ITPF 2012 Posting Series, Part 1: Thoughts on the Opening Address, IT: A Platform for Agility, given by Andrea S. Ballingers

To succeed in the ever changing, ever fast-paced world of information technology, you need agility according to Andrea S. Ballingers, Associate Vice President for Administrative Technologies at Illinois State University. She opened up by stating that we all have our own unique “super powers,” reflecting the comic book theme of this year’s Information Technology Professionals Forum. Ballingers reflected on her own life and how she discovered her strengths, using them to help herself and her colleagues. Agility though seemed to be the main strength she came to rely upon. It was certainly her main point of reference throughout her opening address and it is a quality she said IT professions and the University of Illinois need to adopt.
Just adapting agility is not easy though. To Ballenger, agility means being adaptable and clear-sighted. To be adaptable, one has to be able to interact with a diverse set of people in IT and outside of it. It helps in leadership positions to recognize the strengths of individual team members and direct them accordingly. This can also be seen though as a talent rather than a learned skill since pinpointing human nature and personality is not an exact science in a work environment. Ballinger also points out the need for a clear perspective. Interestingly, she did not go into how difficult this can actually be. A clear perspective for external signs can be fairly easy. No individual can change what happens in the world. There was no stopping the rise of the Internet just as there is no stopping the rise of mobile technology. There is little emotional investment in external forces as powerful as they can be. There is a lot of emotional investment in internal forces and those are difficult to perceive clearly because of that. Probably without meaning to do so, Ballinger actually gave a very good example of an internal force that would be very difficult to combat. She pointed out that adaptability to advances and change in technology are anticipated and dealt with in a matter of weeks in the private sector. Public universities like the University of Illinois take months or more to do the same thing. For universities though to move as fast as private companies, it would take a complete overhaul of administrative and financial practices. Those are internal forces and years are put into establishing those practices. Naturally, people become attached to such practices and changing them would be a drastic and mentally intense process. This is not to say it wouldn’t be nice to be quicker to adapt. It would just take a lot of work.

Overall though, like all nice opening presentations, Ballinger offered uplifting words and good points. Her closing words are difficult to argue against because they are very true. Everyone involved in information technology has unique strengths and all of those strengths can be used to meet the increasingly numerous challenges and changes that occur in that environment. Ballinger claimed little actual knowledge of comic books. Recognizing your colleagues’ unique strengths and assembling them to accomplish goals, however, sounds very much like an appeal for us all to emulate Marvel’s Nick Fury, which could only be a good thing.

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