Members Only Logo  

or Subscribe by Email by entering your address below:

Powered by FeedBlitz
Learn about Subscriptions Follow me on Twitter!

The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Powered by Blogger

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

Our PolicyOrg collaborative is having a lunchtime "meet-and-greet" presentation for non-profits in the Washington DC area this coming Monday, Nov 20th. If you work with a non-profit in the public policy arena and you feel you could be making more effective use of Information Technology, both internally and on your public-facing web site, come on by, meet our partners, get treated to a great lunch, and bend our ears about what your organization needs from vendors like us.

American News Women's Club
1607 22nd Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Show me a map!

Nov 20
11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Labels: ,

Monday, November 13, 2006

Using the right tool

I muse about the issue of problem solving from time to time: in my work, it's clear to me that some users of technology are good problem solvers and some just aren't. But I have had little success breaking out the skillsets required to be a good general problem solver. I made some progress on this the other day after my friend Gilles attacked my old sofa-bed with his chain saw.

I'd arranged for the city's bulk trash pickup to collect the ancient sagging mildewed thing the next morning, but first I had to get it out of the basement - a task that would be greatly simplified if I could take the bed apart. After failing repeatedly on my own, I called in Gilles, who solved the problem in minutes once he fired up the saw.

I what did I learn? That effective problem solving goes beyond some abstract analytic skill. We agreed on the analysis: the thing was too big to get through the basement without tedious relocation of all the junk we'd dragged down there since the sofa bed had its debut. And the fasteners holding it together were too many and too tight to remove adequately. What I lacked was enough familiarity with the available toolset to select the chainsaw. I knew the goal was to rend the couch into smaller pieces, but I failed to even think of the proper tool!

I often see users stymied because they are not familar with the tools at their disposal - tools which might help either with analysis of a problem, or its solution. The "computer guy" at one of our non-profit clients calls: he's asked everyone to get out of the database so he can do some maintenance, but someone still has a file open. He's spent an hour calling his users, trying to figure out who it is. Do I have any advice? Sure. How about opening the database control center and terminating all users? Oh, I never think of going there. Your workbench is full of powerful tools, but you've got to be like Gilles. You've got to be familar with them and know when to use them. They need to just spring to mind, the way a hammer comes to mind when you're confronted by a nail.

So what did I learn about teaching pc and network problem solving to users? That a "Guide to ten software power tools you should be familar with" is a better start than a focus on sharpening your analytic skills. And it will make a good series of blog entries too!

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 09, 2006

PolicyOrg Resource makes its debut!

I generally shy away from tooting my own horn on these pages, but this news is too exciting to ignore. My company, Members Only Software, has joined a consortium of three groups in Washington that have been working with public policy think tanks. Our goal is to offer a more unified approach to technology for this very specific type of non-profit.

At Members Only we're so pleased to be working with Tanya, Cindy, and all the other folks at Orchid Suites on this project: their offices are right around the corner from us, but we had to go all the way to the NTC conference in Seattle last March to meet them! And Ziv Gil, from Vizualle bring to our team the branding, visual and design insights so important in public facing sites - factors we techies can sometimes overlook.

We've put up a little website to annouce our existence - it will grow over the next few months. I hope you'll take a look. Over the next few months, we're going to be hosting events in various cities to introduce ourselves. Maybe you'll be able to stop by!

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Penny-wise or Pound-Foolish?

This morning we woke up to find that our furnace had died, and the house had cooled to 57F. Morning coffee under the quilt, and then a call to the heating folks. Turns out we need to replace the valve that controls the gas intake - parts and labor come to about $600. The furnace is over 20 years old. This could be the first of a long line of repairs. But $600 is a lot less than $6000, and we are planning a big trip later this year (more on that in these pages soon) , so we opted to conserve cash and make the minimal repair. It could turn out to be a bad gamble if the system needs to be replaced soon, but we are only betting six hundred bucks.

This is the kind of gamble smaller non-profits are forced to make all the time in their IT planning. And the problem is, the amount of their wager is often hard to compute. Last year I posted about this as it affects harware lifecycle planning. You may think you are saving money by replacing pcs only when they die - but what is the cost of this approach in terms of lost work time, hasty purchasing, too many OS versions, and vanished documents? Its a cost that does not appear on anyone's invoice, but it impacts your mission.

For-profit companies talk about the return on investment of their IT projects. "Because of this new system, we anticipate 15% less downtime, which should translate into 10% increased sales."
"Because of the new online registration system, we can lower the staffing in the call center. "
But the non-profit, especially the smaller organization, is less likely to have their hands on the metrics that enable this sort of ROI calculation. It's hard to cram "impact on mission" into a spreadsheet cell.

For example, we've just started to work with a small disability group who is very excited to be finally building a central database of their donors, volunteers, and service recipients. But the E.D. was a bit taken aback when their network guy called me to make sure I didn't go cheap on disk drives on their new database server. He wanted some level of redundancy to protect this new information asset. And to her credit the E.D. agreed that it made sense. She saw that while moving all their separate data sources into one repository will alleviate a lot of inefficiencies, it also adds a possible "single point of failure" and something needs to be done to mitigate this new risk.

But in the absense of hard metrics, it's just as easy for a non-profit exec to see these infrastructural issues as just another expense. Especially when he's not particularly tech savvy and on guard that his IT guru just wants new toys to play with. In ths case he can look for another warning sign that he is being penny-wise and pound-foolish: when he can't keep tech staff on board.

Labels: , ,