Revised with new information as of
December 10, 2015
Introducing New Technology Successfully
into an Agency
Why Your Organization Needs a Technology Plan
Change is stressful. Good or bad, it adds tension to any office. Throw the
word "computer" or "upgrade" or "Internet" into this equation, and stress
can skyrocket. Plus, mission-based organizations (nonprofits,
non-governmental organizations or NGOs, public sector organizations, civil
society organizations, etc.) are often facing intense, even do-or-die
deadlines -- so the stress of dealing with computers can sometimes seem
Introducing or adding computers, tablets or smart phones to a
mission-based organization, or upgrading software or hardware such an
organization uses, will change the way staff at the organization access
and manage information -- for the better, you hope. But without realistic
expectations and a thoughtful strategy, a new system can create as many
problems as it is supposed to solve.
With all that said: success in using technology tools is driven by
user attitude. Users who want to reach out, to make people feel
informed and involved, who are committed to quality and timeliness, and
who are ready to try something even at the risk of making a mistake are
the people who flourish using technology. People who hate change, don't
like sharing information freely and continually, and don' like involving
others in their work are those that struggle with technology. What's
Your Agency Needs a Technology Plan
No matter what an agency's mission is, no matter what size an agency's
staff or budget, no matter who an agency serves, no matter how many years
you have been in operation -- your agency needs a computer and
Internet technology plan. Just as you should do a critical analysis
and form a strategic plan for your fundraising plans, your staffing needs
and your program activities, you need to evaluate your technology needs
and create strategies to meet those needs. How your organization will
access and use technology will effect just about every function of your
agency, in fact. If you choose not to create a technology plan, you will
find yourself in a constant state of reactive crisis management. You also
might end up spending far, far more on hardware and software and training
than you would have had you thought strategically about your needs and
created a plan to address those needs.
At the Philanthropy News Network's "Nonprofits and Technology"
conference in Seattle in January 1999, a representative of CompuMentor
(now TechSoup) offered advice that still holds true even now, all these
years later. He told attendees that technology plans are more than just
hardware and software wish lists. They can help nonprofits:
- become more effective in daily operations
- budget and spend money more effectively
- boost fundraising efforts
- buffer groups from the effects of staff turnover
He cited a 70/30 rule for technology funding used by many large
companies and organizations: For every $1 budgeted for technology, 30
cents would be used for hardware and software purchases, with the
remaining 70 cents used for training and support. Now, I would change that
to a 60/40 rule, with 40 cents used for hardware, software and apps, and
60 cents for training and support. I change the numbers because, now,
unlike in 1999, it's rare to find someone working in an office who isn't
at least somewhat familiar with word processing software, spreadsheets and
some kind of database software.
Reasons to Computerize or Upgrade a
Augustine "Tino" Paz, Network Development Specialist at Orlando's
Community Services Network, made this insightful observation on CUSSNET
(Computer Use in Social Services Network Internet discussion group) many
years ago, and it also still holds true:
"Too often, if even unconsciously, we take a 'magic wand' approach to
software: it's a matter of finding the right one to do our work for us,
and not necessarily to help us do our work...
So much of that advice, which is more than 20 years old, applies even to the
latest apps and social media tools.
"Human services are in the information processing business whether
they use software or not. Any effort to 'automate' that aspect of the
business without first understanding what Kate referred to as 'How
information flows through out and is used in the agency, issues of power
and control that sort of stuff,' will inevitably make things more
difficult when it comes to implementation any software application.
"One of the challenges, in my opinion, involves managing the conflict
between what is perceived as a slow, time- and resource-consuming
planned developmental approach to organizational change (especially when
we assume that we already know what's "wrong" with the organization) and
the feeling that we must act with haste to fully benefit from the
rapidly changing information technologies tools."
