Four Keys to a Modern IT Approach in K-12 Schools
By Andrew Graf
The majority of school district IT departments are short on time and resources, and this makes it hard to implement technology effectively. In a recent survey of K-12 IT leaders, 45 percent said they don't have enough IT employees to support their existing technologies well, never mind trying to add new devices and systems.
This problem has serious implications for student success. As education becomes more personalized and data-driven, teachers and administrators are increasingly reliant on technology to help them diagnose students' precise learning needs and deliver highly targeted instruction to fill these knowledge gaps.
If school district IT departments are going to support the demand for new technologies successfully, they will have to learn how to do more with less. Fortunately, IT staff can work more intelligently and use their existing resources more effectively by become more proactive in their approach.
Here are four ways that school district IT departments can adopt a more mature and modern approach that will allow them to be more successful, despite having limited resources.
Resolve problems, not just incidents.
In too many K-12 districts today, IT staff are spending most of their time reacting to technical issues that arise, rather than focusing on preventing new issues from occurring. Taking the time to analyze the root cause of an incident and trying to fix it, so you don't have those kinds of problems any more, can reverse this situation and pay big dividends over time.
IT leaders should carefully analyze the nature of their service requests and look for key trends and patterns that reveal underlying problems. For instance, if you are receiving a large number of service requests to fix a broken projector, maybe it's time to replace your entire fleet of projectors with new, more reliable units.
It can be challenging to adopt a long-term, big-picture view when you feel like you're buried in immediate service requests, but there is training available to help IT leaders in making this shift. For instance, I would highly recommend ITIL certification, and the Help Desk Institute (HDI) has some tremendous resources to assist with problem management as well.
Manage change more effectively.
About 80 percent of unplanned downtime is inadvertently caused by IT staff themselves, according to the IT Process Institute. For instance, a technician might be trying to update a switch, but it accidently brings the entire network down. The firefighting that ensues consumes valuable IT resources, and it might have been avoided through better change management.
Best practices in change management call for IT leaders to think through the potential impact of making a change, then plan an effective pathway that will cause the least amount of disruption. Following these practices can reduce the likelihood of unforeseen consequences that eat up limited staff time.
Build an IT knowledge base.
With knowledge-centered support, organizations create a knowledge base of articles explaining IT procedures, solutions to problems, answers to frequently asked questions, and so on. A knowledge base serves as a useful resource for IT staff as they seek to resolve issues, and it also reduces the amount of time needed to train new IT staff.
IT employees create this content as a by-product of answering questions and resolving problems for users. In this way, documenting their responses to IT issues becomes an organic part of a school system's business process.
Developing a knowledge base takes time, and it requires discipline to adhere to the process. But this investment can pay off in a big way. Organizations with knowledge-centered support see a 30 to 50 percent increase in the number of IT service requests that are resolved during initial contact.
Add a self-service portal.
Once you've built a sizeable knowledge base, you can leverage this content to help students and staff resolve their own IT issues. This is a key opportunity to reduce your service workload.
Many IT departments end up answering the same questions over and over again, which is very time-consuming—and a waste of staff labor. Having users consult a self-service portal before contacting IT with their questions can reduce inbound service requests by up to 70 percent. And yet, in the survey we commissioned, three out of five respondents ranked their self-service abilities at the low end of the IT maturity scale.
Self-service resolution is also less expensive than having IT staff fix technology issues. An HDI analysis revealed that the average labor cost of a service call is $22, while self-service costs just $2 per incident.
When school systems take a more proactive approach to IT management, a scarcity of resources doesn't have to stand in the way of integrating and supporting new learning technologies. By optimizing their use of resources, IT departments can spend less time on the tasks they're doing now, which frees them up to take on new challenges.
Andrew Graf is the Chief Product Strategist for TeamDynamix, a provider of IT service management and project portfolio management software for education and government enterprises.