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Saturday
Feb152014

Outsourcing the tech director's job? Don't let my boss read this!

 This came in yesterday's e-mail:

Today I became aware of the potential that the junior high district that feeds into my high school is seriously considering the possibility of outsourcing their technology needs to a Chicago tech firm .... I've linked to the article in our local newspaper detailing these plans. LINK

I'm concerned about this on a number of levels, not the least of which is the idea that a technology director would "no longer be needed." I think that they are stripping away the importance of having a coherent vision and goals for a technology program, as well as the importance of using technology in support of learning (as opposed to just making sure the internet works and that porn is blocked).

On the other hand, do you support the idea of ed tech outsourcing? I have a hard time believing you would, but you do have a very balanced and reasoned view of technology in schools, so I'm curious to know. [Nice to know I have someone fooled!]
Thanks for sending on the article. I'm not too sure I can be impartial on this topic. I have a mortgage, kid in college, and the LWW has expensive tastes, so I'm happy to have my job, thank you very much. But here are some of my initial reactions:
  • If the tech director is only a technology person (as you said, "just making sure the Internet works and the porn is blocked"), I can see how the position can be outsourced. But if the tech director is also an educational leader, I don't see how this would work. Check my article The Changing Role of the Technology Director in Educational Leadership from a year or so ago. My sense is that if district's tech program is headed by somebody with a tech degree not an educational degree, it's vulnerable. I believe it would be far more difficult to outsource leadership, vision, collaboration, and even good management. But then mega districts have outsourced school CEO jobs, so ya never know.
  • That being said, I am not automatically against all outsourcing. We use SaaS (GoogleApps for Education, hosted library systems, etc.) as a kind of outsourcing.  If I can get real professionals to keep up the security, backup and management for a reasonable cost, I can use my inhouse tech people for problem-solving, pilot projects, and training. For big wiring and installation work we contract out as well.
  • Smaller districts (under 5000?) might find an advantage in outsourcing tech support much as some schools now outsource busing, lunch programs, custodial work, etc. In small districts unable to support separate tech director, a network manager, systems admin, tech integration, and technician positions, so one poor soul winds up doing it all - with the educational role too often falling by the wayside. 
  • In larger districts though, it seems that outsourcing would add a level of cost (the company doing the work needs to make a profit as well as pay its employees, right?). If they can do it for less than what it would cost the district, they are underpaying or under benefiting their workers and I have personal ethical issues with that.
I suppose much of this is situational - the right company and school could make this work. For some schools, internal tech departments may be culturally dismal and outsourcing the only option for improvement.

As tech directors, we should be asking ourselves Daniel Pink's three big questions about our jobs from A Whole New Mind:
  1. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?
  2. Can a computer do it faster?
  3. Am I offering something that satisfies the non-material, transcendent desires of an abundant age?

What do you as a school employee bring to the table that a contractor cannot?

Oh, I am slowly making my way through the fascinating book The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership by Marth Heller. It seems that IT takes a back seat in planning and power in many businesses and organizations, not just education. Once you get over feeling sorry for yourself, you'll like the book.

 

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Reader Comments (8)

Well, vision can't be outsourced, and the path to longevity as a Director of Technology is to become immersed and eloquent in "The Vision Thing" as it pertains to the actual impact of technology on learning. The person who can really articulate the complex relationships between brain-culture-computing will be vital to any educational organization. I suspect your job is secure, Doug.

February 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill Storm

Hi Doug,
I am the technology director at an independent, PS-12 school with 2 campuses and this is an interesting post for me because we outsource some (not all!) of our IT support. We outsource our network administration and some upper level desktop support to a local IT solutions provider, Artemis IT, but combine this with internal staff (part-time desktop support on both campuses, full time database administrator, part time webmaster/social media manager, full time data entry clerk, 2 instructional technology staffers, and an IT Director). The combination works quite well but would be a disaster without an education focused IT director to ensure that educational needs are being met. I have found that traditional IT "Best Practices" often have to be modified in an education environment, and keeping the lines of communication open with teachers is critical. Furthermore, on site staffing is critical for providing "just in time" service - i.e. when a teacher is encountering a technology issue that threatens to derail an entire lesson, and immediate technical support is required to ensure that instructional time is not lost. So while outsourcing can be a valuable supplement to a school or district IT team, I think that the technology director position is critical for success.

