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A Lens for Successful Decision
Making in IT

o succeed professionally, a tech- In this article I suggest that the three
nology manager in higher educa- value disciplines described by Michael
tion must align institutional goals Treacy and Fred Wiersema1 provide a
with the skill set of campus technologists lens to analyze and align institutional
and the resources available for informa- goals in higher education with critical

Applying the tion technology support. Getting a firm

grasp on any of these parameters is not
IT decisions. After describing the three
value disciplines and how each could

concept of value easy, however. Resources are often com-

mitted to multiyear projects or hidden
shape IT decisions, I suggest how a
technology department might select a
disciplines on by opaque budget accounting practices.
Skills are not easy to assess, particularly
particular value discipline, then note
the complications unique to this selec-
campus helps align when they exceed the bare minimum
required to set up and administer IT
tion in an academic environment. A
demonstration follows on how a tech-
IT efforts with services. Yet understanding institutional nology department operating within

institutional goals
goals often presents the most daunt- a value discipline might apply the
ing challenge, even for experienced IT discipline to hiring a new staff mem-
managers. ber, implementing a Web front end
Almost all universities support ser- for a student information system, and
By Marc Eichen vice to their students; almost all recruit purchasing a learning management
faculty committed to scholarship and system.
teaching; and almost all boast facilities
that support faculty research and schol- Three Value Disciplines
arship and provide secure, comfortable In a seminal article later expanded to
learning environments for students. a book,2 Treacy and Wiersema described
But programs and initiatives welcome three value disciplines:
in some settings might be considered ■ Operational excellence
suspect in others. Strategies that garner ■ Customer intimacy
strong faculty support in one institution ■ Product leadership
can be considered frivolous or wasteful They suggested that in a business
in another. And initiatives considered context, firms must select and excel at
cutting-edge in one department might one of these value disciplines as a core
seem passé elsewhere. operating model, while remaining adept

32 E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY • Number 2 2006
Operational Excellence
Companies that pursue operational
excellence provide consumers with
products at the lowest total cost.5 The
product line is standardized and limited,
with highly reliable products—opera-
tional excellence demands zero defects.
Procedures for manufacturing pursue
the highest level of efficiency, often
using IT as a way of tracking inventory
and orders. Customer service pursues
the highest level of convenience, with
the goal of making every customer inter-
action easy, pleasant, quick, and accu-
rate. Employees in these firms exhibit
a high level of teamwork. Wal-Mart,
FedEx, MacDonalds, Dell, and South-
west Airlines are examples of companies
that pursue operational excellence.
In the context of higher education,
operational excellence would focus on
providing educational course material
with maximum convenience and the
lowest possible cost. Public institu-
tions—such as state universities with
multiple campuses and large outreach
organizations that can provide classes
in nontraditional settings, including
the workplace or malls—are examples
of educational institutions that follow
the value discipline of operational excel-
lence. Such institutions typically do not
attempt to tailor offerings to meet indi-
at the other two. Regardless of a firm’s difference between success (that is, vidual student needs. Instead, they offer
specific core competence3 or the sector market leadership) and failure. standardized instruction that serves a
in which it operates—manufacturing, Applying the same logic in higher large number of students. These institu-
retail, service, or technology—the value education, IT departments must under- tions rely on back-end systems to work
discipline shapes the choices made stand and align with the value disci- flawlessly, since a very large number of
by managers on a day-to-day basis. pline of their institutions.4 Further, IT faculty and students use them at any
Employees trained within one value managers must translate this domi- given time.
discipline will feel comfortable moving nant value discipline into IT strategy IT departments that pursue the dis-
to firms that share this value discipline, and communicate it clearly to senior cipline of operational excellence focus
even if they move from one sector of management so that they understand on computing as a utility. They make a
the economy to another. The ability of both the choices and the consequences. homogeneous set of computing services
management to choose and excel at one IT managers must also communicate available to faculty and students at the
value discipline and communicate this these ideas to IT staff and the campus least possible marginal cost. They seek
choice so that employees understand community to achieve clarity about IT to make lowest-common-denominator
and carry it out effectively marks the values and services. facilities available to the faculty con-

