Musings, Rants, and Random Thoughts

The Latest from Moody’s – TL/DR – Not So Good

Moody’s released their higher education credit outlook report (IHE article, too) yesterday. This is the second year in a row that it’s been a negative rating (used to be “stable”). I found a few interesting points in the report. A quick summary is that low net-tuition revenue growth continues to make for a bleak forecast, and that expenses should outpace that revenue, to boot. We’d have to get to a 3% increase in revenue to get level again, and to get to a stable rating. Privates are forecast to be a bit better off than state schools. The full report, which is for subscribers only, is a lot more illuminating, but I’ll reference information in the linked article only.

Labor remains the biggest cost for higher education institutions, up to 75% of total expenses. A professor at U Wisconsin Madison says that it’s just the “nature of the beast” that it takes a lot of staff and faculty to run a higher education institution. This is completely true, and Baumol’s Cost Disease speaks to the fact that economies of scale are extremely difficult in labor-intensive industries such as higher education (massive oversimplication). If you want an 11:1 student to faculty ratio, you have to hire enough faculty to achieve that result. Faculty salaries go up. Labor expenses go up. There is no way to use scale that doesn’t erode that student to faculty ratio. It’s like trying to make a musical quintet more efficient in labor. You can’t have a 5 piece band with 4 people.

If this truly is the “nature of the beast” then we need to be asking some hard questions about our business model. I don’t mean that in the “higher ed should be run like a business” kind of way – just how we get things done. None of these questions are all that new – different channels for delivery (online), for instance.

There is another part about how colleges and universities are expected to “control those costs in the coming year.” This is about cost containment. Or, in most cases, cutting costs. But that’s a simplistic analysis, too. What if you’ve already cut things to the bone? What if there are few remaining efficiencies to be gained? At this point, I’m slicing a few thousand dollars off our phone bill and calling that a win (there are loads of other places here at the College where we can save money. I’m not the only one trying to contain costs and I’m not saying that all costs have been trimmed. We are not perfect. My point is that this isn’t a winning strategy forever).

It’s an interesting time in higher education, to be sure. Certainly reports such as Moody’s cast a negative forecast on things, but there are a lot of exciting and positive things happening, too. How we react to the forces identified in reports like these will partially determine where we – as an “industry” and as individual institutions – will find ourselves in the coming years.

 

Higher Education – if not a business, then what?

Use the phrase “higher education should be run like a business” and you’ll usually get polar-opposite responses from a wide range of people. One CIO might agree while another runs at you with a pitchfork or torch. Some presidents may feel sympathy for the argument, while others will take a completely opposite stance. In other words, it’s not as if one group of individuals (like CIOs) agree while others (like presidents) don’t. You get the bi-polar set of reactions everywhere.

Even what one means can be controversial. Do you mean all of higher education? Including the academic side? In which case you probably (but not definitely) mean teaching at scale (large lectures or even MOOC-style ones), accessing new channels (online), and perhaps even modifications to curriculum. Or do you mean the administrative side? In which case you’re talking about business operations. Of course, it’s not a clean separation. What about a business analysis of the output from academic departments? Many institutions (I’ll find some links later) have been cancelling majors due to low numbers of graduates, meaning that the major is not producing the “ROI” that the institution expects. I usually interpret that investment as in the form of the faculty paid to run that program, but I  might be narrow-minded on that.

For me, I generally mean business operations whenever I ponder this phrase. I am not sold that it should be run like a business. We are an educational institution, with service providers and “consumers” (I mean that literally, and not as akin to “customers.” I mean people that consume the service we provide) that are focused on education and the growth of young adults and adult learners. But then I look at how I spend my days trying to do “cost containment” (ie – cutting expenses) on things such as phone bills and internet service, or getting bids on projects, and it sure does feel like a business sometimes.

So my question is – if not to be run like a business, how is an institution to be run, on the administrative side? What is the framework or model that one would prefer to use? And can you articulate that framework?

the name of the game is change

When we had our first child, something we heard over and over was “the only constant is change.”

While that has certainly played out as truth as our son has grown and our daughter has joined the ranks, it’s pretty apropos for a lot of situations right now in my life. Nothing more so than in my transition to Muhlenberg College. There are the obvious aspects – literally packing up and moving across the country – but speaking purely from the job side, I’m working hard at taking all of my notions and existing ideas, throwing them in a box, and turning it completely upside down. Then I’m taking every idea I can from books and mentors and piling them on top, then I’m mixing them all together using some kind of metaphorical salad tongs (okay, I don’t see the value of that metaphor, but I liked the imagery). Then I’m slowly spreading it all out on a giant canvas in my mind.

