managerial crossroads

I find myself at a strange intersection in my professional career.

On the one hand, I have prided myself on “doing more with less” in terms of what our department has accomplished with a significantly smaller budget than comparable groups on campus (to be clear – the “more with less” motto that is often used when budgets get tight or staff are laid off is one which I am firmly against and perhaps abhor as a managerial method.  We can work on getting every last drop of productivity out of our resources, but we can never do more than 100% of capacity, and we should never ask our staff to even try).

On the other, I find myself saying bold things that I have yet to back up with my own actions.  For instance, of late I have spent much time thinking about the future of IT in higher education.  This has been stewing in my head for some time now but Theresa Rowe‘s opening plenary at the SIGUCSS Management Symposium in San Diego really crystalized things.  We simply cannot keep doing things the way we always have been.  Maintaining the status quo – including the thus far incremental improvements to our systems and services – is not sustainable.  We must radically reassess our service portfolios and even reconsider whether we have the right job descriptions – much less the right people – to meet student, staff, and faculty needs going into the next decade or more.  Are we structurally sound and prepared to meet the challenges of delivering Google and Facebook-like services and innovation on the budgets that we have?  Can we really keep trying to achieve enterprise-level performance on budgets that corporate IT departments would laugh at?  I have long asserted that we have to make tough decisions and invest in those services that give back the highest value, not just the ones we “have always done.”  Rowe gave an even clearer and more comprehensive analysis ranging from technology trends to HR to management to budgeting.

Yet…have I done this in my own job thus far?  Have I actually led my staff in the charge to reduce our service portfolio to offer only high value services?  How do I even know the value level of our current services such that I can make an assessment?

I have spent the last 4 years building up the reputation of Law Technology and Academic Computing at Santa Clara Law School.  We are not perfect and many people know that.  But few point to those deficiencies as symptoms of a dysfunctional department.  There is a faith in our department – and the effort that we put into each of our duties – that has become the fundation of our role at the school.  I am extremely proud of where we are compared to when I arrived.  It’s been a combination of marketing, professional development, management, hopefully some leadership and definitely some changes in personnel.  But it’s real.

And it’s time to take advantage of it.

2012 will be our “crash” year.  This will be when we take all of this goodwill and faith in our department, bank on it and make the potentially radical changes that address the changing needs of academia.  I am convinced that, in the long run, all of our changes will make people happy.  I am also certain that in the short run several people will be upset by the removal or alternation of some services.  But during 2012, we will assess where we are, decide in what we will invest, identify what we must cut in order to achieve those goals (and things will be cut – I will not allow our portfolio to just increase without change elsewhere), and make significant changes.  We will use personal interactions, school and university-wide marketing, a bit of political maneuvering and I’m sure some apologies.  But this will be the year.

January 3 is when we return to work.  I’m sure you’ll hear from me by the end of that week…