Monthly Archive: May 2012

why not to cut your travel/conference budget

The subject line might make this seem like a really obvious post.  Of course, regardless of financial pressures, one should try to keep as many budget line items as possible and therefore not sacrifice the travel/conference budget.  We never want to cut anything right?

However, both after the dot com bubble burst and then the beginning of the Great Recession, I’ve seen departments slash these budgets first.  The very first thing to go is travel and suddenly no one goes anywhere.  It’s just accepted as a luxury that cannot be afforded anymore without much discussion.

I argue that this should be one of the last things you cut.  That you should fight for this vigorously in a budget defense and even to the point where you sacrifice other services in order to maintain that allocation.  Of course, what you really should do is energetically and critically analyze your overall service portfolio, find things that can be cut and/or increase efficiency and keep that travel budget.  I would never advocate for abolishing any existing service without careful thought just for the sake of being able to attend a conference.  But I am certain that there is something that can be cut if you look closely enough.  And make hard decisions.

At the least, cutting travel budgets should be just as hard a decision as eliminating an existing (core?) service.  It shouldn’t be an automatic decision when budgets get tight.

This isn’t really about the need to network, meet in person, etc.  Truth be told, while I value the opportunities to meet with people, I am fully aware that we can create and maintain very strong professional relationships – and exchanges of information – without meeting in person.  We can take it as far as the occasional video conference to really get things together and understood properly. You don’t have to meet in person.

This is about professional development, and connection to the community that helps foster that development.  And accomplishing the former via the latter is only viable if you maintain a presence and set of relationships that grow from consistent attendance at certain conferences.  You attend often enough to get invested, and you go again and again, and become more and more involved.  This becomes an investment from your department in you, and you in your development.

I put forth my “path” to core committee involvement for the 2012 SIGUCCS Conference.  This is held annually and brings about 300-325 (topped out at 450 but 2008 wiped the slate clean, almost) people in higher education IT together.  These attendees range from executive to line level, from CIO’s to Help Desk Managers and even a few software developers.  SIGUCCS is part of the Association of Computing Machines, the main benefits of which are the requirement to write a formal, standards-compliant paper on one’s presentation topic (if you want to present, you have to write a 4 page paper.  Now that will make people decide if they are really willing to get involved or not even at the speaker level) and the inclusion of that paper in the ACM Digital Library.  I’ve done only 3 papers and they’re fairly old, but I’ve been cited a few times and yes, it’s on my resume/CV. (I’d link to the papers but you have to be a SIGUCCS or ACM member to view them).

Every time I have attended SIGUCCS, I have increased my network through in-person meetings and chats.  But I’ve also become more and more invested in the organization, and I think I have developed as a professional as a result.

I look at my path to where I am today vis-a-vis SIGUCCS.

I realize that you can add from year to year.  But notice that except for a small gap in 2007-2008, when I went through a rather significant career change, I moved from attendee at the Technical Conference to attendee and then involvement in the program for the Spring Management Symposium (so this is more aspiring leaders than line staff) to actual conference core planning committee for 2012 (and invited to repeat role in 2013).

I’m not saying that people around the country are saying “oh, Allan Chen?  Yeah, he’s that guy from SIGUCCS!”  But I can tell you that if you said “Brad Wheeler” I’d say “that visionary CIO from Indiana University that I read about in Educause all the time.”  SIGUCCS is not Educause, but then again it would take me a lot longer to gain this level of involvement with Educause (especially because Educause is so big that organization of conferences is generally through its own existing mechanisms – not volunteers.  I’d have to be writing articles and whatnot to reach any level of notoriety).

I am invested in SIGUCCS.  The people whom I meet at SIGUCCS Conference – even those whose budgets have been slashed and only come every other year – are ones that I consider consulting when I run into various problems.  In the exact same way that I’d think about calling someone over at Central IT or perhaps up the road at Stanford.  And I have developed professionally, which is a benefit to the department and yes, to myself in the long term should I look to other professional opportunities.

