Getting a Tune-Up While Still Driving

In the last year and a half as a Director of Technology for a school district, I’ve learned quite a lot about leadership, technology, customer service, and of course, human behavior.  At most organizations, the IT department is tasked with two overarching goals: 1) Keep the current systems functional, and
2) Improve the current systems

This, of course, seems to be contradictory. How can one group of people tend to systems that are always in use, while also finding the time to make those systems perform faster, more efficiently, and in ways that better serve the other stakeholders in the organization (in our case: teachers, staff, students, and parents)? Further, how do we make these improvements and test them in real time without disrupting the use of the systems?

We recently experienced the unfortunate results of this contradiction.  One of our goals this year has been to condense the large number of different logins our staff and students have into a single username and password.  For anyone unfamiliar with the workings of identity systems, this is no small task.  Specifically, we have been looking at syncing our students’ Google Drive, Typing Agent, and OverDrive username/passwords – all through Active Directory (that’s our top level identity system).  This would make life much easier for our students and our teachers, who often have to contact our office in the middle of the school day when a student can’t remember their password (and thus can’t access their class materials or assignments).

Since so many students had changed their passwords internally in these systems, we had an issue where students had multiple passwords to remember.   Part of this syncing project required us to reset all student passwords to a default in Active Directory, so that the passwords for these programs would again be in sync. By mistake, the script to reset each student’s Active Directory password ran during the school day, which logged off any student who was at the time logged into any of the above mentioned services (mostly it was Google). The technician who created the script was upset because he knew this would impact and upset many teachers. The technician, by the way, is an outstanding person and employee and pretty much never makes a mistake.  Of course, an email went out explaining the change, and most people were unaffected by this.  A few teachers emailed thanking us because their students were managing as any as three passwords (not easy when you are 8 years old). Some teachers, however, were inconvenienced and a few let us know via email. They certainly had a right to be annoyed- we agree that changes made during the day should only be for emergencies.  But mistakes happen, and we rolled with the punches.  In the end, this has lead to a quickening of our password unification project.

And it furthers my understanding of the dichotomy of the IT department. We must at the same time maintain and improve our systems despite the fact that the systems are all in use all day long.


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