What I am not doing is trying to put them into any kind of structure or together like pieces of a puzzle.

The challenge before me, I think, is to be comfortable with the prospect of change. How much change, in what direction, in respect to what – I don’t know that. But there will be change. And I have to make myself comfortable with knowing that there will be change yet simultaneously trying not to think too much about what that change will look like. I must prepare the tools, but not build anything.

I might be completely wrong on all of this, but what seems to be the most important thing as I look at this transition is to avoid any preconceived notions of what I will see, what I will do, or what I think I might perhaps possibly have to consider doing if the conditions are right. I want to go there with a truly open mind, yet also armed to the teeth with every tool possible. As a picture of Muhlenberg takes shape, I will slowly fit the pieces that are lying all over the place – all those ideas and theories and “how I’ve done things before” – to that culture until it makes sense. I will reshape an entirely new version of myself as a leader and manager that fits the culture.

I’m not saying that I will be purely subject to the existing aspects of Muhlenberg. I won’t just conform to what is already there. I am and always will be a set of principles and ideals that uniquely combine into the person I am. That person will find different connections between what I learn at Muhlenberg and that big pile of ideas than someone else would. The leader that emerges will be one that is considerate of the new surroundings yet will still be distinctly “me.” And I won’t spend forever fitting those pieces, either – to just wade through the waters for too long is a disservice to the college and simply doing a bad job as manager. It’s also not the kind of person I am.

Wish me luck…

out with the old, in with the old

As a leader and manager, there are few times as trying on one’s…patience and personal confidence as when a project designed to improve operations is well planned, coordinated, and apparently implemented…and fails.  When one has taken a problem area, identified a solution, yet finds the institution in the same exact undesirable situation again and again.  I recently had this happen, and it has left me questioning everything from my core abilities to, at times, my sanity, it seemed.

I think that everyone hopes that, with a new year (in this case a new academic year), a new page will be turned, old problems will subside, and we will be faced only with new challenges.

I am certain that the 4-5 people that will read this are already laughing cynically at that statement.  We all wish this.  We never seem to get it.  And it’s not always that the problems are the same ones – sometimes it’s just the nature of the problem. Sadly, sometimes it is literally the exact same problem as a  year ago, with the exact same cause, and the exact same limitations in why we cannot find a better solution.  Budget constraints mean we can’t implement a new solution.  Staff issues (office politics?) stand in the way of change.  There simply isn’t a better way to get something done, within the nature of the current environment.

But occasionally there is an opportunity.  And hopefully that comes about because of good planning, strategic thinking, and months and months of wise decision-making, well-considered pros and cons, and decisive leadership (exaggeration added).  We do the right things over the summer (or even just “since the last time that process broke”).  We analyze the issues, suggest changes, get bids, and put in place a “fix.”  We use best practices.  We use proper project planning. And things still go awry.

These can be the times that are the most trying.  There are few things that can wear down someone involved in a project, from planner to implementer (and sometimes those are the same person…), than going through all the “right” steps only to have things unravel just like before.  To see an elegant fix turn out to be just another sub-optimal solution with as many problems as before. We all have our stories.  Perhaps one day we can all share them.

My next post, coming shortly, discusses the trials of trying to be a good communicator during such situations.  That’s part of good management and leadership, too.  Being present, visible, and taking responsibility.  But sometimes that means putting one’s self in the line of a lot of fire and flak just to keep a face to the organization, and that is certainly wearying, too.

Educause Review Review – “A Transformative Period: Is Higher Education IT Having an Identity Crisis?”

Disclaimer:  I realize my comments might be taken as criticism of other CIOs or of the intent of the writers of Educause Review. First, that’s not at all my goal.  My goal is to say that perhaps the time for us to discuss the “still changing” role of the CIO is past.  And should be past.  But saying this doesn’t mean that I necessarily think that I don’t fall victim to some of these thoughts and even practices now and then.  In other words, I’m saying that my house might be made of glass…but I don’t think I’m throwing stones.  At the very least, in terms of career accomplishments, I have no right to make these comments.  But if I always thought that way I would rarely write anything.  This is a general commentary, and is not about myself at any rate. 

Also, note that while I am highlighting an Educause Review article in this particular post, it’s mostly because it’s the most recent one on this topic.  I’m certainly not criticizing the publication nor its various editors and staff (many of whom I know personally).  If this is still an important question, then ER should be covering it.  However, I am not sure it is an important question.

