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Technical Support

Information Technology Forum

Implementing Technology in Small Organizations

by Brian Lipsett, PhD


Small business organizations can vastly expand and augment their operational capacity by incorporating computers, computer networks, task specific software, databases, advanced computer applications such as GIS, integrated office equipment and the internet. Computers can be used to manage clients, funds, membership, research, planning, and work product. Computer networks can facilitate the integration of staff in workflow, help to rationalize organizational structures, reduce redundant tasks, and enable organizations to take advantage of and maximize the teamwork abilities of valuable but geographically remote staff.

However organizations seek to take advantage of technology, the most important components of successful technology elaboration,are not the pieces of equipment, software and other items acquired and deployed. Indeed, those things one produces, promotes, and circulates with technology are, as crucial as they are to organizational survival and growth, secondary to coherent staff cohesion.

Staff cohesion is found in on and off hour camaraderie, but best exemplified by smooth workflow processes. This element of organizational function is rooted in a process we call planning. As tedious as staff meetings can be, everyone knows when they've had a good meeting. How powerful and invigorating a good meeting can be. That's all I am proposing here - Planning through meetings and discussions. The key to effective meetings is to keep them short and lay out a clear set of objectives that are stuck to as rigorously as possible.

As you might already have guessed, this document is not a celebration of computers and computer networks. This is a document about organizational planning as a central process in the health and long term viability of organizations. The key concept this article seeks to convey is that computers and computer networks are a means to facilitate organizational effectiveness, but not when they are approached in a fashion that assumes that computers will solve all problems.

Indeed, it is the planning process itself which is the key to the effectiveness of organizational technology initiatives and the overall health of the organization. The excitement and "hype" associated with bringing new equipment into an office can be used as stepping off process for engaging staff in planning. Failure to address the planning process in an organized fashion can result in a considerable amount of wasted time, money, and effort, and many goals will remain unrealized or only be reached tentatively, until something breaks down and there's nobody to "fix it." At the very least, without careful planning, money will be squandered on useless and ineffective components.

Conversely, with careful planning and commitment, the process of "teching up" can become a leverage point for vastly improved organizational development and effectiveness. Remember, we are not simply discussing the enhancement of an organization with fancy new equipment and their products, rather we are arguing that organizational development can be leveraged through the process of planning the incorporation of equipment, communication and data management processes. The prospect of new technological "toys" provides the excitement that will ensure a productive planning process.

Drawbacks and Impediments

Even with the attendant benefits of computer technology, the prospect of "teching up" can be daunting to organizational leaders. Technology learning curves can be long, and things move slowly on the bottom of the curve. Once you are over the initial part of the learning curve, rapid growth in organizational knowledge, understanding, and capability can occur. Do not underestimate the importance of training in this process. Setbacks can inevitably occur. When something goes wrong, key staff involved in the implementation of technology may need to start almost from scratch again in order to solve problems. This is due to lag time between technology setup and component failure. However, training can short circuit this particular problem. Numerous other challenges face organizational leaders as they contemplate technology initiatives. A few of these issues are listed in point counter-point fashion.

  • Small organizations typically lack a sufficient budget with which to commit to a major revamping of office space, equipment, and attendant structures of position, procedure and policy. We believe that such costs can be minimized through careful planning.

  • Small business organizations do not have the budget to maintain such equipment in the face of component failure. Equipment is now quite inexpensive and when properly deployed and utilized, will cut labor costs.

  • Small business organizations may not wish to divert a staff person's time to the training necessary to take full advantage of any given technology. After process, training is everything.

  • Organizational leaders may be happy doing things "the old way," and may misunderstand the value and opportunities of new technology based initiatives. Leaders can even be right in this, but may just as easily throw the baby out with the bath-water even in being right.

Nowadays, most equipment is relatively easy to set up, install and troubleshoot even for non-technical persons. As stated however, equipment failures, when they do happen (and they will), tend to occur at a sufficient distance from the initial setup such that people cannot remember what they did originally to get things to work. This problem is especially compounded when clear lines of responsibility for solving problems are not laid out in anticipation of those problems that may arise. If nothing else, the benefits of discussing the things that could go wrong during technology implementation will embolden staff initiatives and root problem solving in a supportive and dynamic environment. This overall benefit of advanced planning is enhanced further when there is a commitment to train people in advance to both move the technology initiative forward and anticipate and solve problems.

This essay is not meant to dissuade people from implementing technology in a small business organization. Rather it is meant to encourage organizational leaders to take the process more seriously than is frequently observed in the field. While it may be useful to have a computer for each person on staff, it is important to note that once an organization moves beyond one computer, the net benefits of having the computers connected in a network increases exponentially as the number of computers and ancillary equipment in use in the organization's work environment increases. Moreover, when integrating internet usage and web site deployment into work processes, it is extremely important to think about the entire network and not just a piece of it (i.e. like the internet connection itself).

Remember that computer networks are designed to augment - not supplant - human social networks. The structure of the organizations' human networks will almost always be changed by the implementation of these technologies. It is through planning that perceived threats to people's positions in these networks will be mitigated. Combining training with the planning process will also help to empower staff members to take control of the changes that technology can bring to work processes, and this will maximize the effectiveness of the changes and the organization as a whole.

The simple point is that technologies at issue in this paper ought to be approached as tools which bring people togther in pursuit of common, shared goals. Although human social networks in the workplace can arise both formally and informally, it makes sense to use the planning process for technology implementation to enhance the strength of the most productive aspects of human interaction in the workplace.

Technology Planning Outline - Courtesy of the Progressive Technology Project (PTP)

The following are elements of technology planning that PTP have suggested. Assessment and planning work should be tailored to the organization and situation at hand. PTP argues that good technology planning should start with an assessment that becomes the foundation for the planning efforts.

What is "technology assessment"? - The elements

1) Identification of organizational goals and strategies

2) Basic description of the organization offices, members, staff, etc . . .

3) Assessment of current strategies of work What works? What does not?

4) Assessment of current technology usage To do what? By whom?

5) Assessment of staff and member technology skills

6) Assessment of current organizational technology support strategies

7) Identify current technological infrastructure--Assess all current hardware, software, Internet connections, e-mail accounts, etc.


What is "technology planning"? The elements

1) Summary of technology assessment

2) Summary of key organizing goals, strategies and current campaigns

3) Identification of technology strategies and technology uses that support organizing work and goals of the organization

4) Identification of needed training and staff support to implement strategies and support tech use in the organization

5) Identification of needed technical assistance and maintenance to support technology use in the organization

6) Identify needed equipment and software

7) Prioritize the list of strategies, training, and technical assistance

8) Create a budget and time-line to implement