Monday, August 24, 2015

Custom Software! We are so unique and complicated!

I can't count the number of times I have heard nonprofits say:
"Our needs are very unique, most systems won't work for us."
"We have a complicated model and process, it is hard to explain."
"We have limited tech experience, so we just do it all in Excel."
"We are too busy, we need to hire more staff to keep up."
There seems to be this peer pressure to brag about how unique a nonprofit's needs are. (This isn't any different than everyone bragging about how over busy they, like that is a good thing.) You aren't cool unless you are complicated. I don't get it. I know the problems nonprofits are trying to solve are massive and messy. Funders and donors exaggerate this on occasion by favoring those with a new approach, all while requiring unique reports and often not funding technology. The problems nonprofits have are real, but are we taking the time to rethink how we work to match the opportunities technology brings

Over the next few posts I will cover some of my thoughts on complicated process combined with custom solutions.
  1. Complicated vs Complex
  2. Custom Software = Custom Problems
  3. Custom Process vs Best Practice
These ideas have been growing and changing in my head for years, but my new job has finally brought it all full circle. I finally have some close to complete thoughts on this. Which is good because some of these things have been driving me crazy for years.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Standalone Technology Strategy Is Dead. Long Live Stand Alone Tech Strategy

Every now and then I read something which sends me in a time machine chuckle.  I think to myself, "Self, haven't you read this already, like 20 years ago?"

"The days of building a standalone technology strategy are over."
This is the final line in a post on Outsource Magazine.  The idea is some orgs have moved all of their tech to the cloud, so there are no systems in house requiring tech support. SO hey, we don't need no stinking standalone tech strategy. Let's just completely integrate our tech plan into other areas.  It'll be great, THEY say. Everyone will help drive tech strategy and it will rock, THEY say.

I say get over it. The need for a standalone tech strategy still exists even if all of the systems are in the cloud.
If you have more than one system, who will think about integration?
If you have devices to access the cloud, who will think about those?
If you have staff using the technology, who will think about support and training?
If you want to re-engineer processes, who will do the mapping, solution planning, etc?
If you have new features released, who will think about how to use them?

I could go on and on. Not to mention, the need for someone to step back and have a vision for technology across the org.

Let's jump back to 1993. This model about Strategic Alignment from Venkatraman summarizes things for me.  We will always need technology thinking to happen from four different perspectives.

You can read about the model, but in essence it shows a need for technology strategy to:
  1. Start with Business Strategy, drive process, end with tech implementation 
  2. Start with Business Strategy, involves IT in definition, end with tech implementation
  3. Start with IT Strategy, suggest Business Strategy change, end with change process
  4. Start with IT Strategy, implement tech, end with change process

There are real needs for each of these types of strategy and without a standalone tech strategy to harness, drive and push these, how well do you think things will end? I picture a skyline consisting of a city of half built buildings without a tech strategy.  As long as you are in the middle of the city with your eyes down, getting the daily work done, you never notice the buildings don't get finished. But someone stepping back to view the horizon can see it clearly.