Number 2 2006 • E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY 33
sumer with the least interaction. The Customer Intimacy needs with customer relationship man-
customer service these departments As its name implies, customer inti- agement software. A faculty member
provide is delivered by uniform doc- macy–focused firms “continually tailor who inquired about plagiarism software,
umentation on a small set of well- and shape products and services to fit for example, might be asked to test a
known and well-supported products. an increasingly fine definition of the relevant program.
These departments seek to make their customer.”7 They seek a deep under- IT departments that follow this dis-
customers happy by using technology standing of their customers’ businesses8 cipline attempt to understand—better
to provide fast, no-hassle access to this in order to tailor offerings to meet each than the faculty themselves—faculty
relatively small set of products. customer’s specific needs. research and teaching methods as well
IT departments that pursue this A solution goes beyond the purchase as the overall way in which faculty use
value discipline would, for example, and installation of a particular prod- technology. They believe that through
set up all courses in a learning man- uct. Often it includes understanding this understanding they can encourage
agement system (LMS) prior to the a current problem from both a techni- faculty to use technology more broadly.
individual faculty member’s request. cal and internal political perspective, They might purchase and support a
Every course in an LMS would resem- providing material to sell the solution unique product because it meets the
ble every other course to limit reliance internally and training for staff to use need of a single faculty member. They
on special training for either faculty the solution most effectively. Firms that might invest enormous staff resources
or students. When classrooms include pursue customer intimacy will custom- to maintain legacy word processing
electronic media, the IT department ize a solution, install this solution, and software for an individual or to service
provides a standard suite of software take responsibility for the customer’s faculty home computers. They might
and a standard user interface, again to success. offer personal training by a senior staff
limit the need for specialized training Customer-intimate companies invest member so that senior IT staff gain
or customization. in a highly skilled work force and give understanding of the needs of individ-
To succeed within the discipline of them great latitude to solve customer ual faculty members directly.
operational excellence, IT departments problems in the field. They seek to Within faculty-driven institutions—
ask, “Are our systems easily accessible, capture an increasing percentage of cli- where individual research and intellec-
extremely reliable, and fast?” IT staff ent spending in a particular area. This tual interests shape institutional, curricu-
can provide a wider range of services doesn’t have to mean a customer’s buy- lar, and administrative decisions as well
only by continually cutting the mar- ing more of a particular product—it as capital investment—IT departments
ginal cost of providing the core ser- might mean buying more service or provide an extraordinary level of service
vices and so seek to leverage existing training. Customer-intimate firms focus through customer intimacy. Faculty in
automated processes. A manager in on customers with the potential to show these institutions, in particular, insist on
these departments might ask, “How long-term growth in expenditures in a nothing less. A number of articles in this
can we use the same business process particular domain. Examples of such and other EDUCAUSE publications pres-
and data feed we now employ to estab- firms include Home Depot, Nordstrom, ent methods for achieving a high level
lish e-mail accounts to set up indi- and, historically, IBM. of customer intimacy, usually under the
vidual accounts in our LMS?” Educational institutions seeking to rubric of increasing customer service.9
My experience at the City University provide tailored programs or resources One longer piece outlined the difficulties
of New York suggests that its central IT that meet specific individual needs, associated with this model, given the
operation (and probably that of other regardless of the cost, follow the value funding and organizational limitations
universities of similar size and mission) discipline of customer intimacy. When within most colleges and universities.10
focuses on operational excellence. 6 an educational institution tailors a pro-
When not constrained by crippling gram to meet the needs of one or a few Product Leadership
budgets, the central IT staff performed students or crafts a program for the con- Product leadership entails producing
most successfully when it provided tinuing education of a small number of an ongoing stream of cutting-edge prod-
a limited set of offerings—including alumni, it is pursuing the discipline of ucts or services. Firms that engage in the
intra-campus connectivity, student customer intimacy. value discipline of product leadership
information services, basic LMS func- IT departments that pursue the dis- continue to innovate and stay ahead
tions, and e-mail—in a streamlined cipline of customer intimacy know of their competition. They are “risk ori-
fashion. The central IT staff within exactly which faculty use what soft- ented and future driven.”11 These com-
CUNY was at a disadvantage when ware and tailor their offerings to the panies provide cutting-edge solutions
attempting to provide cutting-edge individual. They continually ask, “How to their customers.
services or high-level customer service can we track what faculty members are Treacy and Wiersema suggested that
for faculty, who were better served by doing and anticipate their needs?” The these firms focus on a particular area of
college-based or department-based IT IT director keeps a database of faculty expertise within which they are willing
personnel. technology users and anticipates users’ to invest in high-risk ventures that they

