Developing an ICT strategy (part two)
You know what you do, you know the purpose of your organisation and you do a good job providing your services. But why are you doing what you doing and what opportunities do you have to do better?
The most ignored question in project planning is not "how do we do this?" but "should we be doing this at all?"
The cornerstone to any ICT strategy and development plan is:
Why are we doing what we do (as an organisation)?
It's a question which will involve the senior management team and trustees as well as all project workers (and hopefully some of your service users). It's fundamental to planning and setting a clear direction.
Who are we and what do we do?
Do you know everything which goes on in your organisation? Do you know what the implications of any planning decisions are? Who's involved and why?
Size of organisation and number of sites
A key consideration when planning ICT. The needs of large organisations are different to smaller ones. Having services and staff spread across multiple geographic sites can cause problems or provide opportunities for better communication. This may be an opportunity for ICT to make a big difference to the way you communicate!
Growth and sustainability
Is your organisation growing or shrinking? All organisations change over time but it's a good idea to have a rough understanding of what's happening so you can plan effectively. Will you have another two members of staff next year? Will you be moving to a new building in six months? They'll all impact on your ICT projects, especially if you're talking about physical installations such as networks.
ICT vision statement
Let's face it, vision statements can be meaningless. But used well, they can be a practical aid to helping others understand the direction you want to go in. Your key goal in developing an ICT vision statement should be "what do we want ICT to do for us and what difference can it make?". Remember ICT has only two purposes:
- Doing things better
- Doing better things
This is a good place to stop and think. We call it a checkpoint and it's worth asking someone remote from the process to come and ask the question (a critical friend perhaps?).
Phase One summary
Do we understand:
- who we are
- where we're going
- who's coming with us
- at what speed and for what reason
- what is going to happen next?
People are the heart of an organisation. They're what makes it work. But they're often excluded from the planning process. We're getting there but ICT still isn't a universal skill. Despite the existence of ECDL and many other training and education programmes, skills and more importantly confidence are still a big issue. So how do we deal with it?
Skills, confidence and the training conundrum
You can drag a member of staff to a training course but you can't make them think… (to paraphrase an old line). Sending staff on training courses to learn how to use Word, Excel or Powerpoint isn't always productive.
The first place to start is a skills audit. What skills do your team need to do their jobs? Whilst many people will need to use word processing, email and the internet, they don't need to know the intricacies of the applications. What exactly do staff need to do their jobs?
Confidence is a huge issue in voluntary sector ICT. We come across lots of skilled workers who have good ICT skills but don't feel they're up to scratch because technology intimidates or frustrates them. It's good to have an "ICT Champion" (in this context someone who can help others and support the importance of ICT) in the team who can reassure others that they're making progress and that it's really not that complicated. Computers do crash, applications do behave unpredictably and that's often no fault of the user. Sometimes people just need to be reassured.
Confidence is also related to the role of ICT in the organisation. If ICT projects have been tried (and failed) before, it will take some time and effort to get people on board and to see the value of the development.
Training is a tricky issue. The easiest way is to send individuals on a particular training course but it's not always productive. Cascade training can work well (training up one worker and getting them to support and facilitate colleagues) as can one-to-one (or small groups) training in house. Training is generally most effective if it relates to a task rather than an application. Teaching someone to mail merge or update a database is much more effective than teaching them the details of Microsoft Word. Training is often best done in small doses.
How does function or development X impact on person Y or team Z?
What impact will your plans have on individuals and teams? Will your new database work if your administrator doesn't want to use ICT? Will shared information be feasible if your office doesn't have a good internet connection? It's important to understand and assess the real implications of whatever you're planning and you can only do that through dialogue and communication.
Roles and responsibilities around ICT
Accountability is fundamental to any project or activity. There needs to be clear roles and responsibilities around ICT and these will depend on the size of organisation and nature and skills of the staff. Someone needs to be responsible for the strategic development and management of ICT, someone for technical issues and someone to manage projects (the smaller the organisation, the more likely that is one staff member or even a volunteer). Each member of staff should also be clear what their responsibilities are (even if its only changing the printer cartridge and making sure their files are properly organised). If responsibility isn't dealt with, things will go badly wrong.
Leadership of ICT including senior management
ICT needs a leader. In the same way that all Chief Execs, Coordinators and treasurers take a lead on finance and ensure it's well managed, someone needs to lead on ICT. Senior management must take an interest and it must fit across the business plan and mission of the organisation. We'll be saying more about persuading managers and trustees to support technology in a future article.
Who has input – user groups, naysayers
Telling people what is going to happen is not the best way to get them on board. Running user groups, introducing outside experts (either volunteers or consultants), getting the most enthused on board (and encouraging them to spread their passion to others) is a better way of doing it. To develop any strategy and plan, you need input. It's also a great idea to use the nay-sayers. Who hates ICT and would rather this didn't happen? Get them involved, listen to their grumbles and complaints. If you can win them over, and even better turn them into an evangelist, you're pretty much there.
