I am delighted to again bring you the IT Newsletter. This is our tenth issue over the past five years. Starting this in 2006 was a big step for us, as we really wanted to improve our communication to the Skidmore community. We continually work on many, many projects and needed to improve our means of keeping you aware of the enhancements as well as the challenges. I want to thank all my colleagues in IT who have contributed to this since its inception.
As Chief Technology Officer I have many opportunities to engage with the Skidmore community when things are (technologically) going well, and certainly when they are not. In the past few months I have had two particular communications with faculty that have stuck with me. The first was regarding a situation that had a negative impact on our community for which the faculty member ended the communication asking: “is this the best IT can do?” This is an incredibly important and complex question. We understand how central technology has become in the world today and face head-on the burden that comes with supporting services that can “never be down”. The truth is that technology failures have historically and will continue to occur. We see our role as taking reasonable measures in an attempt to reduce the chance of failure as well as minimize the impact when it does. There are times when we must take one step back, in order to get two steps forward. This often occurs around system upgrades or changes. We cannot afford to stand still technologically, and you would not want us to. When I discuss these challenges with peers at other schools we often come back to the dilemma which is how do we balance the need for innovation (which inherently comes with failure) with the desire for IT services to be like municipal running water in our society today, which just always seems to work. In many ways, you and I want to have our cake and eat it too with progress and stability. I am committed to finding that balance in the best ways my colleagues and I can.
The second message that was shared with me “communication is better than silence, but collaboration is much better than communication.” This is a great message and one I’d like to post on my door. The underlying sentiment here (I feel) is the more that IT can do to engage our community regarding decisions on future direction the better off we will all be. While it’s helpful to share with people what IT has decided, isn’t it better to work with the community towards making those decisions? Not unlike the earlier statement, this one is as complex as it is elegant. Certainly making decisions in a vacuum won’t allow for success on any front. We need to find ways to leverage the collective knowledge of the Skidmore community. The most obvious place for this is technology in the classrooms. Building technology enabled instructional spaces that do not take into account how faculty and students use them needs to be avoided. At the same time, we cannot build each classroom in a one-off dedicated manner that doesn’t acknowledge the shared ways these spaces are used. In this example, and in others, I am committed to “collaborating” in ways that increase the opportunity for us to learn about the needs of faculty and students. Of course, the devil is in the details.
I hope that everyone has a successful transition to spring.
Justin Sipher - Chief Technology Officer