This article first appeared in CIO Advisor Magazine March 2018

Schools are complex environments and finding the correct contact person to pitch your product to is often elusive.

However, is the school business manager that person? In recent times I’ve noted that software vendors and text-book publishers are telling their sales reps to target school business managers as “they are the key decision-makers” in schools. Many are spending large amounts investing in showcase conferences in order to gain access. I wonder how the business managers would feel about teachers being given charge of the choice and deployment of a new school payroll platform for instance?

In what organisation would the CFO have the final say on an enterprise-wide technology platform over the CEO? Or a CFO, over a CDO? How could you expect a business manager to have the depth of knowledge around the curriculum to know which text-books will facilitate the greatest learning, the depth of knowledge required or assist in boosting engagement levels in the classroom? Ok, that’s an extreme example, as I know it’s a very rare thing to find a textbook that can do any of those things!

However, perhaps it’s time we reflect upon who is making the enterprise decisions in your school, and who drives that process? It’s crucial to have an enterprise-wide focus on the customer’s needs and their journey. The most important objective here is to start with, “who is your customer?” When it comes to classroom technology it is the students themselves who should be the end beneficiary. Where I’ve witnessed Learning Management Systems fail time and time again is when the product is chosen by, managed by and rolled out by the I.T. teams without any input from the teachers, the curriculum designers or students. The students should always have the most to gain from the implementation of technology within the classroom, as it’s not about the device, but the instructional leadership and the assurance that the technology is not just an add-on but truly ubiquitous.

It’s only in recent years that the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft have even supported the education sector with products and pricing. In my mind, our students are their customers of tomorrow and if you can engage them with products so that they will invest in them (their time, communication, images and their social network interactions etc ), then in all likelihood you have a customer for life. There is one thing however that no one wants and that’s advertising. Both Facebook, and MySpace before them, made this mistake and it’s my guess Instagram is heading in the same direction. For a reasonable and fair price, we’d all rather pay for our platforms to be ad-free, rather than walk away from it, but that wasn’t, and isn’t an option.

In every organisation the executive all need a deep understanding of the “big picture”, the end game, an understanding of the School’s strategic direction, a gauge on the community and the risk analysis with aligning themselves to one of the big three environments, as whilst technology is empowering it can also be disruptive. There needs to be a collective vision for how technology can enhance learning, as isn’t learning the main objective of a school?

Principals need a basic understanding of the digital environment in which we now all work and live and I have long lamented the lack of digital and I.T. skills imbued in teacher training qualifications, so unless our educators are prioritising their digital skillset themselves they are unlikely to acquire the knowledge to make decisions without the help and support of others. There is plenty to be said for groups popping up like ETCV (Education Technology Consortium Victoria) who offer all schools, no matter their affiliation or sector, the opportunity to discuss, share, learn and ultimately improve school outcomes through the effective use of technology.

A transformative IT leader needs to continually be driving business success and leveraging technology to support new learning pedagogies and ensuring innovation across the environment. By participating in PLN’s (Professional Learning Networks) leaders have the opportunity to learn from one another and share information across physical networks, as well as virtual e.g. Twitter, Slack groups, MS Teams and online forums such as MITIE. Open and transparent conversations comparing products, and in particular service and support post-sale, and all of this bypassing sales teams & direct contact with vendors. To gain, or perhaps retain competitive advantage, many are also attending events completely outside of their sector so they can ensure that what is happening in their education sphere is reflective of the world their students will soon enter.

So whilst I don’t have all the answers, I know that to succeed as a transformative leader in the digital and technological space we all need to continue providing thought leadership and advice and support to our Principals and Executive Teams. We also need an understanding of external developments, innovations and new trends ensuring our organisations are aware and agile enough to respond to new developments. So if you work in sales and we don’t return your calls, please know that many of us are conducting research online and via our networks and we may already be well aware of your product or service, but the thing that will sell it is the experience of others and the traditional ‘word of mouth’ pitch from a trusted and respected colleague.

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