Reinvention of the IT infrastructure of a business model is like a reverse tablecloth trick

One of the most challenging forms of reinvention is that related to the organization’s information and communication infrastructure. It would be indeed silly to elaborate on the importance of an IT system in ensuring the viability of an organization’s metabolism. Imagine replacing with new ones all the blood vessels and nerve fibers in your entire body, while you work and play! This idea, as a metaphor for re-inventing all the functionalities of the IT system may be too preposterous, so let us take another one.

The well-known trick guaranteed to amuse the guests is to pull the tablecloth out from under your fully set dinner table, plates, silverware, glasses and all. It is not easy but can be done, as explained at the Wikihow website (http://www.wikihow.com/Pull-a-Tablecloth-from-Under-a-Place-Setting), with the humorous proviso that “the only hard part is cleaning up all the broken dishes on the floor”…

With an IT system, such as the intranet, “pulling the tablecloth” part is trivial – it is enough to switch off the servers. Unfortunately, it immediately cripples the organization. We need a trick that would simultaneously remove the old intranet and replace its functionalities with those provided by the new system. One can compare this to putting a new tablecloth on the table while the dinner is on. It would certainly not work without close collaboration with the dinner guests (read: users). This issue cannot be emphasized enough: the architects of the new IT system must never forget about collecting insights from the users of the previous IT system.

Talk to the users. Before it’s too late, i.e. before the system’s components solidify. Early stages are especially important, because the early decisions determine the overall logic of the entire project, about establishing connections between the components and deciding what data flow where.

Thinking about an educational institution *, like my own, it also has its business model which cries to be re-invented. The flow of the data between such modules as student registration data, student course plans, student schedules and class section assignments must be flawless and must ensure that all databases are synchronized, continually updatable, and, of course, mutually compatible.

Within-module functionalities may be polished later. For example, the structure of the template for thesis evaluation carried out by thesis advisers and reviewers, with specific criteria and scoring system, does not affect any other modules. The criteria and measurement scales may be modified at any stage. The only important data are outputs, i.e. the grades assigned to the evaluated thesis work, because they must become available for the “computation of the GPA” module or for automatically filling out the template for the diploma.

So, the modules must talk to each other, just like the IT people must talk to the users: school administrators, faculty members, and students. Importantly, the interests of none of the groups should be privileged.

Mike Jasienski, writing from the Center for Innovatics, WSB-NLU, Nowy Sacz, Poland.

* Other aspects of reinventing the IT tools in your organization are discussed in my paper (supported by the Reinvent project and available from my ResearchGate profile https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263051212_Features_of_an_e-learning_environment_which_promote_critical_and_creative_thinking_Choice_feedback_anonymity_and_assessment), published in the International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life-Long Learning 24 (3/4): 237-251 (2014).

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