Flexibility

In seeking a goal state, one would desire the capacity to be flexible: flexible to respond to changing environments, to drifting perspectives, to technical evolution.  This adaptability operates not only as internal trait, but can also manifest within an organization, with both entities, whole and part, seeing the search space and tracing a path that addresses the immediate need with an eye towards creating a sustainable solution.

It is this very trait of flexibility that the ATS Program embodies and that allows its members to identify and address near-term needs while working towards broader solutions in a way that allows the program to accomplish more than the sum of its job descriptions.

To illustrate this point, I use the Jasper Group as an example.  During 2008, as the Drupal CMS was making great inroads at Stanford, no internal service was available for supporting the Drupal framework, forcing many campus groups to seek outside firms to create Drupal-based web presences.

Suddenly, administrators and faculty were thrust into a situation of negotiating a technical contract with no sense of custom, training, or capacity to understand how to structure content for a CMS or the jargon used by the firms.  In many cases, the contract was vague or otherwise written to the benefit of the firm with the Stanford entity believing they were getting what they wanted, however time after time it became apparent that the project ended with an unsatisfactory product being delivered and the Stanford group being left in the unenviable position of having a web presence which they did not desire.  (A secondary result was the great outlays of cash that were the result of each individual group negotiating its own contract with no economy of scale and no re-use of common parts.)

Recognizing this weakness in the process, two ATSes, Zach Chandler and Vijoy Abraham, set out to find a way to employ their expertise in both the Drupal CMS and ability to train those new to the technology to discuss their needs in language appropriate to the domain.  After bringing on a third expert, John Bickar also from SUL, and through a handful of iterations, discussions with sometimes supportive, sometimes dissuasive superiors, the Jasper Group was born as a Drupal consultancy for campus groups seeking to use Drupal for educational, administrative, or research focused web sites.

As ATSes have only 20% of our time available for Library use, we decided that we would lobby for up to half of that billet to be available for Jasper use.  The request went all the way to the University Librarian who saw the value in the entrepreneurial nature of the request and how it was an unexpected outgrowth of the program.  With approvals in place, Jasper set out to assist over a dozen campus groups ranging from individual faculty project, speciality departmental sites, all the way to vice provost level offices, in assisting, identifying, and finalizing project details and contracts— saving the University over $100k in the process.

The ability to identify issues that may have one or two intertwined threads with direct ATS work, but have a much greater impact on the campus community, then furthermore being given the opportunity to pursue solutions for these issues, is a level of flexibility not awarded in many staff-level positions.  Rather, the ATS Program recognizes the unique backgrounds and skillsets of the ATS members and is able to employ them for the good of the both the Program and the greater University community.

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