Probably no legendary sea monster was as horrifying as the Kraken. According to stories this huge, many armed, creature could reach as high as the top of a sailing ship’s main mast. A kraken would attack a ship by wrapping their arms around the hull and capsizing it. The crew would drown or be eaten by the monster.
Sometimes, Information Technology and all its arms, like those of the Kraken, can scare or defeat even the bravest among us.
Nonprofits have a hard enough time delivering their mission, engaging and retraining donors, fundraising, providing support and advocacy; now there is another monster lurking below the surface. This threat has always been around, but internet security, financial security and identity theft have taken on even greater importance, data breaches numbering in the millions are a dally occurrence, and no one seems to be safe.
Managing the entirety of your computer systems is the best way to confront this monster:
Which of these looks most like your nonprofit?
- There is no specific person who handles either tech of IT. Our budget requires us to buy the most less expensive computers and software; then we have to find someone who can help us install and manage it.
- Our IT comes from ‘people we know’ or from the support departments of our software providers. Our staff does try to learn what we need to in order to keep things working. Our IT plan, per se, is to address these needs as they come up.
- There is a staff member who is good with this kind of stuff; he is our go-to guy when something needs attention. Nothing official, but he can handle most things well enough. The E. D. does most of the decision making about anything computer or IT.
- We have a tech on staff and an IT Director, but no overall strategy or technology plan: they are often overwhelmed with everything from a nonfunctional mouse to online backups to data management to the care and feeding of the website.
- Our website host and manager helps out for most of the time, so long as we can get in touch with them. They are not local, so sometimes we have to find someone to come into the office if it is a hardware problem.
- We have a dedicated IT department, and they regularly communicate with leadership and management about important issues for planning, new issues, hardware, software and training for staff. There is a dedicated section of our budget for equipment and updating software and staff training.
My bet is that for the vast majority of organizations out there, most of them fit into any of the above except for the last one. As much as we rely on our computers and network, managing and maintaining them can be the redheaded stepchild of the office. Until, of course, something bad happens and you are functionally ground to a halt.
The truth is that as much as we in nonprofit aspire to create a culture of philanthropy, we also need to include a culture of technical awareness that includes the ‘how’ of data management, communications, hardware, software, the cloud, and security both internally and externally.
What to Do:
My favorite mantra is ‘Plan your Work, and Work Your Plan’. The easiest way to begin the process of planning your IT management starts with understanding the vocabulary. A basic understanding of what the words mean will be a great first step.
Now, make a bullet list of what you expect and want from your technology; you’ll be surprised by how much is on it.
Then figure out who does what, when and who needs to know about it:
- Responsible – Who is responsible for the execution of the task?
- Accountable – Who is accountable for the tasks and signs off the work?
- Consulted – Who are the subject matter experts who to be consulted?
- Informed – Who are the people who need to be updated of the progress?
Some good questions to ask:
1. What do you have right now?
- Hardware: computers, printers, servers.
- Software, licenses, subscriptions, permissions.
- Security, backups, cloud computing, sharing and storage.
2. What is working?
3. What is not?
4. What scares you?
- Is there some threat lurking: Viruses, worms or spyware can hurt your from inside your computer;
- Is your data secure from prying eyes, how about your financial information and information about your donors and clients?
- Are your bank statements reconciling properly with your accounting software?
- Who has access to your computers, to your online data, to your message centers, social media accounts?
Where do you want to do with all this?
There is something new every day, a new platform, operating system, device, program and whathaveyou. Device and IT landscapes change so fast that you can often feel as if you are playing a fast game of catch up (pilots call it ‘flying behind the plane when the airplane is ahead of their ability to manage it).
What is the best plan for your organization to incorporate the inevitable challenges and changes?
Where does this fit into both your time and financial budget?
Training and Practice:
Simply said, if you do through all of the steps about and do not take the time to make sure everyone understands how to use the stuff, it will be a huge waste of time and money. We have all sat at our desks at one moment or the another, completely baffled by what to do next.
Take the time to walk new people through each system they will be using, and yes, there will be a quiz. There are resources online, with Youtube, the Khan Academy and Lynda.com (requires membership), but there is no better substitute for putting your hands on the keyboard and mouse.
Training does take time away from ‘work’ but not training will result in even greater distractions. Even if the program is not something you will use daily, set the example for your staff, and give it a run around the block, you i will not look like an idiot when you do need help or in front of your board.
- As you make plans for your future tech needs and wants, ask those who use the systems regularly for their opinions. What may seem great on paper, may be something that doesn’t really work smoothly in real life (is the computer real life?).
- What works well in one area and would be fantastic if it would work as well in another?
- What a workarounds that become part of the ‘way things are done’ that can be re-engineered?
Technology is not an optional investment: Could you name a person in your organization that does not use technology?
I have been known to melt machines at 30 paces. As my web guy ever so patiently says, if anyone will find a problem with a system, it will be me. In some ways, I am a true techno-phobe, and would rather do just about anything else than learn a new software program. But not learning them has cost me so much more aggravation; I have learned to embrace the inevitable.
If you can’t learn to love computers, software, networking, online security and all that comes along with it, decide to live comfortably with them: not only will you have to, but you can do this. Might as well be smart and make it as easy as you can on everyone. Don’t let electrons and clicks, or rather fear of them, get in the way of the very important stuff you are doing.
Don’t let the Kraken scare you, we can help.
What to scream? We hear you, do call- 310 828 6979.