Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Technology Committees - Meetings can have Value

I have long been a fan of Technology Committees, but I don't hear a lot of others talking about it. In my role at The Cara Program, we have a fantastic Technology Steering Committee. I can't begin to state all of the benefit this group has brought. They have provided assistance, advice and insight, but have also helped us make connections, find resources and accomplish things we couldn't do alone. But before I go into a little information about our Technology Advisory Board, a few thoughts about committees.

Purpose. I suggest starting with defining a purpose for the committee. You have to come up with something meaningful for the group to work on. This needs to be bigger than just whatever comes up and you need help on immediately. There should be a tie to a real need in the organization and if possible, a long term set of goals.

Structure. What type of committee will you have?

  • Policy - similar to the Board of Directors where they will set policy and make decisions. This could be called a review or approval committee also. But the key is you make the recommendations, they make the decision.
  • Budget - this group is really meant just to help guide what is feasible and what is the best use of your funds.
  • Steering - this type typically drives the process and comes up with the recommended solution, but brings it to another group or person to make the final decision.
  • Advisory - this role is more about opinions, advice and collaboration. The group comes in knowing they are there to help, support and be involved in a meaningful way, not drive and decide. There is still great value and involvement for everyone, but the decision stays inside the org.
I prefer the later of these (Advisory) for my technology committees. There are many times when I don't have all the answers or where technology decisions are just too complex for internal staff. I Plus with outside input, real innovation is even more likely.

Regularity. This group needs clear expectations and a regular schedule, but you can set the schedule. Our committee meets each quarter for our full meeting, but is in regular contact between those. And sharing updates with the group, without a request for help, can go a long way.

Commitment. Before you begin, make sure you are ready to do it for the long haul. You will need to put in the work to keep the group alive and active, but the payoff for them and your org is worth it.

Return on Investment. No, I don't mean for the org. I mean, make sure there is return on the investment of the time of your volunteers in the committee.

Further Reading!


Peter Campbell said...

I think of technology committees the same way I think about fax machines. I have data; I want to share it with you; so I print the data, fax it to you, and then you scan the received fax or key it in to your system. An obscured process for accomplishing something that should just be built into your standard workflow (sharing data directly).

A technology committee is what you need when you don't have technology fully incorporated into your strategic plan and business processes. In an organization where technology leadership is at the weekly senior management meetings, and application evaluation and selection is a thriving activity that all departments, in collaboration with IT, engage in, there's just no need for that committee.

It's good that it's working for you. But the best thing is for the committee to be irrelevant because the service they provide is superfluous.

Steve Heye said...

Peter, I do see some of your points, but not sure they match up with how I use my Tech Committee.

I do think having a committee hang off of your board and involve staff would really only be needed if you didn't have support and a fully integrated plan. But I have heard others use it exactly that way to get it rolling. Getting technology into your strategic plan is not always easy.

My Committee only includes me and my CFO with 6-8 volunteers outside of the org with some sort of technology or business related skills. I use them to get opinions, expertise and a set of connections beyond what is possible with staff. They helped read and review our RFP, which we had some experience internally but more eyes helped. They were the ones who suggested an RFI then RFP approach. They helped us find the right vendors, reached out to get us volunteers to help with Salesforce and make great introductions. They also recently helped us think outside the box with mission technology planning.

I could go on and on about how they have helped, all of which had nothing to do with a lack of an integrated tech plan or leadership support. Our tech plan is in progress, but technology is a big part of our strategic plan, that was how they could hire me.

A big question for us is simply staff capacity. Being a mid-size org in the midst of scaling puts strain on resources. Having a group of ready, willing and knowledgeable outside support is a big boon for us.

But you are right, as we grow and learn over the years, the committee may change or dissolve, but for now I am not sure what I would do without their support.