And all of this is because I have fought for the travel budget.  Because we stopped offering staffed video recordings in non-automated rooms (something we’d been wanting to do for a long time anyway – we’re putting our energy towards lobbying to automate the rooms instead), because we cut back on a ambitious cloud-storage pilot (let’s find 50 committed users rather than 50+50 occasional users), and because we continue to look critically at our budget and service portfolio, we have maintained our travel budget.  And my web developer gets to go to the one conference per year that is the conference for people in his field.  My Systems Manager has been able to go to a couple of intensive virtualization briefings or trainings, and I can bring one of my Support Team folks to SIGUCCS as well.  In the past I’ve attended Educause, too (though now it conflicts too much with SIGUCCS).

So think twice before you cut that budget.  Or perhaps take another look.  It’s an investment in your team to be able to send them to conference.  It’s an investment for an attendee in the conference itself and the community thereof.  And it’s an investment for almost everyone professionally.  And if we don’t care about our level of investment in our jobs, our careers, and the quality of our work…are we in the right field?

supporting early adopters, or punishing those that go off the reservation?

A combination of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) “movement” and the rise of widely-used, highly-effective third party communication systems (eg – Gmail over whatever your company/institution is using) has created what I see as a conflict about whether to support people that you’d call either early adopters or ones that have gone off on his or her own and away from standardized systems.

First, some general definitions and stuff.  BYOD has arisen mostly because incredibly powerful computing devices have hit the mainstream.  Tons of people have smart phones (though the actual % is lower than you might think – recent surveys indicate that a solid 30-40% of cell phone users have, at most, “feature” phones with keyboards or some other extra feature for faster texting, but no web browsing or anything like that.  Many others just have flip phones for regular calling).  Lots of people have tablets.  And laptop ownership went past 75% a long time ago.  So with all of these devices already in our pockets and bags, we have to start considering the ramifications of so much computing and productivity power being brought to our campuses and work places, rather than being provided by.  A computer lab might need to be only half the size of just 2 years ago, with empty desk space being far more useful for students and their own laptops, etc.

Even though AOL first offered its own e-mail system a very, very long time ago (I was on AOL starting in 1994-1995, and I remember it had not yet purchased Compuserv), the massive shift to yahoo and google for personal e-mail also causes an issue.  In the same way that we have to consider that users have their own devices which they prefer to use over the ones we provide, we must also be aware that one’s well-established gmail account might supersede the benefits of an organizational e-mail system (or calendar system, or chat system, etc).  Yes, for work purposes there is the issue of separating official from personal e-mail but the lines get more and more blurred, even for employees, as adoption of these other tools gets higher and higher.  Investment into one’s personal gmail account gets so high that his or her identity is based on that account, not the or one.

We have faculty at Santa Clara Law – people who are scholars associated with an academic institution – who use their gmail accounts with suffixes over their accounts.  I recently worked with a few marketing folks that asked me to contact them on their yahoo and gmail accounts instead of their company ones, because it was faster (and easier to get to one their phones, etc).

A lot of the two movements go hand-in-hand.  Because it’s so easy to connect an Android phone or iPhone to gmail, people prefer to have that account when “on the go.”  As they are more and more mobile, more of their e-mail goes to those “non-sanctioned” accounts.  As more goes there, less goes to the official one.  And so on.

As we look towards a shift to a new e-mail and calendaring (and collaboration) toolset at Santa Clara University, those faculty that switched over to gmail will in fact be left “out in the cold.”  They are using the “commercial” version of gmail, and we’ll be using the “educational” version of either Google or Microsoft’s cloud-based solutions.  Even if we go with Google, there is no migration option from a personal, commercial account to an institutional, Apps for Education one.

So…in a way, we are punishing those that adopted these highly-productive tools (gmail, gchat, etc), potentially a side-effect of early adoption of highly-capable devices (smartphones, tablets).  We are penalizing early-adopters.

Yet we rely on early adopters to push the envelope, to ask the questions that those only one standard-deviation away from the mean have not yet considered, and to help motivate and inspire us to do more and be more creative.

How do we resolve this conflict?  Do we create an environment that encourages early adoption?  Many times it is these individuals that help instructional technologists (or just plain technologists) try new things and work out the bugs.  But what happens when we switch to a standard that leaves them out in the cold?  What safety nets do we provide?  If none, then do we risk fragmentation (aside from dissatisfaction, of course)?