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Best Practices for Organizing IT Department Structures in Schools

Article Contents

School administrators who want to improve their information technology departments often devote all their efforts to technology. However, this is only one side of the equation for providing better IT services to both faculty and students. All districts need an IT department with an organizational structure and staff that allows them to effectively use their hardware and software. Simply buying the latest technology, installing it, or migrating data to the cloud won’t cut costs while raising grades. Even worse, making a purchase doesn’t guarantee that a school will ever use the product or service.

Selecting the right people to staff IT positions is more important than implementing the latest technology, although this may not be immediately apparent. While qualified individuals ensure that the visible parts of IT run smoothly, most IT operations have low visibility because they’re designed to prevent problems rather than solve existing ones. An IT department structure is also crucial to its effectiveness because the responsibilities of each role must be thoughtfully designed to ensure that essential functions are adequately covered.

Types of IT Structures and Staff

The degree of centralization is a critical consideration for a school’s IT structure, especially given the increasing decentralization of many campuses. Deciding whether to hire IT professionals in-house or to outsource them is also an important consideration for many schools. The most cost-effective method of obtaining qualified IT staff depends on factors such as their availability in your area.

The most common IT organizations include the following:

Centralized IT 

The IT department usually provides all network and information services, although other groups may perform some routine tasks. This requires IT staff to report to an individual.

Decentralized Management with Centralized IT

A centrally located IT team is responsible for core infrastructure services while delegating most daily operations to IT groups in branch offices. These groups also receive administrative support from their local offices.

Decentralized IT Structure 

This occurs when multiple IT groups with varying capabilities are dependent on each group’s objective. Technology initiatives that affect the entire organization—such as system upgrades—require multiple groups to work together when implementing these changes.

Third-Party Delegation Model

Some organizations outsource all or part of their IT requirements to a third party. It’s particularly important to properly delegate tasks when only parts of the organization’s IT structure are outsourced. The primary goal of such a delegation model should be allowing the in-house IT group to retain control of the organization without compromising the third party’s service level agreements (SLAs).

Administrative Model Structures

IT structures also vary according to their administrative model, which determines how an organization manages IT resources like computers, printers, and shared files. 

Common IT administrative models include:

  • Administration based on an organization
  • Administration based on business function
  • Administration based on geographic location
  • Hybrid administration

An administrative model based on an organization divides the IT structure into business units or departments, each of which has its own IT group. Administration based on business function is most common in a decentralized IT organization. In an administration model based on geographic location, the IT organization is centralized, typically at the company headquarters. However, the network administration is geographically distributed, which usually means each branch has its own administrative group to manage resources at that location. A hybrid administrative model combines attributes of multiple models to meet an organization’s distinct needs.

What are the Responsibilities of a School IT Department?

School IT departments oversee responsibilities in a range of areas, including communication and technology administration to web development and technical support.

IT Administration

IT administrators are usually the direct point of contact for users who need onboarding, such as learning how to use new equipment. Their duties may also overlap with those of other team members, even though the focus may be different. For example, administrators may develop IT security policies that will be implemented and enforced by other team members that work in information security. Additional administrative duties in an IT department include developing IT initiatives, project management, software updates, license renewals, and maintaining contact with vendors.

Technical Support

Users typically encounter IT team members in technical support roles when they create a help desk ticket. This often occurs when users need access to a computer system or they have a problem that requires troubleshooting, whether it’s with hardware or software. They’re also responsible for training users, answering general questions, and resolving problems with business processes. Additional duties of technical support personnel include installing new equipment in the IT infrastructure, inventory asset management, processing documentation, and cybersecurity.

Communication Technology

IT team members in this role facilitate communications between other parties. This often includes setting up web conferences and interviews, in addition to troubleshooting problems in this area. Communication duties in IT also include maintaining email systems, consultations with department heads, and coordinating end-user support.

Website Development

IT team members who develop an organization’s website collaborate with various departments to develop an overall vision of the website. For example, the marketing team will provide website developers with the desired content and design, which the developers then implement as a functioning website. This process requires writing the code, testing functionality, and improving the user experience.

Application Development

In addition to pure programmers, this role comprises web developers and other professionals who create programs needed to meet an organization’s business goals. They also help translate software designs into workable code. Additional IT functions of programmers include implementing databases, converting printed documents into digital format, and editing graphics.

