--Richard F. Hobson, President Hobson Renaissance Solutions LLC
JEANNETTE WOODWARD (Lander, WY) is?the Library Director of the Fremont County Library System with many years' experience. It has often been?her responsibility to supervise the library's technical staff and plan for the development of a variety of computer systems. Both of?her books published by the American Library Association, Creating the Customer-Driven Library (2004) and Countdown to a New Library (2000) include chapters on technology planning and management.?Woodward has also written a number of journal articles dealing with libraries and technology and?is the author of a chapter in the Annual Review of Information Science and Technology (American Society for Information Science, 1996) entitled Cataloging and Classifying the Internet.' She speaks occasionally at library association conferences and workshops.
Getting Started with Technology
After reading this chapter, you will be able to:
- Decide exactly what it is you want to get from technology.
- Measure both the cost and the rewards of technology.
- Perform a technology assessment.
- Understand the basic components of a technology plan.
In just a few years, computers have become a part of nearly every aspect of modern life. In fact, they have transformed every sector of our society. At first, only larger organizations could afford the high cost of hardware and software. In recent years, however, costs have fallen to the point that most individuals and organizations have some kind of computer access. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the effective use of technology is one of the most important determinants of success for any organization. It is no longer possible for most public, commercial, or mission-based endeavors to be competitive with inadequate technology planning and implementation.Learning from the Business World
It is no exaggeration to say that computers have revolutionized the business world. Business organizations have embraced computers because they can readily see technology's impact on that universal measure of success, the bottom line. Unlike nonprofit organizations, businesses routinely measure both cost and profit. The impact of automation can, therefore, be calculated in dollars and cents, allowing any business to know precisely what technology is worth. Hard-pressed nonprofits have no such clear measure to guide their planning.
By definition, nonprofits are unable to use profitability as a measure of success. In addition, they find it more difficult to measure cost than do business enterprises. Cost, as calculated by nonprofits, involves not only the expenditure of funds but also the use of other resources. How, for example, does one calculate the cost of volunteer labor? Even though no paycheck is involved, it must be considered a cost. If those volunteer hours were not needed to perform a given task, they might be devoted to some other project. That means that if technology can reduce the number of volunteer hours needed to perform routine tasks and free individuals to perform other duties, the result is increased productivity. Although nonprofit productivity can be compared to profitability in the business world, this is rarely done.
In order for nonprofit organizations to make effective use of technology, they must develop methods for evaluating costs and benefits. To do so, it is necessary to focus on both the investment of the organization's resources and the projected returns on those investments. Before embarking on a technology program, nonprofits must decide exactly what it is they want computers to do for them (the return they expect on their investment). Where can the biggest gains be realized with the smallest outlay of resources? Which functions and projects lend themselves most readily to automation and do not place unrealistic demands on staff and volunteers?Planning for Technology
In many nonprofit organizations, technology enters the picture almost by accident. A used computer is offered and accepted. It often happens that a newly formed nonprofit is initially grateful for almost any donation. Group members may find it convenient to donate their old computers when they purchase new ones for their personal use. Before anyone is aware of what's happening, the organization is loaded down with piles of equipment that no one quite knows what to do with.
About the time that the second computer is offered, give some careful thought to the role of computers in your organization. A technology plan is the first essential step and should be hammered out before your organization begins accumulating equipment or investing in