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Funky-Tech

Running Head: RISE OF THE FUNKY-TECH

Rise of the Funky-Tech:


Why the duality of functional skills and technical knowledge will be essential
to the success of employees in a registrars office

Danielle Ambrose
Western Oregon University
Spring 2014

Funky-Tech

Rise of the Funky-Tech: Why the duality of functional skills and technical
knowledge will be essential to the success of employees in a registrars office

I attended a work conference in early April 2014 where, as with most


conferences in my field, the event organizers felt it was extremely important
attendees be identified by the role they play within their organization. To
accomplish this organizers at these events rely on a badge system. For
instance, at this particular conference, attendees received a fancy purple
name tag with zippers and pockets. In addition attendees got to choose from
a selection of badges. These badges had words on them like executive,
functional, and technical. The badges, which resemble ribbons earned for an
entry at the county fair, are attached to each other by a small strip of
adhesive. They are meant to be hung from the name tag to clearly identify
the role an attendee fills within their organization.
As I stood there looking at the selection of badges it occurred to me I
no longer fit into just one category. It used to be easy, I was a functional
user: an employee who serves a utilitarian purpose within an organization.
My role was clear, I recorded the information received using the systems,
processes, and procedures laid out in my job description and demonstrated
in the training I received. For all intents and purposes it didnt matter if I
knew the why of what I did as long as I knew the how. The technical details
and mechanics were handled by someone else. Any further inquiry such as
data analysis, querying, and reporting was the role of the technical staff. The

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line was drawn and there was a clear distinction between functional and
technical.
As I look at the state of the registrars office today I see a shift in the
functional and technical roles. The Registrars Guide (2006), a publication by
the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers
(AACRAO), states Increasing demands resulting from technological
advances have not necessarily changed the core functions of the registrar,
though they have significantly expanded the range of essential skills which it
is useful for staff within the office to possess (Lauren, 2006, p. 6). Harold L.
Pace, Assistant Provost and University Registrar at Wake Forest University,
published an article in College and University in 2011, titled The Evolving
Office of the Registrar. He describes an analysis of the registrars office,
which he facilitated during his 20 years as University Registrar at the
University of Notre Dame. Pace believes it is experts in data and data
analysis which are essential to the university. What once was a highly
functional office is now shifting to require significant levels of technical
knowledge. It is no longer enough to be skilled in the functional aspect of a
position. If an employee isnt up to date with the technology, including scope
and limitations, they are behind the curve and will struggle to contribute at a
level necessary to be successful. For instance, Data mining no longer
happens mainly outside of the registrars office. It is now a daily necessity
with time sensitive consequences. Mining, analyzing, and reporting real time
data has significant effects on the daily operations affecting the registrars

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office. In some cases, this data is needed by other departments where their
effective and efficient communication with students depends heavily on the
data provided by the registrars office. Our ability and need to drill down
beyond the big picture data has brought the mining, analysis, and reporting
of some of the less intricate data in house.
Historically, changes in the processes of the registrars office were
centered on registration itself. Registration, one of the main reasons the
registrars office was established, has undergone numerous changes since its
first inception in the early 1300s. During that time the disputes between
Oxford University and the local townsfolk brought to light the need to record
matriculation in addition to the current practice of keeping a record of those
who had graduated, thus the registrars office was born. Registration has
since taken on many forms; arena, distributed, mail-in, telephone, touchtone, self-service terminals, as well as web-based registration have all been
popular methods used over the last several hundred years. As technology
has evolved so have registration methods (Lauren, 2006). The tools now
used accentuate a more automated approach to record keeping. Automation
is taking on the role of the functional user, making it imperative the
registrars office adapt to the need for a different type of user. The FunkyTech, a hybrid of the traditional functional and technical users, is the future
employee of the Registrars Office. Funky-Techs are technologists with
functional jobs. Automation has turned our attention from data processing to
data analysis (Pace, 2011). It has taken the grunt work out of most processes

