Technology is not always the answer – techno tip 10 in countdown

photo credit Danilo Rizzuti

10…9…8…It’s about 10 weeks until NAFSA Annual 2012!

Each week I will be posting a technology tool (or idea) and tips that staff from international education offices may find useful.

Number 10: Technology is not always the answer.  I know.  It is counterintuitive these days to state this, but it is true!  Consider the following 8 bits before you byte the technology hook.  Example:  Your office would like to automate student requests.

picture by Sujin Jetkasettakorn

Bit 1: Understand the process.  How can you determine if a technology solution is needed without understanding the process?  For example, what is the workflow for a student to request an immigration document?  Is the current process working?  If so, then, what are the goals of making a change?  Who are decision makers and stakeholders? Where do you fit in this heirarchy?  Need help with boosting your project management horse power?

Paul "Ripples Guy" Wesselmann

Paul "Ripples Guy" Wesselmann

Bit 2: Understanding requires communication.  Yes, likely, you will need to step away from your computer and talk to people. The best form of communication remains face-to-face.  I know.  I too was disappointed, but once you realize that you don’t have to like meeting with people, you just have to do it, then, it becomes easier.   If it is impossible to meet with stakeholders for process in person, then video chat/conference would be next best channel.  If you (or your colleagues) need help with communication skills, I know of a phenomenal leadership trainer, Paul Wesselmann, who can help.  See:  Also, see Mike Schaffner’s article at:

Dale Carnegie

Bit 3: Communication requires listening.  I know.  This is shocking right!  Not only do you have to meet with other human beings, but you have to listen.  However, if you master truly listening to others, people might actually start listening to you.  I most admire Dale Carnegie’s skills and writings in this area.  I highly recommend learning and following his guidance.  True listening requires practice.  Behavior modification takes at least 30 days.  Or, if you have your colleagues perform electro-shock on you each time you are not listening, you might be able to cut this down to a few days!

Bit 4: Document the process and ensure that all of the stakeholders agree that this is, in fact, the current process.  These types of exercises work best with worker bee input, but then require queen bee sign off.  Writing awesome documentation is challenging, but begins with understanding that no one actually wants to read what you are writing; they simply want to find answers to their questions.  I highly recommend developing documentation skills.  It is good for you, your organization and your career.  When documenting, remember that some folks understand pictures better than words (flowcharts, for example.)

Bit 5: Do some research.  Find out how colleagues at other universities handle this process.  This can be a wonderful experience and incredible time saver.  If appropriate, take a road trip to visit colleagues at another ISSS office to view their process and technology.  No travel budget, no problem.  Schedule a conference with freeconference. com or use skype.

Bit 6: Identify requirements.  How is identity of student verified (security)?  If student currently presents photo id, how can you verify identity online?  How about other staff accessing student request information?  What information is needed from student?

photo credit digitalart

Bit 7: Drill down.  This involves defining requirements and determining priorities.  Likely, it will be helpful to categorize requirements into must-haves, should-haves and nice-to-haves.

Bit 8: Is a technology solution needed?  Or can existing process be tweaked and solve problem?  What will your office gain?  Professional image?  Efficiency gains?  Better service?  Propose possible solution(s).  It is good to run ideas past others in your office.  Include staff from all areas of your office heirarchy, if possible.

Now,  armed with these 8 bits, you are ready to byte at technology.

great user interfaces make people happy

And, then also consider:

Bit 9: Build in quality on the front end rather than testing it in on the back end.