34 E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY • Number 2 2006
believe will give them a strong competi- edge hardware and software even if it
tive edge. Employees of these firms are entails instability and problems with
expected to think creatively and work in long-range support. Faculty in the
highly flexible, often shifting organiza- humanities, on the other hand, might
tional structures. Rewards are based on require customer intimacy. In that
an employee’s ability to innovate and case, the IT staff would have to under-
to bring innovative concepts to market stand faculty computer usage (which
as products. Examples of firms that pur- software and hardware they use) and
sue the discipline of product leadership their instructional goals and styles and
include Johnson and Johnson, Intel, choose among IT investments to meet
and, historically, Bell Labs. their needs.
Academic institutions that pursue Of course, it’s facile to suggest that
the value discipline of product leader- science departments will always want
ship seek to hire and retain faculty who product leadership and humanities
are true innovators and leaders in their Successful IT departments departments will always demand cus-
fields. They encourage these faculty to tomer intimacy. Often specific faculty
incorporate cutting-edge methodology
will align the chosen value and a unique collective history shape
and results within their teaching. They discipline with the needs the value discipline a department or
encourage cross-disciplinary work as school requires. A department of reli-
well as work that can be spun off in of their constituency gion might, for instance, demand cut-
commercial applications. ting-edge technology to store, describe,
IT departments that align with prod- catalog, and present images of religious
uct leadership make the latest technol- The choice will shape the staff competen- icons. A science department might
ogies available to faculty. Since these cies rewarded and will provide a baseline demand operational excellence or cus-
technologies are often “bleeding edge,” for customer expectations. Successful IT tomer intimacy if the faculty believe
IT departments should offer the “buyer departments will align the chosen value they have sufficient technical expertise
beware” caveat to faculty and student discipline with the needs of their con- to customize and deliver their own tech-
users that these technologies might not stituency, whether a university, school, nological solutions.
work as initially described, might dif- or department. Further complications and challenges
fer significantly from release to release, University environments are not arise when individual faculty are anoma-
or might not be supported or even monolithic decision structures, how- lous within their departments or schools
available in the future.12 Note that the ever, nor are they homogeneous in in requiring particular value disciplines.
rubric of product leadership does not their IT requirements. And IT managers, A department that requires operational
commit an IT operation to a particular while making this choice, must remain excellence but has one or two faculty who
technology—just the opposite, in fact. vigilant and respectful of local varia- demand cutting-edge technology will
A commitment to product leadership tion. Where they serve multiple con- strain the resources (and the patience) of
commits the IT department to offering stituencies, IT departments may have a university technology staff (as well as
an ever changing menu of cutting-edge to excel at different value disciplines for their deans or department chairs).
technologies. different customers. A business school, Still further friction and complica-
for instance, might want an IT depart- tions arise when the technology staff
Selection and Alignment ment to offer operational excellence, at one hierarchical level must perform
with a Value Discipline following a public utility model for IT with one value discipline while other
Treacy and Wiersema asserted that a that stresses delivery of a homogeneous technology staff must perform with a
firm must choose a single value disci- product at the lowest possible cost. different value discipline. For example,
pline and excel at this discipline while Demand for this discipline rests on the the university might “own” the com-
remaining adept at the other two. They belief that a homogeneous technology puter network and provide operational
suggested that choosing a single strategy environment will best serve the needs excellence in terms of reliability and
is key because it will shape every subse- of students and faculty in that school robustness on that network as well
quent operational decision. and that most users will be able to use as facilitating ease of connection and
Following this logic, I would argue that the standardized technologies provided security. At the same time, school- or
IT departments within higher education with little or no additional coaching or department-based personnel might be
likewise must choose a single value disci- assistance. required to develop or maintain a set
pline while remaining adept at the other At the same institution, the science of applications that meet the unique
two. In a resource-scarce environment, department might demand product needs of that department, even if they
this choice will determine the technol- leadership, with the faculty and admin- strain the security restrictions of the
ogy emphasized and its implementation. istration insisting on the most cutting- university network.

