Combating Innovation Creep

How often does a colleague attend a conference, see a demo of the latest “it” technology, and want to implement it as soon as they get back? What happens when a new hire with a head full of ideas wants to switch to the software they used in their last job or learned about in college? These scenarios happen all the time and can be incredibly frustrating for IT managers, especially when your current tech stack already has a similar tool—which the colleague has forgotten about or never completed training on—or the suggested software cannot integrate properly with your other systems. It can also raise red flags in the finance office when suddenly they are asked to find money in an already tight budget.

Schools and other organizations are constantly presented with new applications, software, tools, and resources. Without a vetting and approval process in place, they can end up in the “Wild Wild West” of technology, with redundant or underutilized tools, wasted human capital, and unnecessary expenses. That is when innovation creep sets in.

Consider all ramifications

Enthusiasm and innovation are great, but only when they support your mission and move your organization forward. As leaders, sometimes we need to pump the brakes and evaluate things from a different perspective. Some questions I ask myself:

  • Does the purpose of this new technology align with our school mission and strategic plan?
  • Does it solve a unique problem, or does it solve it more effectively than the software we currently have?
  • Is it built specifically for schools, or are we trying to adapt a tool built for corporations to our needs?
  • Can this new platform integrate into our existing tech stack, or will it create more work for staff to support and manage it?
  • Is the innovation micro or macro? What and who does it impact?
  • What are the financial ramifications?
  • Who is the decision maker?

Form a data committee

This first step in combating innovation creep is to create a committee to vet any new technology. Be sure to include diverse perspectives, from the most tech-savvy to the least, and from various departments. Leverage checklists and free tools like this K–12 School Software Buyer’s Guide and Blackbaud’s SIS/LMS Transition Toolkit. Your committee can evaluate solutions and the benefits and challenges of new software while helping educate your school’s stakeholders on how complicated and sophisticated data management can be. Establish criteria for intended goals and involve the committee from ideation through implementation to increase successful adoption.

Document current technology

Next, document your current tech stack’s capabilities. This means identifying each component, its purpose, and how it interacts with your other tools. Start with a diagram using one of many templates available online, such as this one from Figma or any one of Microsoft’s PowerPoint templates. Include your major components—in schools, this would be your admissions, SIS, LMS, tuition, financial aid, accounting, and fundraising software—and smaller but still important items, like lunch ordering, summer camp enrollment, visitor management, etc.

One critical factor of new software is how it integrates with your existing platform. Look for offerings like this Marketplace, which has dozens of third-party tools that integrate securely with Blackbaud’s software. Your primary vendor should have an open API—an application programming interface that allows developers to create solutions specific to your needs that can seamlessly integrate with your core platform. Keep data security top of mind.

Make thoughtful changes

While you should monitor trends and explore new technology, it’s critical to have a process to vet software, guard against redundancies, and ensure existing tools are being used as intended. There is a reason why “solution” is often used as a synonym for software—it is meant to solve a problem, make someone’s job easier, and improve workflow. Finding the right solutions takes strong leadership. Following these steps will increase your chance of success, and making thoughtful changes can positively impact all facets of your school.