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusan M. Bearden

Thank, Bill, for the compliment.

I often wonder though if the rest of the school leadership team would just as soon I stayed in my own sandbox and stopped asking questions and proposing ideas - just deal with the tech and leave the educatin' alone.

It's a delicate balance.

Doug

February 15, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Doug - I wondered the same thing as an activist school leader and librarian if there weren't teachers who felt that I was playing outside of my sandbox. However, in my case, the administration above me was always supportive of my reaching out into all ways into the building educational environment. My view is that there has never been a surfeit of good leaders and those who are are generally supported.

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFloyd Pentlin

I work in a small district and have been pondering my role lately and haven't been able to put it into words until I came across what you wrote in the third bullet point. (Thank you by the way)

"In small districts unable to support separate tech director, a network manager, systems admin, tech integration, and technician positions, so one poor soul winds up doing it all - with the educational role too often falling by the wayside."

That is my life at the moment to a "T" and I wish I only wore that few a hat! As the technology leader, the role has grown at the cost of working directly with the students and teachers in the educational setting. Nearly every department sees the benefit of technology, but still can't "fish" on their own. It is a bummer in a big way as I see the future of the technology director as almost completely infused with the curriculum, not some stuffy guy in a suit working with budgets and/or perpetually in the server closet. That tech director version is going the way of the dinosaur.

I am going for my master's in education with a concentration on curriculum and technology and hope I am taking the correct choice by not getting a bunch of technical certifications. Of course you can do both, but education side must overrule IMHO.

When you work in K-12 education as a technology leader, the education side should take precedence. Google Apps, local server experts and installers are perfectly acceptable, but if your only job was running the local servers, updating OS, tinkering with meaningless settings and blocking sites, you will be replaced!

February 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLuke Callahan

Doug and Luke make some great points. Isn't it interesting how bullet point 3 is a reality for so many Tech Directors, and equally interesting is how the ed integration/curriculum/technology piece gets left in the dust when phones, email, websites, Apps and just plain day to day planning and management duties vacuum up time, resources and energy in lieu of pressing forward into meaningful progress in learning strategies using technology.

February 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKenneth Wick

So true Kenneth. When every system deals with technology is some way, not everything can be managed by a single tech director. Instead of stepping up to the plate and diving into a new software or device, far too often it is kicked to the tech department at the expense of professional development or working with teachers on infusing tech into their lessons...

This is in direct conflict with the point of working at a school and exactly how we do NOT want our students to deal with technology themselves. It's a dream, but the goal is to have teachers and staff given the tools and knowledge to tackle some of the learning...

February 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLuke Callahan

Hi Floyd,

Sounds like you had good administration. As school admins, we need to be better risk-takers. I know I sometimes have to remember this when someone proposes a new idea in our department - give it a shot!

Doug

Hi Susan,

Yours is obviously the voice of experience (and balance). The rapid response provided by in-house staff is probably the most obvious advantage to not outsourcing, but you observation that education uses tech differently than business is also spot on. (multiple users per device, ability to explore and test, internal as well as external security issues, etc.)

Thanks again for the comment. Readers will benefit from it.

Doug

Hi Luke,

To me the key for guys like you and Ken are to outsource the maintenance and support tasks as much as possible. Maybe easier said than done, but about the only option I see. GoogleApps, hosted services of all kinds, even Chromebooks with their nearly management-less systems all seem to be good solutions in smaller districts.

Luke, if it makes you feel better, the only "computer" course I ever took was a Logo programming class in the 1980s. Learn on the job. If I were beginning my career, I might seriously look at the COSN certification for ed CTOs. Expensive, but maybe worth it if you want to make this a career.

All the best,

Doug

Hi Ken,

At the regional tech directors meetings, I am always in awe of the people from the small district who accomplish what they do. But in some ways, I see this as the same difficulty that librarians without aides have. They wind up doing all the clerical stuff - book checkout, reshelving, etc., instead of teaching - and then wind up being replaced by a clerk!

Thanks for the comment!

Doug

February 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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