Number 2 2006 • E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY 35
More generally, schools within the ments this approach,14 as it assumes the same time, (d) might serve the value
same university, often served by a sin- technical competence and focuses on discipline of customer intimacy if the
gle technology staff, diverge on their its application. rationale was to respond to the special
value discipline requirements, placing Technology managers know that tech- needs of a unique group of students
enormous demands on the IT staff. Staff nical competence is only the first filter (for example, providing documentation
who put a premium on their ability to applied to job candidates. If you need in a foreign language with appropriate
deliver—and in some cases develop— someone to run your Linux-based e-mail cultural examples to assist new, non-
cutting-edge technology will have little system, it is certainly important that English speaking students).
patience for staff who invest in develop- they have experience in this area. But Another strategy is to ask the follow-
ing a relationship with individual fac- how do you distinguish among the final- ing question:
ulty to deliver the best overall solution. ists, all of whom have the foundational
Staff who excel at rolling out and main- technical skills? In my experience, you Please describe what you consider the
taining low-cost, highly available sys- seek a candidate who is comfortable critical purchases in your current depart-
tems will be suspicious of cutting-edge working in an organization that shares ment during the past two years. How do
applications that service a small handful the value discipline of your technology these reflect the underlying priorities in the
of users and have little likelihood of department. With this in mind, you department? If you could make these deci-
being replicated on a large scale. might give a candidate the following sions now, how would you change them,
It is incumbent on the technology scenario to consider: if at all?
management team to understand the
value discipline demanded by each Your department is responsible for With this free-format question, you
academic unit as well as specific fac- administering e-mail for more than 4,000 can probe for divergence between the
ulty members. The technology man- students and faculty. It is time to present values in the applicant’s current depart-
agement team must also understand new budget proposals. You must prioritize ment and his or her individual value
the anomalies, such as why a particular among a number of distinct projects: discipline. Such divergence in values
faculty member might require customer a. Purchase a new Linux e-mail server to can signal why an applicant might want
intimacy even though the department add capacity. to make a lateral move from one orga-
requires operational excellence. b. Purchase a second, redundant Linux e- nization to another.15
mail server. A final question might be:
Value Disciplines Shaping c. Develop a new e-mail client, which
Technology Decisions promises to deliver added functionality A faculty member in the art department
To understand the potential impor- that a small number of faculty have would like the IT staff to develop a Web
tance of value disciplines and how they requested. browser that more faithfully renders sculp-
might work in practice, consider three d. Contract with a consultant to ture. This would include three-dimensional
key decisions: hiring staff, implement- develop supplementary multimedia rendering of sculptural pieces as well as
ing a Web-based front end for a legacy documentation that can be distributed more accurate rendering of color, includ-
student information system, and choos- to incoming students. ing very high color bit density. How would
ing and implementing a learning man- e. Contract with a consultant who can better you evaluate the proposal? What would be
agement system. customize and integrate various e-mail the important considerations in deciding
clients such as legacy Netscape clients, whether your department should undertake
Hiring Staff Eudora, Outlook Express, Outlook, and such a project? If you were asked to direct
Hiring staff represents a long-term OWA. such a project, how would you evaluate
commitment to the individual hired Please outline how you would prioritize it in terms of your own career goals and
and signals the skills that managers these choices and explain your rationale. achievements?
want to strengthen within their depart-
ments. Hiring interviews often focus on A one-to-one mapping does not Here again, it is key to probe how
technological competence. Consider- exist between a value discipline and the applicant views this type of project,
able effort has gone into assessing tech- a technology choice. In this scenario, whether cutting-edge or meeting the
nical competence within an interview several choices map into a particular needs of a small segment of faculty. Given
setting. The current fashion is to use value discipline, and several might serve how the applicant views the project,
some type of problem-solving or game more than a single value discipline. The would he or she be comfortable under-
framework.13 This encourages a reason- rationale behind the choice is key. For taking this project for the department or
able freshness in the interview process. instance, the discipline of operational in a managerial capacity? An individual
Applicants can compete against each excellence would be served by (a) or (b), who would relish this challenge would
other in areas and skills that parallel obviously, but (d) might also fit if the probably fit well into a department that
those required in the prospective job. rationale was to provide standard docu- follows the discipline of product leader-
The method I suggest here comple- mentation to a large number of users. At ship or customer intimacy.

