Overcoming Non-Technological Challenges of K-12 Technology Innovation

By Joe Prchlik, Director of Operations and Technology, Northwest Ohio Computer Association (NWOCA) and

Michael Struck, Director of IT Infrastructure and Development, Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA)

Budgetary shortfalls and limited resources make it difficult for K-12 districts to effectively address the exploding technology needs of the schools, students, and teachers they serve. It was this reality that brought together two information technology centers, Northwest Ohio Computer Association (NWOCA) and Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association (TRECA). We realized that if we collaborated on a cloud-based storage solution for our customers – Ohio K-12 schools and school districts – we would be able to deliver a rich set of services far beyond what we would have been able to offer on our own.

Some may assume the biggest challenge we faced was agreeing on the specific technology solutions and where they would be stored. However, we solved this with the help of NetApp and MCPc and the combination of NetApp's FAS3250, Cisco UCS, and NetApp's FAS2240. Since we focused on services from the cloud, we could eliminate any concern about the location of the hardware. The biggest obstacle was challenging our broader community to embrace a new way of thinking. How can two separate organizations collaborate to the benefit of a shared client base?

Below are key lessons from our journey exploring new partnerships and creative methods to deliver IT services. While NWOCA and TRECA have ultimately resulted in a success story for Ohio, the early chapters were filled with lessons learned.

1. Make the commitment.
From the earliest conversations, NWOCA and TRECA envisioned how our collaboration would deliver a better, less expensive, and a more complete portfolio of technology services. We maintained a laser focus on our shared vision, and each step of the project was developed to fulfill this commitment to Ohio school districts.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but we were exploring a new (or at least a non-traditional) type of collaboration. An unwavering commitment to our mission was critical, given the frequency of bureaucratic and political challenges we encountered. Our program, processes, roles, and responsibilities were frequently questioned and critiqued by powers outside of the IT leadership. So it was critical to deliver upon our commitment to Ohio schools.

2. Establish the trust.
Forming a new strategic partnership requires a leap of faith, regardless of the amount of due diligence conducted prior to signing on the dotted line. But once the ink is dry, the collaboration must move forward with a sense of trust. When you second guess yourself, the team’s focus shifts from the eventual project’s success, and instead zeros in on potential failures. With doubt, barriers arise, communications are interrupted, and progress halts.

An exciting (and terrifying) element of moving outside of the traditional business partnership paradigm is we often had to write the rules as we went. Rather than putting up barriers or assigning blame, the partnership had to trust it could work together to resolve issues and determine the best path forward.

3. Move forward.
Now with the commitment to success made, the trusted partnership established, and roles and responsibilities defined—Execute! Get it done, move towards fulfilling the commitment, begin to see the positive changes, and don’t forget to celebrate milestone program successes.

We quickly discovered we were on the right track, even when a few tweaks needed to be made in our strategic plan. Opportunities abounded, so we further explored how we could better leverage resources to benefit Ohio students, teachers, and schools. Our results strengthened the support we received among even the most skeptical “powers-that-be.” We were pragmatic in our approach, answered questions, and reported back our progress, while always continuing to move toward the successful execution outcome.

Together, we learned collaborating on non-traditional models of IT service delivery had just as much to do with these intangible elements as with the technology solutions we sought to provide. Knowing we couldn’t deliver on our vision by doing it alone, our focus and understanding of these critical items resulted in a successful partnership – and a fulfilled commitment to Ohio K-12 schools.