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and opened up the door for increased customer service which includes
solving problems before they exist. In order to do this we need to be able to
collect and analyze data and data trends. In addition, we need to anticipate
needs and find solutions faster.
Ken Robinson (2011), author of Out of Our Minds, says [w]e are living
in a world that is changing faster than ever and facing challenges that are
unprecedented (p. 1). Every day I witness first-hand the need for more
technical knowledge in functional roles. Technology is integrated into
everything we do in the registrars office. So much so, it has become
essential to consider the technical knowledge of any new hire above their
functional ability and experience. Pace (2011) believes institutions should
consider applicants with technical skills even for non-technical jobs. He goes
as far as to declare technical knowledge and skills essential for employment
in the registrars office. Pace isnt alone, his study in 2011 gathered
information from twelve registrars or enrollment managers from across the
country who were considered outstanding in their field. Two of the four core
themes he discovered point to the integration of technologists into what
used to be considered functional positions.
Robinson (2011) claims businesses are finding it harder and harder to
find employees with the skill set needed to be successful in todays
organizations. This is also true for the registrars office. The problem seems
to be, the majority of applicants who are applying to work in this field have
little to no technical knowledge or skills. To clarify, I am not referring to

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technical skills as in the ability to write code, create a query, or build a data
base. What I am referring to is being able to identify what data is most
beneficial, find that data, interpret it, and apply it to the goals and objectives
of a university in such a way that supports the big picture. If this happens to
include knowledge of SQL and programming, then so much for the better.
This is not simply the ability to manage and manipulate the data. Attempting
to control data can produce undesirable results. However, understanding
how the data works and being able to interpret the data can help direct the
processes, procedures, and outcomes that drive the data.
Daniel Pink (2006), author of A Whole New Mind, suggests it is the soft
skills, or functional skills, that will determine the success of an employee in
the work place. The functional skills Pink is referring to are not a
representation of the functional user (the employee who serves a utilitarian
purpose). According to the Career Development Center at Stanford
University, it is the competencies which can be applied across disciplines
that define functional skills (Functional skills, 2014). These skills include
communication (oral and written), organizational management (including
problem solving and time management), information management (such as
record keeping and attention to detail), design and planning (including
conceptualization and improvisation), research and investigation (including
data mining and analysis), human services (such as interpersonal skills and
empathy), and physical skills (building, repairing, and inventing).

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Pinks (2006) categorization of these skills shift between what he calls


R-Directed Thinking or characteristics and attitudes indicative to the right
brain, and L-Directed Thinking or characteristics and attitudes indicative to
the left brain. While Pink believes R-Directed Thinkers will dominate the
future work force, I believe it will be those individuals who can achieve a
balance between both R-Directed and L-Directed Thinking who will be the
most desirable and successful employee of the future. It will be both soft and
hard skills, transferable across disciplines, which will determine success in
the work force. Employees will need both the functional skills to perform the
tasks and the technical knowledge to keep ahead of the game in order to be
successful. In the registrars office, the duality of the Funky-Tech is indeed
becoming one of the most sought after employees.
It is hard to determine a single cause for these changes. It could be
attributed to the change in demographics of the customers, who in this case
are students. Students today are vastly different from the students of ten
years ago. The students of today grew up with technology. They live and
breathe technology. It is a platform on which they carry out the functions of
their day. From their work to their social life, technology is an integral part of
their lives. Even their parents, who are not native users of technology, have
higher expectations of services. In his book, Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff
(2014) states, Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment.
Everything is live, real time, and always-on (p. 2). Even in higher education
we are changing our mode of information delivery, extending beyond the

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24x7 access to registration, to include the students complete educational


record. It is no longer sufficient to have limited access. Students want, and
need, to be able to access their transcripts, degree plans, course schedule,
enrollment verifications, and much more in real time and from anywhere.
You could attribute the shift to what Pink (2006) refers to as the age of
abundance. In order to compete in this new age you have to be more
creative, deliver faster, and offer something no one else can. How does this
translate to the Registrars Office? Students demand immediate responses.
Good customer service, in addition to providing quality information in a
timely manner, now requires a higher level of attention in a shorter amount
of time. Our perception of time is impacted by the world around us. For
instance, we no longer need to endure long wait times. If we want the
newest release of an album we can log on to iTunes and download it. If we
want a new outfit we can go on line and have it delivered to our house the
next day. Rushkoff mentions what Stewart Brand (author of The Clock of the
Long Now) calls the order of civilization, in which the world operates under
many different time scales; nature, culture, infrastructure, and fashion
(Rushkoff, 2014, p. 133-134). Rushkoff says, We get into troublewhen we
lose the ability to distinguish between the different scales of time and begin
to subject one level of activity to the time constraints of another (Rushkoff,
2014, p. 134). This can make providing good customer service even more
difficult.

