With over a decade of nonprofit technology experience across hundreds of associations, we at OSIbeyond often see deep similarities in the challenges and opportunities confronting IT directors working in organizations we serve.
With this knowledge, we’ve compiled a list of five common pitfalls which prevent IT directors from leveraging technology to deliver value to their organization.
1. Trapped by Tactical Issues
It’s easy for an IT director to fall into a tactical role, supporting the day-to-day needs of the organization at the expense of long-term strategy. This issue is especially prevalent in smaller organizations where staff, including the IT director, wear many hats.
Think about the last five times you met with someone at the C-level in their office. Were you discussing projects, IT budgets, and resources, or were you fixing their iPhone calendar sync?
Solution: Transfer day-to-day support responsibilities to a Managed Services Provider (MSP). Helpdesk type issues use up time that would otherwise be spent on strategic technology initiatives. The value you provide to the organization will increase as a result of taking on a more strategic role.
With your time freed from tactical support, schedule specific blocks of time for strategic or project type work. Telecommuting days are perfect for this, as they allow you to escape office distractions. If this option is not available, schedule some time outside of peak business hours.
Finally, be sure to keep your support agreements, warranties, and AppleCare active. This will ensure you are not wasting time replacing laptop hard drives as there will be on-site coverage available from the vendor.
2. Held Captive By The Past
All IT directors inherit their predecessor’s decisions when they join an association. From the AMS platform to how network administration and support is covered, there is a vast web of political, financial and practical constraints dictating what may be changed and when. Too often however, unnecessary or counterproductive systems or policies are left in place.
Solution: First, conduct an informal survey of staff around IT with the objective being to determine how they regard your hardware, software and IT policies compared to organizations they may have worked at previously.
Next, seek out ineffective or confusing IT policies. For example, your password policy may be nearly impossible to understand due to compliance requirements, or because the admin who set your network up a decade ago really liked having users remember new fifteen character passwords every month. Bottom line, find the real reason.
Finally, collaborate with HR and Legal on suitable replacement policies, then communicate clearly to staff when and why changes are being made.
3. Late to the Party
When do you learn of a new technology initiative? Is it early on, in the requirements gathering phase, or the day a vendor arrives in your office looking for access to your network to deploy their application?
An application or platform purchased outside of IT by one department will have often been selected without consideration for how it will integrate and exchange data with other applications. At worst, these applications can become Shadow IT, with little or no oversight around security or cost.
Solution: Keep your ears open. Offer to sit in on meetings or calls with a vendor, perhaps not as a decision maker, but as a representative of the department which will be using the software. This involvement may also extend to assisting with requirements gathering, or even a pilot of the software.
Should Shadow IT become an issue, treat it as a sign that staff are actively seeking technology to increase their productivity. View this as an opportunity to assist staff in implementing safe and secure solutions to meet their needs. Develop policies and SOP’s that encourage the organization to involve IT in this process.
4. Too Narrow in Scope
Directors who have climbed through the ranks of systems support and network admin are prone to not having a deep understanding of the organization’s line of business applications.
Ask yourself, how much do you know about your CMS or AMS once you’re past the login screen? It’s not necessary, or desirable, for the director to be a power user of every application. But, a working knowledge helps establish credibility with the application’s user base. In addition, it creates an invaluable perspective when considering replacement or upgrade of that software.
As a director, it is critical that you are able to hold your software vendors accountable. For example, an AMS platform is often the most expensive technology project an association will ever undertake. Your ability to cut through marketing-speak and tech jargon to uncover the true value offered by a solution is important.
Solution: Be in close contact with your AMS, finance and web experts if they are external to your organization. Even if the content is not critical, being copied on emails between the accounting department and finance vendor helps you avoid being blindsided by issues.
Many software vendors offer educational webinars and online training resources, which you should take advantage of. In the software as a service (SaaS) realm, your organization may not be able to decide when new functionality is deployed as upgrades happen on the vendors timetable alone. Knowing about new or changed functionality before its implemented provides an opportunity to inform staff and react to issues immediately.
5. Lack of Professional Development
Many nonprofit and association IT professionals are not provided with or do not take opportunities to keep their skill set up to date.
Most associations do not have the IT expertise to yield innovation on its own. Without a deliberate look outside of your organization, your level of innovation will inevitably stagnate. This problem can go unnoticed until an executive leadership change results in a close look and assessment of IT systems, something best avoided if those systems are several years out of date.
Solution: Attend ASAE events. The annual technology conference, held near Washington DC, includes a significant number of seminars, panels, discussions and vendor presence. Even if you have no specific initiative in mind, taking time to walk the floor will provide a valuable perspective on where the association industry is headed.
Also consider organizations outside the association industry. Partners such as Dell, Microsoft, CDW, and others frequently host events and webinars for their new initiatives.
Finally, talk to your vendor! A strategic technology partner has more than likely seen your challenges before, and will either be able to help, or recommend a partner who can.
Your organization, like most, operates in an industry facing intense pressure as the annual membership model transforms into a more flexible, on-demand product. Avoiding these five common pitfalls will free your time and energy to focus on ensuring your association moves forward with technology as an ally, rather than an afterthought.
Written by: Michael Soepnel, Chief Technology Officer, OSIbeyond