Help your Computer Manager not to say no

Don’t shoot the messenger – help your IT manager be the good guy instead

This week I had the great honour of chairing the 38th Academic Novell Admins forum.   Out of the window of the beautfully appointed Vernon Harcourt room, St Hilda’s College Oxford, an enraged Canada goose launched a seemingly unprovoked attack on two swans dreamily intent on swanning down the river Cherwell.  Similarly surprising, seemed the view from college IT managers round the table  – whether for the academic wanting to share research data via Dropbox or the finance manager hoping that the expensive data centre can be replaced with a cheaper online alternative –  the Cloud is not, and may never be, the answer for academic IT.

The point at issue is an old one, views can be entrenched, but they say, while Google or MS365 is ok, even a bonus, for low risk, low sensitivity data like student email, no Information Security officer, can sanction moving important or sensitive data into someone else’s computers, whether owned by Amazon, Google, MS Azure or anyone,  if they don’t know the postcode, and especially not outside Europe.   And the exponential and profligate use of storage means it is hard to isolate the data that needs protecting.  Controversial and provoking, there are supporters and commercial forces on both sides and its complicated.  Never mind that.

There is a more basic issue arising here.   What do organisations do after the Computer (manager) says no?   Think of deflating all that goodwill from students, teachers and admin staff, from those who feel IT exists to stop them doing what they need to.

Three ways in which we can all help:

  1. Please tell our masters in their language : The oldest and surely wisest view round the table came from Joe Doupnik (has his own entry in the history of computing ) – that we cannot be prophets in our own land.   We, the IT and elearning community, have rich experience to offer – but it is our hardpressed masters, grappling financial expediency and market-change, who need to decide the balance between cost saving and investment in the face of disruptive technology.   External input, without acronyms, at the strategic level reinforces the view presented from operational staff.
  2. Security decisions need to be corporately owned: IT managers often sound grumpy and dogmatic usually because they are organisationally isolated.  Specialist input needs to transform the collective view and enable curriculum colleagues to design their delivery feeling safer rather than thwarted by simple ultimata, and in return, underwrite the responsibility for the decision.  This ‘wants and offers’ approach ensures both sides can use their expertise to greatest value supported by the organisation.
  3. Coaching not telling: having sat in many such boardrooms, witnessing many such exchanges between competing expert voices, it is clear that organisations make the best use of their precious, shared face to face meeting time, by attending to the dynamics of meeting.   Recent excellent advice has been to plan meetings like teachers plan a lesson – to maximise the potential for all participants.    In this case, a simple appreciative technique, round the table, where every participant could offer a simple takeaway idea from the meeting that was important to them, promoted the clarity and value, rewarding everyone’s participation.

Can a Round Table session help your colleagues ?   Please do get in touch  julian.bream @

* goose attacking swan image owned by YouTube user asoke11



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