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A View from the Cloud

Written on November 13th, 2015

This week I had the opportunity to attend Microsoft’s Cloud Roadshow in Toronto. It was two overflowing days of connecting with the people who are creating the Office 365 platform and shaping what Microsoft wants its cloud solutions to become. It was a valuable time for me, and has me rethinking and pondering … So, I thought I might take this chance to share a bit of what I learned:

There are amazing things on the virtual horizon!

Through its development and acquisitions, companies like Microsoft are beginning to connect a whole range of technologies under one platform. While traditionally I haven’t thought a lot about how my word processing application, video calling, and social media connect—a company like Microsoft now owns Word, Skype, and Yammer … and so, what was once an email app like Outlook, is now set to seamlessly host documents, video calls, and text conversations.

From the vantage of this convention, I could see just how big the coming changes are once the our apps become interconnected, and the ways in which such cloud-based centralization will change the way I work. The line between being off-line and on-line has certainly been blurred for me in the last five years, but here is the beginning of that distinction disappearing altogether. If my work and contacts all begin, build, and are shared in the cloud, a whole series of things are going to change in my personal work-flow (and I guess email attachments will quickly become a thing of the past, too!).

Not even Microsoft has the cloud totally working yet …

Both the technologies and scale of this event were very impressive, but there were a few slightly ironic elements, too. My favourite was approaching the Microsoft helpers on hand in order to figure out what room my session was in. Time and again these people cheerfully whipped out their paper-lists and found the information amid the printed spreadsheet (I did try to joke about this, but as personally happens all too often, my humour wasn’t that funny …).

There are big plans and changes afoot, but right now everyone’s in the middle of them. Many of the key interfaces and reporting mechanisms being showcased were scheduled for release early next year. I think of this as being mostly exciting, but there are frustrations too as different elements remain unconnect-able for a time.

This might prompt the idea that we should wait until everything’s worked out, but I would disagree with that in many cases. One of our great strengths as independent schools is that the changes we make won’t affect hundreds-of-thousands of users. Many of the companies being represented at the convention were in that boat, but we can think of this on the scale of a small committee or a classroom. Our size, I think, is a great strength amid these changes.

How will big data affect our culture?

During the keynote, the president of Microsoft Canada demonstrated a new reporting platform called Delve. It’s probably what I’ve thought the most about subsequently …

As we watched, she clicked and a report appeared (in near real-time!) quantifying how much time had been spent that week on a host of tasks—internal/external meetings, traveling, working on policies, and even replying to emails. It was amazingly detailed, and I could see that it got a number of employers thinking.

Seeing such detailed (almost intrusive?) reporting has reminded me of how intentional I think we need to be in our use of it. What is the place of such data if we believe in empowering an image of Christ that embodies character and grit? While I heard some subsequent conversations at the convention centre around justifying the contributions of employees (and having a report that let’s you know who’s worth keeping …), I believe we need to be careful in our assumptions.

Personally, I see great value in this kind of data-mining to help me understand what I do (and what I could be doing better!). As an aid to my own professionalism, I’m nothing but excited. But, what if that data’s used to quantify (and ultimately justify) the quality of my work? Would that help or harm the culture that I work with here in the OACS office? My experience has been that a cornerstone of my work is the trust I’m endowed with and the maturity I’m expected to exercise in my time management. I think that such a hierarchical use could quickly effect both, as well as redefine my priorities based on what is quantifiable.

 

Before I end, let me leave with a challenge: In our exploration of new ways to quantify what students do, let’s make sure we keep our focus on our vision for who they are, and who we hope they’ll become! I saw some great, new opportunities this week, but we need to be intentional (and perhaps just a little counter-cultural) in using such big data to empower our children first. Doing so, I think demonstrates our commitment to, and trust in, each one.

As always, I hope that a reflection like this will spark some response. This is a new area, and one that needs a host of people’s experiences and thoughts to make sense of. But, after an event like this I’m more convinced than ever about the timeliness of thinking deeply about how we’ll choose to use (and be formed) by the coming wave of big data.