School Operations and Technology are are two sides of the same coin, but which comes first? On one hand, you need transportation, staff training, and internal communication processes facilitated by a Chief Operations Officer to make a school function smoothly. On the other, you need the computers, network access, software, and security systems managed by a Chief Technology Officer to keep them online. You can’t have one without the other, so the team here at Macro Connect believes they should work together in harmony. When that happens, they create a virtuous cycle that helps schools avoid getting bogged down in budget fights and move forward toward innovation and educational excellence.

As you modernize your operational priorities, you can enhance your use of technology. And as you improve your use of technology, you can more efficiently achieve your operational goals. A COO focuses on how things get done and a CTO focuses on the tools to get them done. To bridge the gap, new roles are becoming increasingly necessary in schools. Enter the Chief Information Officer (CIO), who helps identify the right strategy to make sure technology is enhancing operations and operations are utilizing technology to their fullest potential. 

We’ve got Count Day behind us, everyone settled into their routines, and you can start to hear the first whispers about planning for next year. Before everyone gets too far down their own track, we thought we would explore the balance between these two very important aspects of modern education, technology and operations, and how an Information Officer, or virtual Information Officer can help everyone work toward a common goal.

What We Mean By Technology

Infrastructure (IT) and classroom technology are both broad categories. IT covers everything from network cabling and WiFi router infrastructure, and classroom tech everything from classroom tablets, learning software, and your Student Information System (SIS). One of the biggest challenges in managing EdTech is that users, whether they’re students, teachers, or administrators, all see a different part of the overall technology ecosystem, so it’s hard to appreciate how it all fits together. That means that each stakeholder group has different opinions and priorities about what needs to be purchased, changed, or eliminated. It’s hard to appreciate one classroom’s need for a language app when you’re struggling with the WiFi connection. And it’s hard to prioritize the need for new tablets when your SIS is on the fritz. A Chief Technology Officer helps keep all systems online so that everyone can do their job.

What We Mean By Operations

Operations includes everything from class scheduling, transportation, staff and resource allocation, as well as internal communication processes and planning the use of physical building space. As with EdTech, Operations also applies to different people in different ways, so everyone has a different set of priorities. Classroom space is seen by the students and teachers, but administrators work mostly in the office. Bussing routes happen before and after hours so it only really affects students and their families. And internal communications processes only apply to employees, which means students and families can lack appreciation for how much it takes to keep the system operating smoothly. A Chief Operating Officer sees everything and helps orchestrate it into one well-oiled machine.

What’s a Chief Information Officer?

A Chief Information Officer, in a school, is responsible for the strategy behind operational and classroom technology purchases and implementation. They also help integrate technology into existing operations or craft new operating procedures and processes.  They are the bridge between operations and technology, making sure the right people are at the table during the planning processes and that the right questions are asked.

Challenges to Hiring a CIO

Perspective

No one likes change. Many schools and districts have had Directors or C-level executives at the helm of their technology and operations departments for many years. It’s easy to get set in your way of doing things. But a CIO can bring a new perspective to the management and planning process. A CIO isn’t competing with either your head of technology or operations. They’re a collaborative team member, there to ask smart questions because a technology guy doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about operations and vice versa. A 3rd party in the conversation can make the whole team greater than the sum of its parts.

Financial Resources

Some of the area’s largest school districts have the resources and need for a full time C-Suite level technology executive. These Chief Information Officers (CIOs) oversee the big picture when it comes to technology hardware, software, and data management. Many of the smaller districts, private schools, and charter schools are not able to keep executive talent like that on staff full time, but still need the thought leadership and experience to thoughtfully integrate their technology and operational plans. 

Macro Connect’s vCIO service makes this possible for districts of all sizes. Our highly experienced leadership team partners with schools and districts on a part time basis to participate in strategic level planning meetings, granular budgeting and forecasting, and other high-level discussions. This gives schools access to technology leadership they need, without an on-site overhead expense.

Working With a vCIO: It Starts With Planning

Technology and operations planning are essential to creating a thriving school environment. It stands to reason that when the two are integrated, your school or district will be on track for outstanding results. In many schools, different teachers request different learning software, grants for resources are pursued wherever they can be found, and people tend to jump from idea to idea. But when you align everyone’s interests and create a technology and operations roadmap, everyone wins. Of course, a 1-year plan looks much different than a 5-year plan. Let’s look at some of the differences between short term planning and long-term planning and how a CIO fits into both. 

Assessment

How do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are? Our entry point when working with any school starts with an assessment. We help you understand your current status both in terms of IT and Data Systems. Utilizing our complimentary TAM (Technical Alignment Manager), we identify the strengths and weaknesses of your IT and Data environment by testing against our library of over 100 standards. We have compiled this extensive list over the years as we identify best practices and weaknesses within our school partners. This is the base on which we build our targeted efforts to put you in the top tier of high performing organizations.

1 Year Plan 

Short term plans that look at the next 12 or 24 months frequently start with an assessment period. Most also focus on immediate fundamental needs like keeping classrooms functioning, fulfilling grant requirements, and staying on top of changes in curriculum. We use these short term plans as building blocks toward a higher vision taking your EdTech environment from “reactive” to “proactive”.

3-5 Year Plan 

Longer term plans shift the focus toward standardization and you can create a clear vision for the future, working toward it step by step. With three to five years to prepare, you can thoughtfully accomplish large goals like getting all students on the same devices and software suites, whether they’re laptops or tablets. This simplifies your licensing contracts, streamlines budgets, and creates long term stability in your academic offering. By taking a long-view approach, you can take more time to research new technology and evaluate it before making a commitment. And you can scrutinize grant opportunities to make sure they align with your long term vision.

A Proactive Voice

Are you tired of starting new initiatives that never come to fruition? Or ideas that fizzle when it’s champion resigns, retires, or moves onto a new project? Do you feel that your Data and IT environments are outdated and lagging behind the competition? Are you looking to build a cohesive team with a unified mission to help increase student achievement? Most of the schools we encounter don’t realize how far behind they really are in building an integrated vision for their students. We’re here to help you get to where you want to go.

There’s so much change in education that it’s hard to keep ahead of the curve. New regulations, new employees, new devices, new software, new trends. New, new, new. And the more someone has to act like a firefighter, solving urgent issues day in and day out, the less likely they are to think about how their decisions affect the rest of the organization. It’s all reactive and it ends up wasting a lot of valuable time. Schools and districts need someone with a little distance from the day to day grind of technology and operations. Someone who can be proactive, solving problems and simplifying processes, to make administrative teams more efficient and effective.

Get Started Today!

Changing your organizational structure is a big undertaking, so we don’t take it lightly. It’s one of the reasons we offer virtual CIO services; you don’t have to find room for a full time leader in the budget and you don’t have to modify job descriptions. You just benefit from a fresh perspective during your planning process in a way that enhances everyone’s mission. If you’d like to learn more about how a vCIO could add to your planning process, give us a call or message us with the button below. We’d love to help take your school or district to the next level.