David Gundlach, Deputy Superintendent of the Oshkosh, WI School District showed me how thoughtful use of the collaborative spreadsheet, Smartsheet, has helped two school districts and their constituents change how they think about technology infrastructure and teaching. Most successful transformations require a mixing of the people and their skills, the technology tools, and the organizational process. The question is what can be complex and what can be simple across these dimensions.

I’ve been intrigued by how Smartsheet’s cloud-based spreadsheet can be used for online project management or other spreadsheet tasks -- but with a twist -- it’s easy to attach other files and share by the row, securely. This means you have a well-known relatively simple approach, a spreadsheet, combined with sophisticated sharing controls. You can then use this capability to increase transparency and ease of workflow with your constituents.


Simplicity and familiarity may win over more complex, purpose-built collaboration tools in some settings. Mark Mader, Smartsheet’s CEO told me, “Don’t run away from the things you’ve already mastered. Embrace the things you already know. You also want to capitalize on the things that are now available to use: cross office, cross country sharing. If you can merge those two you have a very powerful solution.”

David Gundlach found that simplicity and transparency were critical to his district getting support for a sustainable information technology budget for classes and administration.

I asked him how he came to understand the importance of combining technology with the power of transparency and clear workflows - and how he brought all this to bear in this public setting.

David did not start out as a tech guru. He was a chemistry and biology teacher in a smaller school district, but he was always interested in computers. Beginning with the Apple II, his students all had to do real research projects and he had to hunt down the technology that would help them. This was a tough task in the 80s and 90s. Eventually he was offered a position as half-time principal and technology coordinator.  Each job gave him a different look at using the technology in the enterprise.  

School districts run on public funding. So David was involved in a referendum for technology funds. It failed 3:1. More research and a master’s degree later, David worked to enact a kindergarten through 12th grade technology plan with a funded, sustainable budget.  He told me, “It’s more important to have the community on board than to get the technology. [I knew that if the community was] on board, they would see what we wanted and then deliver on that.... The people are the tough part. The technology is the easy part. [You need to look ] through a systems lens and know that the implications may impact four or five others. You need to know the interrelationships between the four or five.”


Something as simple as a publicly-sharable spreadsheet helps everyone see how different steps in a project plan relate to manpower, timing, and other resources -- dimensions that can be quite complex. The simplicity and transparency helps to simplify the situation and demonstrate reality -- then the smart people can leverage their capabilities through the Smartsheet.

It's a time of sharing. Are you in a position to help your local school district take a step toward simple and transparent approaches? The wonderful thing about school districts is that they are engaged with their communities. Think about how you might use your expertise to support a local school or district -- and then let me know what happens - or what has already happened if you've taken this great step.

For more on how the Oshkosh and Menasha school districts are leveraging cloud solutions, please see my post on GigaOM's WebWorker Daily and this Smartsheet case study.