Best Practices for Structuring K-12 IT Departments

The right structure is crucial for ensuring that a school’s IT department functions properly, especially when it comes to the protection of assets. This process involves careful planning to develop the structure with the best possible chance of success. 

The following best practices will help your school accomplish this goal:

Set the Foundation with Great Leadership

Getting the right leaders on the IT organizational chart is the first step in structuring an IT department because it allows you to build out the rest of the department. Positions such as Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Chief Technical Officer (CTO), Director, and IT Manager play a major role in IT department organization. Therefore, they need skill sets that allow them to perform some IT tasks and collaborate with other people such as a network administrator. These individuals also need to be open to innovation that will keep their organization competitive, including the effective application of new technology like network security.

Design Your Organization with Intention

Each position in an organization chart should serve a purpose. Of course, the duties of different roles may overlap, especially in smaller organizations. In these cases, the structure should allow team members from the help desk to assist with tasks belonging to other teams. It’s common to be unable to fill all roles as soon as you develop an organizational chart, so you’ll also need to plan for a future when all these roles are filled. This approach will help managers identify the main priorities for existing team members while also considering long-term goals.

Designing an organizational structure requires additional considerations when that organization is growing rapidly. For example, an IT leader who needs to shift responsibilities may hire additional employees. It may also be necessary to address sudden growth by promoting key employees in technical support and training them in new positions like software development. In some cases, it may be necessary to create roles for business functions in the IT stack, such as a technical support manager or technical sales manager. These actions can provide IT leaders with more time to develop strategies for meeting business needs.

Position Employees Based on Competency 

It is often beneficial to reassign existing team members to other business units that fit their preferences and career goals as it can improve morale and productivity. Perform this practice in conjunction with fully staffing your organization structure according to its current requirements. The aptitude of individuals in an IT organization is crucial to its success, especially in high-level roles. They must be able to resolve complex issues by working as a team, which requires developing camaraderie with like-minded individuals.

IT leaders must also be open-minded and agile to learn new technology, which is a routine occurrence in IT. For example, it’s often necessary to implement new security features that protect assets from the latest threats. Furthermore, an organization that’s growing rapidly will also have more data, employees, and customers to protect.

Improve the Hiring Process

Schools often try to fill IT positions without knowing the exact skill set it requires. Finding the right person to hire is much easier when you know what you’re looking for, so this step must be completed before advertising the position. A vacancy announcement should provide a specific list of qualifications, rather than a generic definition of the position. This should clearly distinguish between required skills and those that fall under wishlist skills.

It is also important to verify that the candidates possess the necessary skill sets in a technical interview. Ensure that this portion of the hiring process is conducted by someone with technical knowledge specific to that position. Too often, the technical interview in a school is conducted by a non-technical person who must rely on prepared answers to assess a candidate’s knowledge.

The strategic planning involved in hiring new personnel should also include a focus on cultural fit. The most technically qualified person in the world won’t be successful in a role if they fail to align with their organization’s values. It’s essential to put a candidate at ease during the interview, so they can show their true personality. This step is crucial for determining if the candidate will work well with the IT department’s existing employees and established workplace culture.

Characteristics of a Successful IT Team

Once managers have developed an organizational structure for their IT department, they should compare it against a list of criteria to assess its chances of success. Key areas include simplicity, clear lines of authority, and an emphasis on staff.

An organization’s structure should be as simple as possible while still fulfilling its purpose. It should emphasize an economical, effective means of accomplishing the organization’s objective that lends itself to automation. The structure should also avoid the communication difficulties that arise from an unnecessarily complex structure.

Additionally, the lines of authority should always be clear. These lines must run from top to bottom and in horizontal directions so that everyone understands what they’re expected to achieve and the relationships they need to maintain. This requirement becomes particularly important for avoiding inefficiencies in bureaucratic organizations with multiple jurisdictions.

In particular, line-of-business (LOB) functions like a data center should be separated from staff functions, while still placing adequate emphasis on critical staff activities. Large organizations must pay close attention to this requirement since LOB activities directly serve their objectives. In comparison, the benefits that staff activities, such as personnel and accounting, provide are indirect. Both types of functions must be clearly defined to ensure the IT issues are resolved smoothly and enhance customer experience.

Summary

The right IT structure is important for any school district, but it becomes more so as its size increases. The complexity of the IT infrastructure is also a crucial element to consider when organizing an IT department. Incident IQ can support a healthy IT department with a range of solutions to fit any district. Schedule a demo with us today to learn more about how we can help your district grow.