DAILY INSIGHT: Creating “corporate” sustainability in a non-corporate world

By Rich Valerga, CIO Advisor

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know by now that Memphis City Schools is heading into a merger with another school district, Shelby County Schools, in August of 2013. Dictionaries define a “merger” as the joining of two companies. This is typically done to maximize budgets and resources. Unfortunately, mergers can also be the cause of much angst in a community and workforce. Every IT department needs to look around and ask, “Would we be ready for a merger with another district? A shift in district leadership? In short, are we sustainable?”

Sustainability is a term that is usually only heard in the corporate world. As educators, we rarely think about our organizations in such terms. But we should. Implementing sustainable practices can help you increase your efficiency and the effectiveness of your budget and resources. And in today’s world of ever-shrinking education budgets, the time to implement sustainable strategies has never been better.

How many of you have employees on your workforce who have been with you for more than 20 years? What would you do if they retired tomorrow? Would their knowledge transfer be an easy transition to a co-worker? Or would it be a tremendous blow to your organization? In some cases, we had to admit that it would be a pretty hard hit. That was just one more reason for us to start implementing sustainability practices.

In the past, the words “sustainability” and “going green” were used interchangeably. But, according to the MIT Sloan Management Review, sustainability is really the idea that systems, including natural and human ones, need to be regenerative and balanced in order to last. And that means all kinds of systems: economic, environmental, societal, and personal.

There are documented advantages to implementing sustainable practices:
• Improvement in performance on the critical factors that drive success
• Finding new ways to engage your customers

• Motivating your employees

In our case, we needed an objective third party to take an “outside-in” approach to help us identify strengths and opportunities for improvement. We worked with a global professional services firm to conduct an assessment of our department. The firm developed a very comprehensive assessment. It resulted in the identification and recommendations for sustainable implementation in six high-leverage areas that encompass:

• Operations
• Service Delivery
• Systems Modernization
• Processes
• Structure
• Staffing

The results of the assessment became our road map for the next year. Some processes were easy to implement, such as documenting our standardized on-the-job training approach for each position in each department. Others were a bit more challenging (implementing a new, multi-tiered customer-satisfaction survey). But as we implemented each sustainable practice, we did so knowing that we were creating a better IT department for our district, the merger and our community.

In my next blog I'll go into more detail about how we created sustainability with the implementation of a project that will have a tremendous impact on our district for years to come. You’ll see just how simple it can be to do the same thing in your district.

Rich Valerga is CIO for Memphis City Schools.