36 E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY • Number 2 2006
Implementing a Web-Based for courses while applying a number taking, for example, the photos would
Registration System of contingencies to the registrations. A be accessible. E-mail and demographic
A majority of academic institutions student might register for a course in information including name changes
rightly view the student informa- Shakespeare’s plays, for example, only would be reflected by a similar conver-
tion and class registration systems as if the evening section of Movement in sation between systems.
vitally important IT responsibilities. Drama is not available. A student might An LMS implementation stressing
The student information system (SIS) enter a lottery for admission into a small customer intimacy would permit cus-
often serves as the system of historical section of Video Production and select tomization by individual faculty or
record, archiving courses, instructors, it as a first choice, or register for the students. This customization would go
and grades for every student and sec- Advanced Sculpture course only within beyond the look and feel of the user
tion of every course. Many such systems a certain time block or with a particular interface to help an individual under-
are home-grown, mainframe applica- instructor. stand his or her learning style and tai-
tions developed during the days when A Web front end to the SIS might con- lor the presentation of course material
students gathered to register for classes tain all these features, of course. The to best meet the individual’s needs. A
that fit their schedules. For schools that features to implement first or in which student who learns best through a struc-
have not purchased a commercial SIS to invest the most resources would rep- tured, “written expressive” style could
with a Web front end, grafting a Web resent the value discipline of the institu- take multiple-choice tests after each lec-
interface onto an existing legacy system tion and the technology department. ture to achieve the required focus and
offers enormous benefits. In addition structure.17 A student who learns best
to increasing convenience for students Choosing a Learning aurally could download or stream lec-
and faculty, an SIS can save institu- Management System tures reviewing or explaining different
tions money in terms of part-time staff The choice of an LMS represents an concepts. Visual learners could review
and computer system resources while institution-wide commitment. Such sys- visual outlines or multimedia presenta-
increasing the availability, speed, and tems are costly, mission critical (with tions of material. While the instructor
responsiveness of registration and stu- ramifications for the day-to-day activi- might control the content, breadth, and
dent satisfaction with the registration ties of a core institutional mission— sequence of these learning materials, an
process. teaching and learning), and highly LMS stressing customer intimacy would
The technical requirements of a Web- visible to every constituency (students, check a student’s learning style, suggest
based portal are well known,16 and a faculty, and staff). They require atten- learning objects that fit best with this
Web-based implementation could fit tion to detail and a high level of focus style, enable students to choose among
into the operational excellence disci- and expertise on the part of system and the learning objects associated with a
pline. What about the disciplines of cus- help-desk staff to make them work in a particular course, remember these selec-
tomer intimacy or product leadership? reliable and accessible manner. tions, and establish a default choice in
For customer intimacy, we would expect Educational institutions with mul- future courses.
the system to augment the information tiple constituent units—some requir- An LMS that stressed product leader-
available to students and provide infor- ing product leadership, some requir- ship would enable instructors, with the
mation to faculty as well. For instance, a ing operational excellence, and some help of technical staff, to build their
Web-based front end can provide degree requiring customer intimacy—must own cutting-edge learning objects.
audit information so that a student can choose an LMS that can be tailored to These objects would not necessarily
assess the courses required for a particu- work in all three value disciplines. An be available to other courses or other
lar major or concentration. Students can LMS implementation that would stress instructors. Rather, they would be spe-
see how the courses already taken for a operational excellence, for example, cific in content and application and
major might qualify them in a different would be intimately tied to the cam- would reflect the needs of a specific
major. Or, given constraints such as tak- pus’s SIS and to the registration process. instructor in a specific course. Build-
ing or not taking courses in an evening As soon as they registered, students ing sophisticated educational simula-
program or a summer session, they can would populate the course within the tions played either in or outside regular
determine the most expeditious path LMS. During the add/drop period, stu- classes is one example of a cutting-edge
to a degree. Faculty might be notified dents could add and drop courses either application.
when a section they are teaching has in the LMS or the registration system,
filled. They also could be advised of the and an XML (or similar) conversation Conclusions and an
academic records of students who have between these systems would assure Example Action Plan
enrolled in a particular section. synchronization. Privacy settings, cho- Value disciplines provide a tool to
In terms of product leadership, a Web- sen by students, would be reflected in understand institutional culture and
based SIS could be implemented to auto- the LMS. If students wished to have a method for shaping IT planning to
mate waiting-list or lottery functions. their official university pictures avail- best reflect institutional priorities. As
In these cases, students would register able to members of classes they were a final example of how the value disci-

