The University Record, May 22, 2000

Use the REACH approach, Griffiths advises IT users

By Theresa Maddix

Emphasizing the people priority in University information technology (IT), Josť-Marie Griffiths gave the opening address at the Workplace 2000 career conference. Griffiths, university chief information officer (CIO) and executive director of the Information Technology Division, told conference attendees, “The real power of technology is in the people who use it. My greatest concern as CIO is to enable everyone in the campus community to use technology.”

To this end, she offered suggestions on how to become a “power user” of technology. Griffiths’ REACH method helps users determine if “IT makes sense.” It does not make sense, Griffiths said, to take the time to check the weather on a Web site before going to a meeting rather than just looking out a window. But a person with bad handwriting using a word processor to type a letter is using technology productively.

The REACH approach asks if IT helps accomplish goals Rapidly, Easily, Accurately, Cost-effectively, and whether IT makes it Happen?

Technology should make a project go more rapidly—if a person uses a computer to add three numbers rather than adding them in his/her head, time is lost.

To effectively use technology, users must consider ease of use. Griffiths advised against the trap of “creating work for oneself because we’ve become enamored with what the computer can do.” Technology needs to be used wisely with the end goal in mind.

Technology must not sacrifice accuracy. A person setting up a meeting with multiple participants may not be able to ascertain the earliest available date by doing an electronic search in a calendar-maker program. Griffiths said many people using such programs block off chunks of time for low-priority activities during which they might actually be available for a meeting if it is higher priority.

Cost-effectiveness also is crucial for IT. “We need to realize time is money,” Griffiths said. Asking a reference librarian on each visit to find books is not as cost-effective as retrieving easy-to-find books. However, it might be cost-effective to give reference librarians tasks that require complex IT searches.

In explaining how to “make it happen,” Griffiths spoke about the work she has done at an institutional level. At the U-M, IT guiding principles are contribution, community, equity and diversity. “IT must add value to the core missions of the University. We will not,” Griffiths said, “focus on technology for its own sake.” Technology “must draw people together rather than push or keep people apart.” IT must be accessible in an equitable manner. A diversity of hardware and software also must remain available. “We must balance economies of scale with a diverse environment.” Even with a push toward uniformity in many areas, the University must have other technologies available for people in different disciplines if appropriate, she said.

Griffiths requested that those having difficulty with IT not “be afraid to ask for help.” The U-M has more than 1,400 IT support staff. “Be tolerant of your own—and others—developing knowledge and skills in using technology.”

As a final tip, Griffiths said, “Make sure you have the right technology for the job. It may not make sense to always buy the latest upgrade. It’s important to make sure you have what you need to reach your goals. It’s especially important to ask yourself the REACH questions.”