In early June, Educause Review posted an article titled A Transformative Period: Is Higher Education IT Having an Identity Crisis?   The question being posed is whether, in light of all the changes in higher ed in general, IT is facing a set of changes so dramatic that the entire role of an IT organization must be reconsidered?  It asserts that “the IT organization must be prepared to engage with its institution in a number of ways in a fast-paced environment” and that this is an “issue of transformation.”

Several interviewees give a variety of answers, but I must admit that I am having trouble with the question, and the premise itself.  I don’t think there should be any transformation going on at all, at least not now.  More broadly, I don’t see why we are still having this conversation.  Shouldn’t we already be what this article is asserting we should be…changing into?  If we aren’t already there, then the problem isn’t about adjusting to change tomorrow, but about whether we can be effective leaders today.  So why the ongoing discussion?

On the one hand, if one looks at the field of IT unto itself, without the context of managers and leaders, then yes, there is a major shift occurring.  One can either acknowledge this change and take advantage of it to grow an organization, or ignore it and become irrelevant.  Essentially, in a time when many IT services are becoming commodities and students (and faculty and staff) are bringing in personal devices that are sometimes far more powerful and certainly more mobile than what departments have been able to offer in the past (BYOD), if an IT organization doesn’t think about change, then its role as a vital part of the institution will be greatly jeopardized.  But I think looking at just the entity, the set of services that make up IT, is a completely useless perspective.  What matters are the people and the leaders that are in place.

Any and all leaders in IT today must be looking at the landscape far beyond the technology.  Business processes, enabling innovation, supporting mobility, accepting BYOD, and pushing forward new and creative initiatives.  If a CIO isn’t already instinctively thinking about these matters, about the role of IT as part of a key, strategic and programmatic component of a rapidly changing landscape, rather than just a service provider, then there is a serious issue.  Again, the true, underlying question for me is why are we still discussing this?  Maybe we need a note on the side saying “hey!  make sure you’re thinking this way!” with each issue but surely Educause Review with all its great content can devote some pages to other topics.

The identity crisis is not about IT from the perspective of the IT leadership.  It’s one created entirely by the institution itself, if and only if it is not putting enough thought into the role of IT or ignoring the hopefully-forward thinking minds that lead such organization. Of course, this is in fact often the case – the institution is lagging behind the existing change in leadership styles in IT.  Even if there is a really creative IT leader that understands these dynamics, it’s certainly possible that other executives at the institution will disagree.  They will be the ones that relegate IT to simply a service provider, rather than an enabler or a creative entity that adds value.  This is certainly a big challenge.

But the article implies that the identity crisis is located in the IT organization, or is at least partly so.  This discussion therefore still doesn’t make sense to me.  A leader in IT, today, should be considering the department’s role in the institution’s long-term strategic planning all the time. Let’s look a bit closer at some of the comments, and I will take another probably-too-bold step in offering my own thoughts and responses.
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enterprise allan

I spend a lot of my time thinking about “the enterprise.”  An enterprise level infrastructure.  Enterprise level operations.  An enterprise network with reliability and durability.  Servers that will fail-over to each other and systems that will survive power outages and redundant network connections.  Enterprise level thinking, where we plan, strategize, implement, evaluate, and then start over.

What about making myself more enterprise?  Not how I work – hopefully I’m already operating at some level that at least someone will consider in the ballpark of moderately well-performing (qualified enough for you??).  But what about…how I am as a person?

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a bigger step than I realized

It’s been slightly less than 3 months that I’ve been CIO at Menlo College.  While in many, many ways it’s not a conventional CIO position, I am still consistently surprised at how different my work is now compared to before.  I would presume that most people in CIO positions are working in relatively large organizations, where each direct report is a manager unto him or herself.  Here, I have a team of 7 (2 are 50%) including myself so I’m still very hands-on.  In many ways one would think that my job would not be much different from being Assistant Dean for Law Technology at the Santa Clara University Law School.  I am still doing strategic planning, still communicating with schools in the area for collaboration, and still working with a small team to be highly productive, rather than a large organization. You’d think the jobs would be similar.

You would be very, very wrong…

The difference between that job – arguably the CIO of the law school – and this one is significant.  First, the scope.  There is nothing in between being a Director of IT for a unit and CIO for an entire institution that prepares you for the scope of responsibilities.  I can’t imagine one, anyway.  I suppose that a CIO could throw all responsibilities at a direct report to give that sense, but even someone really bad at delegation wouldn’t give everything to one person.  You’d delegate to 3-4 trusted folks.  In which case none of those 3-4 have to deal with the scope.  But at the end of the day, a CIO of a small college like Menlo or a big one like, say, Princeton is still where the buck stops.  When it comes down to it, a CIO has to be at least aware of everything going on.