Number 2 2006 • E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY 37
pline rubric could be applied, assume listen carefully to the issues raised. reviewing her trouble ticket and hear-
you have just been hired as a senior IT First you want to hear them describe ing her describe her complaint in her
manager in a mid-size public university. the problem in their own words, prob- own words, a summary of your ques-
The provost has received complaints ing to see which value discipline might tions might be,
from faculty, staff, and students regard- best meet their needs. Next you want
ing the e-mail system and suggested, to provide paired alternatives that Professor Sampson, from what you’ve
in a most collegial manner, that one of outline how the IT department might described and what I’ve read in our help-
your first tasks is to “fix the darn thing.” approach the problem. Each pair would desk logs, we didn’t respond to your issue
How might the value discipline rubric essentially ask whether, given their until late the next business day. Am I under-
help you? complaints, the IT operation should standing this correctly? And you believe
Your first task, of course, is to under- focus on operational excellence or this problem is symptomatic of our general
stand the real problem. If the institu- customer intimacy, operational excel- unresponsiveness? Suppose we had a choice
tion has a functioning trouble-ticket lence or product leadership, customer of devoting additional staff to the help desk
system, you would review the e-mail- intimacy or product leadership. For or adding a systems administrator for the
related tickets and contact the users example, the e-mail system was not e-mail system specifically. Which would
who registered complaints within the working for a senior faculty member best meet your needs? Suppose we had a
past month. When talking with these in the sciences, and she called the choice of changing our e-mail system so it
student, faculty, and staff customers, provost’s office to complain. After provided integrated instant messaging or
adding staff to the help desk. Which would
best meet your needs?

