Thursday, December 19, 2013

Building Agile Organizations: Common Good Services and Adaptibility

The economic downturn in the business world generated business commentary that can be useful for today's changing higher education market.  "The agile organization puts its 'non-negotiables'... in the center, while empowering the local units... to be more responsive and adaptive to local markets, customers, and trends." (Outlook 2009 Accenture).  Let's take that statement and consider how it might work on a campus, with centralized and decentralized information technology operations.

What are our "non-negotiables" that we believe must be part of central IT?

How can we encourage local support to be responsive and adaptive to department needs?

Let's look at each of these questions.  Non-negotiables are those IT solutions and services that benefit the campus community.  The higher education IT organizations appear to favor the term "Common Good Services," originally attributed to the University of Minnesota.

Purdue University provides a nice example of how they use the idea of central services to make organizational decisions in their document Common Good Services Philosophy.  In that document, they speak about the recognition of core services:
""Common Good Services" refers to that set of basic, non-specialized computing resources that is
beneficial for nearly all members of the Purdue community.  Common Good Services are those
basic information technology services that most community members would agree are critical to
conducting business (academic, business, student, and research) at a modern research university."
These services are always on and not customized to a specific department.

The University of Texas at Austin uses the Common Good list to identify services that are funded and available through a core data and network charge, so there's an established funding link.

I like how these organizations have identified those core services and clearly linked them to their specific applicable funding models and to their decision processes.  Also, using the philosophy to explain why something is centrally funded versus funded by a local department is very useful.  

How can we use this to enhance an adaptive IT organization?  By clearly establishing the solutions and services that are core and part of the common good, we are transparent in priority setting and funding models.  We can use this to explain how we spend our budget funds, as so much of what we maintain for the common good can lack transparency to senior leadership.  

Common good services provide a consistent service level, in a practical way.  Faculty members and students, walking from one academic building to the next, can expect a consistent level of network services, for example.  Redundant processes and duplicative costs are removed, freeing resources to work on other priorities.

The common good services can provide a reliable, consistent, and stable foundation on which to build more responsive and adaptive solutions at the edge.  If we provide a consistent core, and then encourage local units to build responsive and locally customized solutions on that foundation, we can promote organizational adaptability and responsiveness.  The Outlook 2009 Accenture article on agile organizations suggests:
"The bureaucracy that results from an overly centralized model can stifle innovation and result in delayed market responsiveness.  On the other hand, an overly decentralized model can result in inconsistencies in response, slower product development, organizational redundancies and excessive costs."  

On my campus, while we've clearly identified our core services to our community, we haven't done as well as Purdue in documenting the philosophy.  I can see where doing so would help our community understand what is centrally funded and what is at the edge.  It would also help our IT managers understand how certain decisions are made and how they can help work with that model.  This will be a step in our process of building a more agile IT organization.