology security guard and help center for your district, IT isn't merely about fixing computers. IT is helping a business reach and exceed objectives. IT in education should be about changing educational outcomes, not just preventing school websites from being hacked or thwarting a DDoS attack.
Your department needs to know what outcomes your district is trying to achieve. I see signs of school boards and departments having conflicted visions on this. Tablets are a great example. Tablets are only useful in education if they fit into your outcomes. Technology plans should start with the outcomes and needs of the education process. Businesses are measured on KPIs, or key performance indicators.
Key performance indicators for school IT
KPIs are data points that show the progress of a business against a set of objectives. Education needs it's own set of KPIs. You need something to measure your school against.
A good approach is having a set of KPIs you define with school leadership to measure success. Success is reaching the school education objectives. In the age of charter schools, online schools, and private schools, schools find themselves competing. Schools and districts need to prove their performance to the community.
Helping your school measure and manage KPIs brings the hidden work to the forefront. Our job in IT is to enable the tools and software to capture and share this data. Most schools would want to explore some KPIs around these concepts, which, not surprisingly are not all IT related.
Use IT to build these key performance indicators
- Communication. Websites, email, social media, etc. What is the level of engagement with parents, students, and the community. Engagement improves education.
- Service delivery. Support for users. Lunchroom wait times. Bus delays. Schools deliver a service: education. What can you measure to showcase the great work your team does?
- Costs. Almost all school data is public record. What can we show that highlights our fiscal responsibility? Schools often forget to highlight when they save money.
- Students. How is attendance? Is the school facing a flu outbreak? What is the average grade per class?
IT touches the data around many of these KPI ideas. As a department, you should measure how your team is supporting the school's KPIs.
Build a performance dashboard for your district
A helpful tool many startups and businesses use is dashboarding. Think of a dashboard as a real-time infographic about your KPIs. A dashboard, which can be as simple as a spreadsheet you update daily, can give you all the key business information needed to manage your department.
The state of Michigan has a great example of a dashboard. This is a state-level dashboard of how the state is doing about hitting education objectives. Schools need to make sharing this data in a clear format a priority.
In the commercial sector, IT is moving up the value chain. In education, we need to enable our schools to explain and measure data. School IT can drive performance: data is the business of IT. To protect your school in the age of competition, data is the way to justify and showcase your great work.
Data can be used to not only help manage your schools, but promote your schools as well. By both sharing the KPI data with the school community and demonstrating that you’re employing KPIs, brings the recognition to a school district (and the school IT department) that shows you’re adding value to the educational mission.
Eric's background as a technical CEO with a big-picture focus brings the experience and vision that both gains the respect of technical audiences, and gets the attention of the progressive school leaders and administrators.