Although each question targets this

Key References professor’s specific issue with the e-mail
system, you are focusing on a choice
As higher education managers move through their careers, they are asked to between the value disciplines in a way
focus less on the nuts and bolts of technology and more on the business of higher that will help guide a strategy for solving
education and how IT fits into the educational vision for their campuses. Along the problem. For this particular professor,
with this article, the following references may encourage IT managers to reflect the paired questions reveal that customer
on these issues. intimacy is the most important value
discipline. She may, in fact, tolerate some
level of inefficiency if her questions are
M. Treacy and F. Wiersema, “Customer Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines,” answered and her problems dealt with
Harvard Business Review, January/February 1993, pp. 84–93; expanded in M. in a personal and timely fashion. If this
Treacy and F. Wiersema, The Discipline of Market Leaders (Cambridge, Mass.: pattern is consistent among faculty, you
Perseus Books, 1995). would want to suggest additional help-
This Harvard Business Review article by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, desk support to the provost rather than
an overhaul of the e-mail system.
which they later expanded into a book, makes the case for focusing on one
The value discipline rubric provides a
of the three value disciplines. The authors based their argument on in-depth lens for senior technology managers in
interviews with corporate decision makers. The book has more extensive case higher education to analyze and under-
studies of firms in each of the three value disciplines. stand their institutions. This lens also
D. Leonard, Wellsprings of Knowledge: Building and Sustaining the Sources of Innova- provides a way of shaping basic, key
tion (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 1995). decisions that every technology man-
ager must face, such as hiring staff and
Dorothy Leonard made a strong case for the argument that a firm’s competi-
purchasing and implementing institu-
tive advantage lies in the ability to learn and innovate and turn this innovation tion-wide systems. It demonstrates that
into continuing ways to differentiate themselves from their competition. Her within a specific educational context,
book touches on the ways in which corporate culture shapes managerial and innovation is provided not only by
physical systems. what technologies are chosen but also
P. G. W. Keen, “Information Systems and Organizational Change,” Communica- by how those technologies are imple-
mented. e
tions of the ACM, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1981, pp. 24–33.
In this article, Peter Keen discussed the difficulties of using information systems Acknowledgments
to encourage organizational change and the likelihood of organizational resis- Thank you to my staff at MassBay Community
tance during times of rapid innovation. College, Suffolk University Law School, Long
Island University, and the City University of