Even beyond scope, I’m now doing certain activities that I never engaged in before.  Negotiating the price of a SAN – sure, done that.  Negotiating the price of our ERP, then asking for installments to handle our cash flow environment, with a shorter contract under the stipulation that we’d get the same pricing next year?  Totally different.  And having to keep in mind cash flow all the time?  Puts a spin on everything.  Then the phones go down or the wireless network won’t hand out IPs anymore and it’s back in the trenches.  It really has caught me off guard, which is saying a lot because I tried really hard to be ready for anything.

The financials is the big part.  It’s not as simple as “you pay a lot for licensing and hardware refreshes, then use up whatever else is left wisely.”  I have both more and less leeway to use some techniques I found useful in the past.  For instance, I would cycle lean and “heavy” years at the law school.  One year we’d spend a lot on servers and storage – maybe $125,000.  The next year we’d spend $20,000, if not a bit less.  This helped me get that big budget approved, and gave the school a lot of flexibility in the lean years to allow other departments to do stuff.

I can’t do that now.  I am the one budget, so I can’t really give myself leeway by having heavy and lean years.  And while this is a very cooperative environment, the bottom line is that few departments have one-time projects that can be funded through decreased IT needs for that one year then absorbed into operations and budget from then on, while IT’s budget goes up again.  So I have to spend about the same amount year over year on everything.  I can move dollars around and perhaps yes, I can spend a bit more on something this year and less on it next year.  But my budget is not part of a larger overall budget in the same way it was at the law school.

I am also much more sensitive to cash flow.  Because I was abstracted at least one more layer away from the school’s direct finances and the decreased spending in one month by, say, the career center would offset increased spending that same month by Law Tech, I could spend more or less from month to month.  It didn’t matter as much if I had all of my licenses due in the same month.  Here, because my budget is fairly large, if I don’t spread things out I inhibit my own ability to spend.  Almost like our budget is so big that we hold ourselves back in terms of our flexibility.

There are a dozen if not maybe 30 other ways that have shown me, repeatedly, how big of a divide there is between before and now.  But the gulf has proven to be quite large indeed…

reversing the magnets

The post title is about friends becoming…more than friends (can you name the movie?), but this is NOT about that.  It is about the nature of a (professional) relationship changing due to a realization of significance.

I recently accepted a position to be CIO at Menlo College in Atherton, CA.  A post about that is in progress but discussions with people motivate me to write this one first.

I have always trusted, respected, and in many parts of my job admired my manager.  She is a professional above reproach who still invests herself personally in her projects.  She treats everyone fairly.  Most importantly, she has been a mentor to me (as much as a manager can ever be a true mentor).  She has helped me along from a  young, inexperienced (never been a manager before) but presumably filled-with-potential subordinate to someone that has, I think, proven to be an adaptable, strong-willed leader of a group that needed change and realignment.  This is no small task for me to have accomplished, and I could not have done it without her support and guidance.

However…when I applied for this new job, even though I respected my manager so much, the concept of trusting one’s direct supervisor to the extent of using her as a direct reference OR notifying her of your intent to apply for another job was foreign to me.  It’s still a bit weird, to be honest, but the concept literally did not compute or exist or…anything.

It’s very difficult to explain in writing, to be honest.  But I can offer my thought process as an example of how I honestly did not even conceive of this idea before.  To me, my instinct is that she is my manager, and therefore I don’t do anything until offer is in hand.  As a manager she will take my efforts as a sign of not being committed to my job, lack of loyalty, etc.  But perhaps that is too simplistic of a view.  In some cases, the layers above that basic reporting structure should be considered.  That step – taking time to consider the relationship as unique and distinct from a generic manager-subordinate one – just never happened.  It never entered into my thought process.

Looking back (a whopping 2 weeks ago) and having spoken to a few people at very high level executive positions at the school and university, I now realize that in some cases, such a relationship is possible.  One has to be careful, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have such a relationship again.  But I do feel that it is possible, and I will, in the future, consider these extra layers as I look forward in my career.

hm.

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 name.edu or company.com one.

We have faculty at Santa Clara Law – people who are scholars associated with an academic institution – who use their gmail accounts with gmail.com suffixes over their scu.edu 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)?