Q&A: Craig Honour

After spending most of his career working for a technology solution provider, Craig Honour, CIO of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Fla., took on the challenge of running IT for a district of 130,000 students, 15,000 employees, 45 workstations, and 750 servers. Honour plans to leave his job on June 30.

Q: How did you establish a governance process at Duval?

A: When I arrived, there was not really any IT superstructure to speak of. I’m a user of research from Gartner, so what I did was read their research and mold the department after some of their suggestions. I also based things on what I had seen in my private consulting experience.

Q: What was your governance strategy based on?

A: At the center of it is an IT Executive Steering Committee (ITESC). This consists of a cabinet of associate and assistant superintendents. It is chaired by the deputy superintendent or superintendent, depending on who is available. We meet once a month, and the purpose is to review the IT portfolio and make IT decisions that impact everybody. Sometimes these are seemingly trivial decisions. Other times they’re pretty important. Whatever we discuss, I gain their consensus and then call upon them to put the plan in action. This approach takes IT out of the closet and exposes it to everybody.

Q: Beyond the ITESC, how can people get involved?

A: The district’s primary IT subcommittee is something we call a Configuration Control Board (CCB). We probably have 12 or 13 people on that. Most of them are at the supervisor and director level—representatives from all divisions and schools. This organization has the standard process for looking at new projects. When our district people have IT ideas, this is where they bring them. If two people want the same technology, instead of buying two separate things, the CCB will coordinate the requests and combine them.

Q: Did the CCB act alone?

A: No. I also created something called the IT Program Management Office. This organization, made up of five assistant program managers, takes over after an idea is delivered to the CCB. The IT Program Management Office is designed to help users figure out objectives, perform a cost-benefit analysis, and compile all of the other necessary information to provide a good business case for the ITESC. They don’t do the work for users, but they assist users in doing it themselves. The problem with IT is that everyone wants to throw it over the fence and let IT handle technology planning. This organization is designed to encourage our people to take ownership. If someone doesn’t think it’s worth their time to figure out ROI, we don’t think it’s worth our time to do it for them.

Q: How involved in this process are teachers?

A: Admittedly, teachers aren’t that involved. I created a separate users group of teachers, but it didn’t work out as well as I wanted. They seemed to be more concerned with the nitty-gritty details of using technology. That has been fine with me.

Q: Overall, how would you say your system has worked?

A: There have been strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, the system has balanced our IT portfolio across divisions. It also has increased the coordination in getting a project done. On the negative side, the system—with its three tiers—has been perceived as a bit bureaucratic. I guess it has not operated as quickly as some people have wanted to move. I guess nothing can please everyone.

Matt Villano is contributing editor of School CIO.