38 E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY • Number 2 2006
New York for their cooperation and input. Elmore, J. R. Holloway, and S. B. Work- to Build a Beowulf (Cambridge: MIT Press,
Particular thanks go to Denise Ondishko for man, “Customer-Centered IT Support: 1999).
suggesting this line of inquiry many years Foundations, Principles, and Systems” 13. For a description of the Microsoft method
(Boulder, Colo.: EDUCAUSE Center for posing complex puzzles and prob-
for Applied Research, Research Bul- lems as the basis of job interviews, see W.
letin, Issue 23, 2004), <http://www Poundstone, How Would You Move Mount
Endnotes .educause.edu/Librar yDetailPage/ Fuji?: Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle—How
1. M. Treacy and F. Wiersema, “Customer 666?ID=ERB0423>; and G. C. Elmore, the World’s Smartest Companies Select the
Intimacy and Other Value Disciplines,” J. R. Holloway, and S. B. Workman, Most Creative Thinkers (New York: Time
Harvard Business Review, January/Febru- 2005. “An Architecture for Evolv- Warner/Little Brown, 2003).
ary 1993, pp. 84–93; expanded in M. ing IT Customer Service” (Boulder,
14. I think these sorts of games and stan-
Treacy and F. Wiersema, The Discipline Colo.: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied
dardized puzzles are better than hav-
of Market Leaders (Cambridge, Mass.: Per- Research, Research Bulletin, Issue 14,
ing applicants talk about their skills as
seus Books, 1995). Wiersema followed up 2005), <http://www.educause.edu/
long as managers understand that the
on this work in two directions, first by LibraryDetailPage/666?ID=ERB0514>.
usual caveats about standardized testing
focusing on customer intimacy in Cus- 7. Treacy and Wiersema, 1993, op. cit., p. apply to these settings as well. For exam-
tomer Intimacy (New York: Knowledge 87. ple, these tests tend to measure a lim-
Exchange, 1996) and second by focus-
8. Treacy and Wiersema, 1995, op. cit., pp. ited number of intelligence-related skills;
ing on gaining market share by getting
121–142. they come with heavy cultural baggage,
and holding customers in The New Mar-
9. See, for instance, A. Agee, A. Genovese, as does test-taking generally; and they
ket Leaders (New York: Simon and Schus-
and K. H. Gillette, “Culture Change: What have difficulty in measuring creative or
ter, 2001).
IT Takes to Create a Quality Customer unusual solutions.
2. Ibid. (1995), Chapter 4, “The Discipline
Service Environment,” a presentation 15. It is common to hear that a particular
of Operational Excellence,” pp. 47–63;
at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, individual “just didn’t work out” in a
Chapter 6, “The Discipline of Product
2004, <http://www.educause.edu/ specific organizational setting. Manag-
Leaders,” pp. 85–100; and Chapter 8,
LibraryDetailPage/666?ID=EDU0462>; ers and those responsible for personnel
“The Discipline of Customer Intimacy,”
M. Cain, “The Freedom of ‘Yes’—A Per- decisions organization-wide are often at
pp. 123–142.
sonal View of Service,” EDUCAUSE Review, a loss to understand and respond appro-
3. See D. Leonard, Wellsprings of Knowl- November 2002, pp. 7–10, <http://www priately. It is interesting to speculate, for
edge: Building and Sustaining the Sources .educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EQM0230. example, the extent to which individ-
of Innovation (Cambridge, Mass.: Har- pdf>; and R. Grant, “Improving Service uals might be trained within one value
vard Business School Press, 1995), for Quality with Benchmarks,” EDUCAUSE discipline and forced to work within a
a thorough discussion of core compe- Review, November/December 2001, pp. different value discipline. I believe orga-
tence within the firm. While Treacy and 12–13, <http://www.educause.edu/ir/ nizations that require the discipline of
Wiersema contrasted the core compe- library/pdf/ERM0168.pdf>. customer intimacy are uniquely chal-
tence model with their own value dis- lenging for personnel in IT depart-
10. P. A. McClure, J. W. Smith, and T. D.
cipline model, I prefer to think that ments, since both the technology and
Sitko, “The Crisis in Information Tech-
core competence as described by Leon- the reward structure for these manag-
nology Support: Has Our Current Model
ard and others is the distilled and ers generally emphasizes the alternative
Reached Its Limit?” EDUCAUSE/CAUSE
accumulated expertise applied by a value disciplines of operational excel-
Professional Paper No. 16, 1997, <http://
firm within a chosen value discipline, lence and product leadership.
such as product leadership. The Gart-
666?ID=PUB3016>. 16. For instance, see J. P. Frazee, “The SDSU
ner Group research reports have also
11. Treacy and Wiersema, 1995, op. cit., pp. Rubric for Rating Commercial Portal
touched on the relationship between
87–100. Vendors,” March 2001, <http://www
value discipline and core competence:
12. At this writing, grid computing and the .bris.ac.uk/ISC/portal/sdsu-portal-rubric
middleware technologies to support grid .pdf> (accessed December 13, 2005), for
computing serve as a good example of a thorough review of these technical
.jsp> (accessed December 13, 2005).
product leadership within higher educa- specifications.
4. Of course, the underlying question, tion IT. For a description of these tech- 17. There are a number of learning style tax-
“How does a university, college, or other nologies, see P. Plaszczak and R. Well- onomies. The following site includes a
academic institution choose a partic- ner, Jr., Grid Computing (Amsterdam: useful annotated bibliography in this
ular value discipline?” remains unan- Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann, 2006). Also area, as well as references to its applica-
swered in this article. This is worthy of see M. P. Cummings and J. C. Huskamp, tion in graduate education and the inte-
serious consideration by senior educa- “Grid Computing,” EDUCAUSE Review, gration of learning style theories into
tional decision makers, particularly as November/December 2005, pp. 116–117, broader personality metrics: <http://
the market for education becomes both <http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/ www.ncsu.edu/felder-public/Learning_
more global and more regionally com- pdf/ERM05612.pdf>, for a description Styles.html> (accessed December 13,
petitive. of the caveats and pitfalls involved 2005).
5. Treacy and Wiersema, 1995, op. cit., pp. in implementing technology associ-
49–63. ated with product leadership. Another
6. For a description of the processes and example of product leadership, which is Marc Eichen (meichen@massbay.edu) is Vice
systems Indiana University imple- perhaps less cutting edge at this point,
President for Information Technology and
mented within what I would call the would be utility or commodity comput-
operational excellence rubric, see ing, in which off-the-shelf systems are Chief Information Officer at MassBay Com-
the following ECAR research bulle- combined in high-performance clusters. munity College in Wellesley, Framingham,
tins (available by subscription): G. C. See, for instance, T. L. Sterling et al., How and Ashland, Massachusetts.

Number 2 2006 • E D U C A U S E Q U A R T E R LY 39