Everything I Know about Stewardship of Applications I Learned from Owning a Boat
The place we live in Honolulu is right on a marina and has a boat dock. I’m not really a boat person, but the idea of being able to take a boat to do grocery shopping or go to the movies was just too seductive. I couldn’t help myself. I bought a boat. In the last year I’ve learning a great deal about the difference between procuring a thing and taking care of a thing.
Buying a boat isn’t a horribly complicated process. I did some research on types of boats, motor sizes, etc. and then my wife and I looked through Craigslist until we found one we liked in our price range. I even knew enough to have the boat inspected by a mechanic before buying it. I took the required boat operator course online. No problem.
We’ve had the boat about a year, and enjoyed putting around the marina, but about a month ago I could no longer get the outboard engine to tip down into the water (a prerequisite for making the boat go). I’ve spent the last month or so working with a mechanic to correct that and a number of problems with the boat. Some were caused because I didn’t really understand everything I needed to about the engine. Some were caused because I thought I understood everything I needed to know about the engine. And some were long standing problems that weren’t really apparent until we started working on the other things.
Buying a boat and taking care of a boat are two totally different things. You can buy a boat and enjoy it for awhile without taking care of it, but then it just becomes one miserable repair after another. If you want to get the best use of the boat, then you have to be a good steward of the boat. You have to understand a fair amount about how it runs, where water should be spitting out (and where it shouldn’t), and what it sounds like when it isn’t running well. You don’t have to be a boat expert, but you can’t just sit back and expect someone else to take care of it for you.
This weekend as my mechanic was explaining to me about control cables, trim sensors, propellors and water pumps, I realized that owning a boat is basically the same as owning an IT application. Vendors have made it really easy to procure applications (“no IT support required, we host it all”), but that was the easy part to start with. Anyone can buy an application. But if an institution wants to get the best out of an IT solution, they have to become a good steward of the application. Understanding how the application will function for you on a day-to-day basis, how it interacts (and changes) your business process, and how it talks to all the other applications on a campus are all critical components to being a good steward.
Just like I needed a good mechanic to help me understand and become a better steward of my boat, institutions need to use their IT areas to help them understand and become better stewards of their IT solutions. I feel I can now be a better steward of the boat because I have a good partnership with a great mecahnic. With something as complex as a boat, that partnership is the key ingredient to success. That holds true for IT applications as well. A strong partnership between IT and functional areas started early with the right mix of people is the key to success.