Technology Decision Makers

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A group for those in nonprofit IT decision-making roles to connect with peers and share best practices. This Technology Decision Makers group is for nonprofit IT or MIS Directors/Managers as well as CIOs and CTOs to connect with their peers and share best practices. Topics for discussion include, but are not limited to: hardware and software management, product reviews, emerging technology, best practices, collaborating effectively with other departments, and management conundrums. Membership is restricted to IT staff at nonprofit organizations.

Guidelines/policies for tech "exploration"?

  • 1.  Guidelines/policies for tech "exploration"?

    Posted Jun 19, 2018 14:15

    Hi everyone,

    tl;dr: If one of your colleagues on a program team wants to test out a new technology or social media platform, what is the protocol? Do they check in with you? Is that policy published somewhere and shared w new staff at orientation and then how is it reinforced over time?

    Context: I work at a small/medium nonprofit that partners with colleges and universities across the U.S. We do not have a full time community manager and we have a one-person IT/Salesforce department. Our program teams are mostly divided up according to which audience segment folks work with - so one team works on undergraduate students, one with alumni, one with faculty, etc. These different program staff have made their own independent decisions to "pilot" different tech tools in order to be in touch with "their" audiences - e.g. one team has been testing out a combo of Slack to keep in touch with student fellows, another team has tested out Google Classroom this year for a small group cohort, another is using a combo of Zoom and Slack and email, etc.

    We recently worked with an outside consultant who (among other things) recommended that we "Establish an institution-wide protocol for technology exploration, evaluation, piloting, adoption, and reporting." They said that the spirit of these pilots has been great, and they appreciate the space that our team has to innovate and we don't want to quash that enterprising energy etc., but that we need to be sure that a) teams are sharing what they learn about these various platforms, so everyone can benefit; b) we're making sure whenever possible that these different "pilots" integrate with our website and CRM, and c) of course considering security and safety.

    I will be meeting with our VP of Operations and our IT Director this week to discuss where we might want to go from here. They are particularly interested in examples from other organizations. I've looked back through the archives here and in the General Discuss list and saw social media policies galore as well as tech security policies, but I'm wondering if there's anything else specifically related to that culture of "experimentation" that any of you might be able to share? Thanks for reading and for your help.

    Tech Accelerate

  • 2.  RE: Guidelines/policies for tech "exploration"?

    Posted Jun 19, 2018 15:53
    Hi Julia,

    Officially, people should have a discussion with IT about what they want to do. What are they hoping to accomplish? What system(s) do they already have in mind? Who is the audience for this? Is this something we'd take office-wide or if this is a special tool that only a handful of staff would use?

    If the staff have a tool in mind that only a few people would actually use and there's a free trial, my answer is Go For It. The free trial is usually enough time to determine if the system they want to use is meeting their needs and bringing enough value. Near the end of the trial period there's a follow up discussion on those outcomes and to determine if this is worth continuing and paying for.

    On the other hand if this is something that would best fit office-wide, such as a new communications tool, then we look at what existing systems this would supplant and what value it could bring. If the value is there, or if the group is really passionate, we make a pilot group to test using the new system for a set period of time, at the end of which we discuss value, outcomes, and appropriate next steps.

    In the real world, I tend to her about new systems after they are in use when someone has a problem and wants my help with a system I didn't know we had and (at times) have never even heard of.  The "official" process was never formalized as a policy but worked very well prior to some staff and department changes a year ago.

    For reference my office switched to Zoom video conferencing two years ago and love it. This replaced a pilot we had using Cisco WebEx and ultimately replaced our paid conference calling solution.  I highly recommend that product - they have single sign on with Google, a Chrome extension that connects to Google Calendar for easy scheduling, and support is awesome.  Zoom was a tool found and tested by IT that staff weren't really asking for, but came to love pretty quickly as our president is a big proponent of video conferencing. On the other hand, we did not adopt Slack when that came up via a team already using it and ultimately chose a competing product instead. It's been a major source of conflict and mistrust in IT ever since. We'll likely be migrating to Slack this fall from our current product, not because our current product isn't meeting needs, but for political reasons.

    Stephanie Henyard
    Information Technology
    Society for College and University Planning

    Tech Accelerate

  • 3.  RE: Guidelines/policies for tech "exploration"?

    Posted Jun 20, 2018 12:49
    Hi Julia,

    I am a consultant who has helped non profit clients evaluate technology products to fit with their existing needs and existing products

    - As you mention, there is definitely an exploration/experimentation phase but overall, product selection is not the same as experimenting.
    - Here are the steps I typically suggest:
       - Go to other departments/organizations within your nonprofit and check who could utilize that technology. For example, if it's social media, chances are that fundraising and marketing are the two departments who could use the technology/platform.
       - Collect their use cases (ie scenarios of usage) - make this as detailed a list as possible
       - Prepare a feature wishlist
       - Evaluate the platforms against this wish list to determine which one suits better. Sometimes, one solution does not fit all, and one must identify the best set of solutions. For example, one criterion is how the selection will work with already deployed technology, etc.
       - There needs to be a joint effort where at least one person from each time is "test driving" the solution before officially adopting it. This can be similar to your "experimentation" phase.

    Hope this helps!!

    Medha Nanal
    Database & Technology Consulting for Fundraising/Advancement, Communications & Programs

    Tech Accelerate

  • 4.  RE: Guidelines/policies for tech "exploration"?

    Posted Jun 21, 2018 14:33
    Thank you both, Medha and Stephanie! I appreciate it.
    Tech Accelerate

  • 5.  RE: Guidelines/policies for tech "exploration"?

    Posted Jun 22, 2018 13:22

    Our IT department did write a third-party vendor policy last year in general about requesting new systems. The IT department was finding out about systems well after-the-fact, which was leading to redundancy and potential security gaps. Essentially, the policy is (on paper) to talk with IT, write up a business case, then proceed. However, the policy is not well-known and definitely has not been enforced. Of the employees who do know the policy exists, I think they see the whole process as cumbersome (especially for inexpensive/free tools). I tried to follow our internal process for a new software and definitely found the approval process slow. Trying to get multiple people who wouldn't be using the software to sign off on it created a lot of work on my end. And it was a little unclear as to if IT could actually reject a request for new software (that is not in IT's budget) or just point out concerns.

    Keisha Carr
    Systems Support Associate
    Bainum Family Foundation
    Bethesda, MD

    Tech Accelerate