Technology Assessments

Whether you are big or small, they are always a great idea

Most nonprofit organizations have never gone through a thorough assessment of their technology needs. The reasons for this vary, but often boil down to (a) we don’t have time, (b) we can’t afford to hire a consultant, and (c) what’s the point, since we don’t have money to spend on lots of money on new equipment or software.

This is a shame, because a technology assessment isn’t about figuring out how to spend money you don’t have, but instead on figuring out how to achieve your organizational goals within your time, money, and technology constraints.

google-appsFor example, a small nonprofit may have a mixture of computers (old and new, Mac and Windows), a great variability in the technical proficiency of its staff, a limited budget, and no in-house IT staff. The common misconception is that a technology assessment would be pointless for this organization, because they don’t have the capacity to implement the recommendations. This couldn’t be further from the truth. An assessment would reveal that this organization should focus on web-based applications with highly favorable pricing for nonprofits (such as Google Apps), which would address cross-platform compatibility issues, provide a simple user interface, and eliminate the problems associated with software installation and upgrading. A consultant could assist with setup and migration to the new system, and provide staff training to get folks up and running. All without having to invest a single cent in purchasing hardware or software.

A good technology assessment will also look at the data needs of an organization — what systems are currently in place to collect, track and report on data — and develop a set of recommendations on how to improve data management within the constraints of time, money, and staff expertise. Many nonprofits are using systems that are either not robust enough to track data in a multiuser environment, or are too complex for users to master (in particular the occasional users, such as managers). Matching a data management system to the needs of a particular organization is critically important, and should be done by a consultant that can recommend a wide array of options, and not just push the one solution that is in their tool belt.

For large organizations with their own IT staff, it can still be highly useful to work with an outside consultant on periodic technology assessments. Though certainly not true for all IT professionals, some internal IT staff have a tendency to recommend systems and hardware solutions with which they are familiar, which can hold back many organizations from using newer, more cost-effective technologies. For example, many internal IT departments were initially reluctant to approve use of iPhones by employees, because they had grown so comfortable with the Blackberry ecosphere. The same is true for cloud-based storage solutions (such as Dropbox or Box), which required IT departments to shift away from their tried and true local file servers. A good technology assessment should incorporate the latest knowledge of hardware and software solutions, which simply may not be available to internal IT staff.