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There is a lot of information that passes through the registrars office


on a daily basis. It is inconceivable that any one person, or group of people,
could possibly remember and recall it all without assistance of some sort.
This is where technology has become more efficient. The information we use
to schedule classes and track registration can also be used to predict student
success, identify at risk populations, and anticipate future enrollment. This
information is, amazingly, stored in a database. They key is to be able to
retrieve, analyze, understand, and apply the data effectively. Clive Thompson
(2013) discusses, what he calls, the art of finding in his book Smarter than
you Think (p. 115-146). He dedicates an entire chapter to the idea that
technology can increase our knowledge and productivity capabilities.
Generally speaking, we need to know how to tap into the data available to us
and we need to be able to do access it fast.
One of the most important considerations universities need to make
when it comes to meeting student needs and creating a sustainable
institution are the employees. Jim Collins (2001) in his book, Good to Great,
discusses the concept of getting the right people on the bus. If you do not
have the right people on the bus it wont matter where the bus is going, it
will not reach its destination. If we are looking to create a registrars office
that can keep pace with the increasing demands of students, staff, and
faculty we need to reconsider the type of employees we have on our bus.
Having only functional employees will no longer suffice. The technical

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knowledge and skills are now essential, yet on their own they too will not get
us where we need to be.
In 2011 Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen published Great by Choice, a
study of companies during difficult times they researched why some
companies continued to succeed and others did not. Through this research
they discovered it was a combination of three core behaviors which they
identify as fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia.
The duo claims it is these behaviors which determined the success or failure
of a company. The same is true for individual employees. In a sense it is the
aptitudes that computers cant do better, faster, or cheaper (Pink, 2006, p.
47) that will lead to success. In my opinion, this is what being a funky-tech is
about. Its not about knowing how to do a job. Its about knowing how to do a
job in relation to the big picture. Its about understanding how action,
observation, and preparation can impact a cause bigger than oneself (Collins
and Morten, 2011). In addition, we still need to know where to find the
information, or data, needed to support our actions and observations, and in
turn direct our preparation in an effort to support our cause. The
transformation of the functional employee into a hybrid of functional and
technical knowledge and skills is essential to the future of the registrars
office.
In summary, due to the changes in technology, societal demands, and
institutional pressures the registrars office must find a way to adapt or it will
no longer be able to serve its constituents at the level required. Funky-Techs

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are the future employees of the registrars office. It will be the combination
of their knowledge and skills which will foster the innovation and change that
will enable the registrars office to keep pace with the advances in
technology and increasing demands required in the university setting. Betsy
Myers, COO and senior advisor to Barack Obama during his 2007-2008
presidential campaign, says leaders use technology... effective leaders
make sure they are staying on top of how the world is changing (Myers,
2011, p. 61). This is true regardless of the discipline and makes it
increasingly important for employees at every level to follow suit.

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References
Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap and
others dont. New York: HarperCollins.
Collins, J., Hansen, M. T. (2011). Great by choice: Uncertainty, chaos, and
luck why some thrive despite them all. New York: Harper Collins.
Functional skills: knowing your strengths. Career Development Center,
Stanford University. Retrieved May 25, 2014, from
http://studentaffairs.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/cdc/files/Skills.pdf

Lauren, B. (Ed.). (2006). The registrars guide: Evolving best practices in


records and registration. Washington, DC: AACRAO.
Myers, B. (2011). Take the lead: Motivate, inspire, and bring out the best in
yourself and everyone around you. New York: Atria Books.
Pace, H. L. (2011). The evolving office of the registrar. College and University,
86 (3), 2-7.
Pink, D. H. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future.
New York: Penguin.
Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds: Learning to be creative. West Sussex,
UK: Capstone.
Rushkoff, D. (2014). Present shock: When everything happens now. New
York: Penguin.
Thompson, C. (2013). Smarter than you think: How technology is changing
our minds for the better. London: William Collins.