Does Technology Drive Your Processes, or Do Processes Drive Your Technology?

No matter what holiday you’re celebrating at this time of year, there is a time-honored tradition of exchanging gifts with others.  Perhaps you’ve even purchased a gift for yourself after returning those things you received that you really didn’t need.  Today, at this point in history, there’s a good chance that one of those gifts involved some sort of technology.

If you look at all the advice on the Internet regarding the use of technology in the classroom, it counsels to utilize the technology to enable your educational goals.  After all, technology is a tool.  A piece of chalk is a technology.  So is a slate.  Technologies facilitate the learning process.  And that was some great advice.  The key word there is “was.”  Process should drive technology…but as technology becomes more ubiquitous, the trend is now moving toward allowing technology to drive your processes…and that’s moving toward some dangerous territory.

In some respects, technology will drive your processes.  Want to provide the parents of your school district with an online registration platform?  You have a choice – a product from a vendor that will put your process online, or a custom tool that will do precisely what it’s designed to do.  The first is very affordable, while there’s a good chance that the second will have an incredibly higher price tag because there’s always a higher cost with customization.

So what to do?  Most school administrators will say, “Let’s go with the one that has a lower price tag” simply because they’re looking at the bottom line.  If you agree, there’s a good chance that your newly acquired technology will drive your process.  The custom-designed option will allow you to “technologize” your process in the way you want it to be done.  Unfortunately, the rate of technological change we’re currently experiencing will only increase as time advances.

If you choose the custom-designed solution, there’s a good chance that a couple of years down the road, you’re going to want the technology to do something else, like churn out permission forms that parents can complete online…and that may require more customization…or a completely redesigned solution…especially if your current solution was specifically designed for registration.  Or, you’re going to want that registration form to interface with your student management system, which is was designed to do…until your school or school district decides to change student management systems.

This is not endemic to the education space.  Business is actually suffering with the same experience, and today, even moreso as more and more people learn and utilize the technology to WFH.  A company will have two different software programs, one for its supply chain, and one for its accounting software, for instance, and then will want the two programs to synchronously communicate with one another.  The company will then engage a third-party integration company to build the bridge between the two products.  The business thinks that this new partner will be able to snap their fingers, and a solution will be created instantly, when in reality, flawless technology integration is one of the most difficult things to do.  Why?  Because every integration between independently designed solutions is a custom-designed solution itself.

Here’s what’s happening: two technology solutions with proprietary coding need to be “bridged.”  That requires learning both of the proprietary coding schema and then crafting a coding solution that works with both – especially if the communication is expected to be two-way.  That takes time.  Sometimes, a significant amount of time in software development.

The problem is that we’ve become so accustomed to instant gratification that it’s now an expectation.  While technology has made leaps and bounds in its abilities in the past decade, and will do even more amazing things in the next few years, the driver is going to be having employees who know how to code in order to create the solutions that customers will want – and will pay for.

If you’re incorporating STEM/STEAM/STREAM curriculum at your school, and trying to balance it with Common Core standards, realize that you’re going to need to add coding classes to your curriculum.  If you didn’t plan on doing this for the 19-20 school year (as I suggested three years ago when this article was previously published), then you were probably one of those schools that were caught off guard when everything shut down and children were sent home on Friday, March 13, 2020, thus beginning a time that quite a number of schools never planned for.  So keep planning for those active shooter incidents, fire evacuations and other emergency situations.  But you now know that you may need to pivot on a moment’s notice.   Plan to put STEM programs like coding in place for the 22-23 school year’s curriculum.  It will be a distinctive differentiator for your school, especially if other STEM programs in schools are still only offering robotics.