Saturday, June 14, 2014

Printing Hell - IT Policy Run Amok

There is has been a dark cloud hanging over my school for the last year or so. Generally, the school is a democratic, trusting place where students and staff are treated with respect and where problems are addressed collectively, with all parties having a chance to take part in collaboratively developing workable solutions.

However, our  IT department, along with the support of senior leadership (not exactly sure who), decided that they would unilaterally enforce a misguided printing policy on all students and staff with the presumed goal of saving money. This policy was rolled out in an e-mail with little initial fanfare or reaction.

Although dictatorial, authoritarian, despotic, tyrannical, autocratic, undemocratic and arbitrary, the policy at first seemed mostly harmless, albeit irritating:
  • Limitations on the size of print jobs - less than 20 pages for staff (even less for students)
  • No multiple copy printing (same file cannot be reprinted for extended time period)
  • Trimester total page limits (70 pages) for students (fortunately, not for staff)
  • Cumbersome interface for submitting and approving color printing (and page limits for all)
With the passage of time, the policy has grown increasingly annoying for both practical and philosophical reasons. After a year, it has become an infected, festering sore eating away at my (and others) soul (and, no, I am not being melodramatic). Here are just a few of the many reasons why:
  • When printing a test I occasionally (despite my best efforts at online proofreading) make a mistake on a page...that I usually see while walking back from the printer. I would like to fix the mistake and reprint the single page. But, no go, there is a timer preventing me from printing a file with same name again (even if only a page) within specified period. So, I am forced to rename the file in order to print the problem page.
  • The IT infrastructure is fragile at best, with significant downtime and clunky rollouts of new technology. For example, recent work on a web server resulted in multiple system outages during the primetime of student and staff use (7-11 pm). Why this rollout could not wait until the summer (when school was not in session) is a mystery - since IT is reluctant to share their super secret (and convoluted) strategic thinking with the lowly rank and file staff. I mention this because having an organization that has shown limited success in running their own business tell me how to run mine (vis-a-vis the printing policy) is just flat out annoying...and it pisses me off each and every day.
  • Students are being impacted in their ability to complete the tasks they are being asked to do. For example, one teacher recently asked students to complete eight past exams in preparation for an upcoming end of trimester exam. The teacher did not print off 50 copies of each past exam (approx. 15 pages each) but some students wanted hardcopies to do their work. Well, it is the end of the semester and their printing quotas are exhausted. You get the picture. (NOTE: This is a perfect example of where a less printing intensive approach could have been taken.).
But, what really gets me, is that we are an international school focused on trust, collaboration and most recently "international mindedness". We have very creative, bright students and staff who would willingly work together to come up with more internally motivated approaches to saving money and resources associated with printing, if given the chance. Unilaterally implementing a misguided policy on printing which negatively impacts the entire organization is contrary to everything the school stands for and works against the principles that we try to install in our students each day.

One final anecdote related to this issue. A student recently won election to the Executive Council of the student government on the platform of "fixing the printer policy". I wish him the best and will do everything in my power to help him succeed in making his election promise a reality. This is an issue we should be working together to address not one that is going to be solved via bureaucratic mandates.

Disclaimer: The point of view put forth in this blog post does not reflect that of my school's IT department or the school's administrative leadership.

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