Loyola New Orleans, freshman year: My first work-study job was as a student office assistant in the English department. In my spare time, I fixed the Apple ][ personal computers in the writing lab. Why? No one else could figure out how to keep the aging hardware and WordPerfect software alive — but I did. Support calls from the department to Academic Computing Services (ACS) dropped… a lot. The ACS lab manager thought something was wrong and then he learned about me. My work-study position was reassigned to ACS midyear and I began my spring semester (and my career) in IT.
On my first day, I was handed a manual for AppleShare and given a week to figure out how to build a multi-user Macintosh. The server-based model that I crafted upon my manager’s vision became the standard for the institution for years to come, and changed campus and me. From that moment, mission-driven technology was in my blood.
During my last year at Loyola, I took a job at a New Orleans advertising and marketing firm. What I didn’t know was that I was pioneering new approaches for creating digital media (which wasn’t a thing back then), and was fortunate enough to work with the most cutting edge Macintosh systems and advanced creative tools of the time. I blended video production and art direction with programming, and crafted media-rich touchscreen-based interactive experiences. While quite exciting to be on the bleeding edge of digital media and crafting an interactive future, something seemed to be missing.
I struck out on my own as a freelance interactive media designer, but the market wasn’t quite ready yet (this was before the commercial internet). I broadened my scope and returned to Macintosh systems administration, which led me to healthcare and the cardiology unit of the Ochsner Clinic. There, I applied everything I learned about interactive media toward clinical diagnostic applications and research. Notions of mission-driven technology surfaced again and began filling the gap — there was a greater why.
I left New Orleans and within a few months found myself working in data visualization and multimedia at the University of Chicago. I was in the thick of research, teaching and learning and actively contributing to path-breaking discoveries and tackling complex pedagogical problems with technology. Over time, I my role shifted into becoming a campus leader who guided the adoption and transformation of learning, teaching and research with the emergence and normalization Internet-driven technologies. The university’s mission inspired me and was at the heart of my leadership.
After nearly two decades, it was time to move on. I parted ways with the university to become an educational technology and online learning strategist at Blackboard. I assisted institutions, organizations, systems and agencies around the world navigate the transition to digital and online learning, and supported countless more through informal interactions. What I quickly learned is that regardless of educational level or industry, the underlying mission often drives learning objectives and goals.
As I continue my journey as a strategy and transformation senior manager at Collaborative Solutions, I work with institutions (and more) to prepare for and adopt SaaS-based technologies, and define digital transformation paths for their educators, researchers, learners and staff. Efficiency and return-on-investment (ROI) are key drivers, but inevitably there’s some deeper vision beneath the transformation. The hidden vision often ties back to improving worker and/or student experience, seeking ways to retain and inspire quality talent, increase career relevance and employability of individuals, or something else.
The constant that drives me is a connection to a purpose that’s greater than what can be defined through basic ROI — a mission. When I left the university, I adapted mission-driven thinking to the reality of being a technology and management consultant. I help our customers achieve their goals beyond the scale of the project — the bigger why.
When it comes connecting technology to a mission, one needs to take a holistic view of the range of investments and ongoing impact on the organization. This technology ecosystem isn’t simply a collection of disjointed capabilities loosely bound together by some kind of integration layer nor should it only be the manifestation of a IT architectural vision. It is the fundamental DNA that connects everything together to create a digital experience that matches the why of the institution or company. It enables transactions, but also reinforces culture.
The technology ecosystem has a profound impact on everyone — workers, researchers, instructors, learners and customers. Dysfunction and siloing limit potential while harmonization enables possibilities. To achieve alignment and realize harmonization requires focus, which is why having a mission to guide decision-making and prioritization can be crucial to sustained success.
Mission-driven technology is more than a statement on a website, adaptive infrastructure and quality service. It is also more than service management, data and information security. A well-described yet concise mission ties everything — people, process, technology and governance — to something greater. The sum of the whole transparently enables creativity, exploration and discovery by those who interact with it. It provides context and purpose beyond quarterly results.
What drives me? The mission behind the vision; execution with a greater purpose.