Rich Valerga

Name: Rich Valerga

Title: CIO

District: Memphis City Schools, TN

What are your big-picture tech goals?

We are in an IT crisis. For (the) last five to 10 years we haven’t upgraded or kept our business systems current. We had an IT audit done, and our biggest challenge is that we lack IT governance. We have no modern applications other than our student information system, our business intelligence is non-existent, and we lack a core of IT-type staff. We need to have individuals who are tasked with reconnaissance into human resources, finance, curriculum, etc.

Basically, we need to start from scratch. We have to do a complete overhaul of our business application systems.

What changes are you making to achieve them?

We are focusing on IT governance; it’s the key to everything. In the past, things were procured randomly. Now we are working with another county system [that we are merging with] to create an IT governance counsel. We will do training on IT governance and then try to teach our non-business staff to make sound business cases instead of procuring on emotion. We are also going to start a business-intelligence tool and will make all of this self-service.

What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?

My challenge is helping the district understand the services we have, how you access them, and what the guarantee is to fix that problem. I’m re-educating the school system on what a professional IT department is, what it can do, what good self-service is, and boiling that down to getting information to staff, schools, teachers, and parents.

I’m also helping our superintendents understand the value IT brings to the district. Almost every transaction requires IT: buses, food service, and so on. It all runs on IT. We have superintendents that aren’t quite there yet.

How do you get buy in on ed tech from the school community?

We rely on education and awareness. We recently introduced a new interface on our ticket request management to our customers. Before the launch, we held focus groups with three different sets of customers to gather feedback. Based on that feedback, we were able to make changes to the interface prior to roll-out. As a result, our customers began educating their co-workers about the new interface and everyone took more ownership and pride in the new system when we launched it.

Prior to any implementation we also utilize as much proactive education as possible, from how-to videos to special web pages with FAQs to help our customers become familiar with the technology. We also offer specialized training by our technicians at school and administrative sites.

What technology currently has you really excited?

Virtual desktop, which gives customers access to their customized desktop at any location. They can utilize this technology in multiple locations on a variety of end point devices like their tablet, after-school program, or another desktop at their home.

I compare it a bit to the “McDonald’s experience.” Their success was based on consistency. No matter where you went in the country, McDonald’s Quarter Pounders, fries and shakes always tasted like the ones at your McDonald’s at home. Virtual desktop enables us to deliver this type of consistency to our customers. Regardless of the location, credentials allow for pristine, reliable desktop presentation.