Project management – identity, courage, tenacity
Project management is a complicated issue. Needless to say, projects need to be well managed and time and resources devoted to them. The keys to project management are identity (being clear about responsibilities), courage (to take tough decisions) and tenacity (to see things through in times of difficulty).
Building a convincing case
The heart of any strategy is a "business case". The justification for doing something. Working through this "people" section, getting feedback and understanding the needs and issues will be a great help to developing that case. It will not only be fundamental to getting the management and trustees and staff on board but will be a key part of your success in raising funds for the projects you want to implement from the strategy.
Phase Two summary
- Are all the passengers (staff) on board?
- Are they travelling in the same direction as the driver?
- Training according to need not qualification
- Calculate and monitor impacts, benefits and drawbacks
- Leadership is all important
IT is not information management
My favourite story about databases involves a small voluntary organisation who thought that if they put all their information into a database it would miraculously sort it out for them. IT is not information management. It’s merely a different way of filing, storing and retrieving.
How do we manage information?
How is information managed in the organisation? Will paper copies actually suit you better? Do you have information "hoarders" who don't want to share? Do you have staff who can't or won't delegate? Understanding how you manage information and its flow is key to making a success of electronic information management.
Who has access to it?
If your finance officer keeps everything locked in a drawer and there's only one copy, security isn't an issue. But how do you want to share information? How should it be restricted or even made more available? Dumping a file on a shared server is not the same as sharing information!
What format is it stored in?
Can all users access the information? Are you providing spreadsheets to people without spreadsheet software? Would it be better as a database? Do staff need reports rather than raw data? Are you using incompatible software?
Data isn't information
Collecting large quantities of data and information, files and documents doesn't necessarily help. The power of information is what you do with it to make decisions and support those decisions. You'll need to have the information you need, accessible to those who need it and applied properly. It's easy to lose (and bury) information in databases or on large fileservers.
ICT doesn't solve information management problems.
Remember that ICT doesn't solve information management problems. It's just a more effective way of storing, managing and retrieving.
Phase Three summary
Do we know:
- what information we're managing
- who should have access to it?
Applications and software are the computer programmes you use to support your work. They include typical software such as Microsoft Office as well as any custom built databases and web-based software you might use.
Standard office software – MS Office, Open Office
Every office starts with an "office software suite". This used to be Microsoft Office but is increasingly OpenOffice, Star Office or any number of open source alternatives. Office-based staff need word processing and a spreadsheet as a minimum but increasingly will need access to presentation software (such as Powerpoint).
Information management and management reporting – database dilemmas
A very complex subject and we mentioned information management in the earlier section. Planning information management, what database you want to use and how management can report on activities is at the heart of your work. You might start with a simple contacts database (or even use a PIM such as MS Outlook) and basic written reports and then move on to more complex project reporting software. Don't introduce a database for the sake of it in the belief it will solve your problems. Think it through carefully and understand all the implications.
Financial reporting and effective administration
How do you manage money? Typical software include Sage and Quickbooks and is probably the realm of the finance officer/worker and the senior manager. If you need to link into fundraising, you might need to think of how to bring fundraising and finance software together.
You might also need to think about what administration software you need? Shared calendars, diaries, scheduling etc? Don't leave your administrator short of ICT help. They may well be the person holding your organisation together!
Platforms – Windows, Open Source, Macs
Are you happy with Microsoft Windows? Do you need to use Apple Macs for design work (or simply feel more comfortable with them)? Or do you want to try out the benefits of open source? Once you’ve decided on your applications and what you need to do, you can make the right choice for you.
Devise a solution map by task and role – what do you need to do?
This can be a time consuming task but is well worth it. List ALL the tasks by role (e.g. administrator – book appointments for senior manager) and identify what software you need (and any major gaps). You might find you can do something with software you already have or that a new purchase will make you a lot more efficient. What can ICT do for you better, and what better things can you do with ICT?
One size doesn't fit all but you're not that special
You're different and as an organisation you're unique. However, there are plenty or organisations doing similar tasks and activities. Learn from them, share ideas (and even developments). Someone, somewhere, has done what you’re trying to do and has probably learned from the experience! Find similar organisations and see what you can pick up.
Advice and support
- Funding and finance
- Coping with cuts
- Addressing needs
- Managing change
- Planning for the future
- Involving people
- Public Service Delivery
- Governance and leadership
- Compact Advocacy programme
- Campaigning and influencing policy
- Collaborative working
- ICT (information and communication technology)
- Climate change
- People, HR and employment