Saturday, July 21, 2012

Database Definition

When I was hired as a CIO for the first time, I was not fully aware of what exactly the word “information” encompassed.  I knew I would be responsible for school technology, back and front end.  I knew I would be working with integration of technology.  I knew I would have to support systems that ran on the network; phones, wireless technologies, security applications and of course, databases.

At my school, we have been analyzing our data and looking at its flow.  The IS department is in charge of our main student management system, but along with that, we have databases in many other areas of the school.  We have one in our admission office (we are an independent school), we have one in college counseling, we have one in our development office, one in our alumni office, one for our nurses, one for our trainers and several much smaller applications that are fed from data retrieved from our SMS. 

When we began looking at the data flow, we also began looking at the policies that we use to ensure data quality.  As we delved into the policies, we also began to ask several essential questions.

1.     Who owns the data?  In an article by Navin Sharma on the website the idea of data ownership is directly tied to data quality.
2.     What is the flow of the data both in and out and who are the “stewards” of this data.

When we began looking at these two questions, we realized we were dealing with a problem all too familiar in schools:  the silo effect.  A different person or office in our school was managing each database, and each office had different rules/policies that were dictating data quality.  This epiphany set us on a path to begin to break down the silo walls and bring our data stewards together. 

As CIO, I am working with my department’s database team to be the lead on unifying the stewards.  We are starting by drafting out several documents.  We will be working on a draft of rules/policies that can be used for all databases in the institution to establish a standard and to add consistency to data.  We will also be referencing two charts – one that shows the flow of information from beginning to end with people assigned to each step of the process, and the other to show the path of data accounting for good/inaccurate information while maintaining the same information flow.

In a second article by Fabio Corzo and Malcolm Chisholm on, the idea of Data Owner Driven Master Data Management fits well into the paradigm our school is working with now.  In a digital age where information systems impact almost every facet of our schools, and transparency is essential, we are going to give our community first dibs on making sure the data entered is correct.  After all, they are the first to know when the information changes.

Both of the aforementioned articles are written with the corporate environment in mind, but each concept can be neatly adapted to a school setting.  If we are truly information officers, shouldn’t we be active in the information flow that runs through our school, which will set up our school communities for the greatest success? In particular, this data can increase enrollment, enhance retention, improve marketing, get alumni more connected, give current families information at a more rapid pace and in a more efficient manner, and much more.  As CIO, we have a responsibility to know all the areas of information that we reach; even those that are not necessarily marquee-type systems are in need of our stewardship and care.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Identity Crisis at ISTE 2012

Question mark

Exhibition of Jean-Michel Folon.
Forte Belvedere, Firenze.
 Last week I was at ISTE 2012 in San Diego and had an identity crisis.  I registered on Friday, received my name badge and wore it the whole time, so I knew who I was.  In fact, I did not know that I was having an identity issue until midway through the conference.  By the end of the day Monday I was truly in a quandary. 

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the many facets of my job.  I spoke about the technology vision, the knowledge of integration, the understanding of networking, library systems, laptop use (in my case) and other areas as well.  As CIO I also had to have the ability to manage a team and to articulate a vision of how all of these elements work together to promote the mission of our school.  Just reading that, one would think I have a fairly clear sense of my identity as CIO, and in fact before ISTE 2012, I did.

When I began to look at the amazing people that I was networking with at ISTE 2012, I realized that there are very few who share my same title; in fact, there are more titles than I could have imagined.  When you begin to look at the varying personnel who attend ISTE – Integrators, Librarians, Facilitators, Teachers, Principals, early adopters, and other education and non-education people – it’s no wonder I was having an identity crisis.  When you mix the variety of titles, roles and expectations and try to set strands and tracks and neat packages of workshops to fit every niche, inherently there is chaos.  I know it would be easy for me to use the Breakfast Club model (one of my favorite flicks) and say I am a bit of everything, but in reality we all have jobs to do and continual growth is the name of the game. 

Herein lies the dilemma:  where were the sessions for the CIO's?  I found sessions for Teachers, Facilitators, Leaders (Principals and District folks), but not too many for CIO's.  I don't want you to think I am complaining, as there were some incredible sessions that I went to that helped me to grow in many of the facets of my job.  In fact, the sessions I attended gave me access to many of the people that I admire and want to hear from. They also allowed me to meet new colleagues who I am grateful I know now.  However, all along I felt that there was nothing directed towards me, towards the CIO, that spoke to the orchestration we do, and that was where I began to question my identity.  

As I met the dynamic movers and shakers that were at ISTE 2012 I realized that there were many people representing a variety of roles. I saw a plethora of those that were categorized as CIO, CTO, District Leader or some other designation that put them in a role of technology leadership.  This representation was fantastic, but what was missing were the concurrent sessions, Special Interest Groups (SIG) or other ways for our demographic to meet and network.  In fact, my identity crisis intensified when I realized how very different each job description truly was.  Some of us are Administrators, some of us are technology leaders.  Some of us are those who made decisions about purchases and others of us make recommendations to others.  One of the most distinct differences is how many people each one of us works with – some of us are one-man crews filling every role in our schools and others are leading full teams of specialists in our schools and/or districts.

I cannot imagine that I am the only one who feels this disparity in our individual roles or the only one who feels a bit of confusion at the larger ed-tech conferences.  I am lucky enough to have a group for technology administrators in my state, METAA, that is affiliated with CoSN . However, even within this group we are faced with a variety of titles, job descriptions and team sizes.

I think we are in need of a more unified voice.  School CIO's, CTO's, Tech Leaders or whatever role you may identify with need to come together as a unified voice for schools in a digital world.  What I learned from ISTE 2012 was that I was indeed questioning something – I was questioning what the evolving role of the School CIO is, and why we are often merged into other groups.  There are resources available for School CIO's, but the reality is that this identity crisis will continue as long as we have problems identifying ourselves as a single demographic and more importantly having a vocal presence internationally at conferences and workshops.