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It’s the little things: protecting creative problem-solving

When it comes to creative solutions, often it’s the little things that make a big difference.

I was talking with 2 campus colleagues about a project I’ve been working: an executive dashboard. I explained that this is not a classic dashboard, built on top of a business intelligence (BI) back end with lots of bells and whistles. In our environment, it would have to be much simpler.

I had gathered a set of data points, one or two reports for each of our programs, and then imagined plotting them on a web page. And, while I accepted the fact that it would have to be a manual process to begin with, my goal was an automated reporter of some kind.

Of course…I had no budget. Fast forward to today, and we have a basic dashboard! We’re using a tool called AMCharts, which is “a set of Flash Charts for websites and Web-based products.” It can generate various data depictions on the fly based on basic inputs, which, in our case, are CSV files. (To use the free version, you have to display a small link to the AMChart website on your charts.)

We have a working model of chart layouts and regular data submissions. And, we are in the process of moving everything to an appropriate location. Finally, we’ll need some small scripting to be done.

When I described this small achievement, one of my campus colleagues noted that, while it sounded pretty great, it would never have worked on her campus because their IT department wouldn’t allow the use of a non-standard piece of software.

I know about this particular roadblock. My former employer had the same policy and then some. It was the kind of place where you exited the elevator to a sea of matching cubicles. Perfectly matching cubicles, as a matter of fact, because the management enforced a standard for appropriate workspace decoration. Every so often, this same management would wonder aloud why the IT Department wasn’t engaged in more innovative work.

There is no question that standardizing software reduces support costs for organizations. But this is a policy area that can be taken too far. It can have unintended consequences, and, indeed, unintended costs. My conversation with colleagues got me wondering where the tipping point might be. Where do you think it is?