Who ever thought that technology would become such a deep part of ‘our culture’s conversation’?
Who ever thought the President of the United States would apologize for a failed web site?
A Story of Open Rebellion at Yale
A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles.
Last week’s story about Yale’s students creating a “better” online course catalog is a parable for everything happening in IT today.
It’s worth reading in order:
- Yale shut down a student created application, “course book plus”, that grew in popularity because students preferred it to the original. It appears they preferred it better because it presented information more clearly towards the goal of helping them pick classes.
- The Dean of Yale explained their reasoning, pretty much saying the students could have “any color car they like, as long as it’s black”. Meaning, the school doesn’t care how improved data visualizations can help students make better decisions. The school cares about keeping control of the data for reasons that aren’t keeping the user experience top of mind. (I want to be careful to make sure I’m not judging Yale’s reasoning. There may be very good reasons for Yale’s position, and especially if I’m not talking about Yale, but the general case. That’s besides the point.)
- Another student, Sean Haufler, released a version that complies with all of Yale’s copyright concerns except for how the data is displayed, is unblock-able by Yale, and still gives the students (users) what they want. In fact, it reduces infrastructure needs by optimizing caching performance so will give students an even better mobile experience while saving the university money in the long term.1
What does this have to do with IT?
Well, 6 years ago Cisco had people with a part of their job to find and stop people using Macs. Now, Cisco don’t care who uses what computer as long as they comply with appropriate Cisco IT policies. Cisco have thought bigger, and instead of saying “can’t use macs because of security” have asked “how do we make user computing secure?” and then solved that higher order problem.
IT can’t solve every employee or customer (I hate the word user) problem. What they can do is create an infrastructure that lets people solve their own problems, like the Yale students have. IT’s role is then to provide the infrastructure in such a way as to protect the enterprise.
3 Examples of the sorts of things IT can deliver to help embrace this change:
- Ensure that there’s a secure infrastructure so that developers don’t have to be experts at security or compliance.
- Create an automated testing and deployment infrastructure so that changes can be deployed more easily without sacrificing quality.
- Provide a consistent identity solution so that data rights or compliance policies can be centrally & universally enforced in the infrastructure.
These elements are then shared as a service, or inherited ‘invisibly and automatically’ by applications so that people can create their own solutions and IT can protect the organization.
Oh, and there’s more. Have you seen my list of 10 things every development organization should be experimenting with?
Letting go is scary. Unfortunately for IT the question is no longer if, but when, what happens in Yale happens in their organization.
- I want to point out that at least for me, Sean’s website loaded incredibly faster than Yale’s Daily News… maybe he can help their student paper’s site too? [↩]