David Arons of Tufts University added during this discussion:
"Perhaps for human service organizations the challenge is also identifying
technologies that both increase efficiencies within the organization,
i.e., reduce staff training time, provide more timely and updated
information about public benefits, and can be made accessible to the
organization's clients. Basically multi-use technologies to help the
organization better serve their clients and lower their overhead might
give some organizations greater resolve to make a capitol investment in
The first step in introducing a computer technology or upgrading/changing a
computer system or introducing a new tech tool in your agency is exploring
the "whys." In the excellent Guide to Automating I & R Systems:
Automating Information and Referral Systems for the Non-Profit Community
(published by TechSoup, then CompuMentor,
BUT NO LONGER AVAILABLE), several reasons to automate are cited:
With apps built for tools, there are now even more "whys" to explore. For
instance, you can make critical information more easily available for
clients - even the very poor and homeless in the USA often have cell phones,
even smart phones. Mobile apps can also make it easier to interact with
clients, potential clients, and supporters.
- "Large amounts of information can be saved using less physical
space." In the case of an upgrade of an existing computerized system,
larger amounts of information can be saved.
- "You can create multiple access points for your information so that
you can find resources by using many different search methods." In the
case of an upgrade of an existing computerized system, even more search
and reporting methods are made available.
- Searching, sorting and reorganizing information can occur much
faster, and more sophisticated search capabilities are made possible
than with manually maintained information.
- Some statistics can be collected automatically. For instance, with a
computerized database, searching to see how many of your clients are
from various zip codes is made as easy as pushing a few buttons. All
these years later, this has a name: big
- "Information is more transportable and more easily shared with other
staff members or agencies."
- "Information is easier to duplicate and to protect from fire, theft
or other loss." That is, if you do regular backups of data and store
these backups in safe places.
Clinton Jones of South Africa cited this formula on the CUSSNET group for
introducing or changing technology during a discussion on "Planned Change
vs. Rapid Development," and I think it's still valid:
- Identify Formal Defined Process Structures
- Identify Formal Undefined Process Structures
- Identify Informal Defined Process Structures
- Identify Informal Undefined Process Structures
- Identify Value Adding Tasks that can be Automated
- Identify Value Adding Tasks that should be automated
- Identify Value adding tasks that cannot be automated
- Identify Non-Value Adding Tasks that can be automated
- Identify Non-Value Adding Tasks that should be automated
- Identify Non-Value adding tasks that cannot be automated
- Identify Political and Social Agendae
Included in his post was an example of this
formula in action.
Disadvantages and Risks
Any kind of change or upgrade can at first seem more work than it's
worth. That in itself can make introducing computers or upgrading
technology seem not worth the effort. Also, there's
- the Learning Curve - staff will have to spend extra time learning the
new system, and the initial perception may be that the system has made
things worse, not better.
- the Costs - it may save money in the long run, but initially, it's
going to be a big expense.
- the Vulnerability - the agency will be at the mercy of system
- the Access - anyone who wants information must have a computer.
- the Political Risk - a person will be associated with the success or
the failure of this system.
Staff and volunteers may tell you they have been doing just fine without
computers or the Internet (and maybe they have!), so why computerize
systems and data? They may tell you that whatever version of software they
use meets their needs and it took an enormous time to learn and upgrading
will cause more trouble than it's worth. Or, they may have unrealistic
ideas about the technology -- that computers, a new software package or
the Internet will instantly and effortlessly raise more money for the
agency, or improve staff and board communications, for instance.
Many agencies invest considerable resources in computer hardware,
software and staff training for computerized systems that then end up
being under-utilized and failing to live up to their vast potential,
because the staff had unrealistic expectations for the technology, or they
never bought in to the idea of the technology in the first place.
The key to worker acceptance seems to hinge on the following factors:
- User-friendliness of the new system (and remember, what is
user-friendly to YOU isn't always for OTHERS).
- Clearly identifying the
benefits of the new system to those who will use it.
- Training and hands-on practice with the specific application.
- Clear commitment by management to support staff during their learning
- Clear and communicated commitment by management to support the
introduction of the new system.
- Timely hardware/application support.
- Clear expectations by management that staff are expected to use the
- Welcoming and addressing questions and fears
- Attitude of users (many times, users refusal to use new technology
comes from factors that have nothing to do with the technology and
everything to do with unresolved staff performance issues or
already-existing staff/management conflicts)
- Immediate recognition for any staff members new use of technology
Most who have commented on this subject via various Internet discussion
groups, at least that I've read, feel that forcing
technology on someone outright doesn't work. It's not efficient,
creates even greater tension around the use of the technology, and takes
even longer for the system to work. They emphasize that successful
integration of a new technology into an agency requires good and ongoing
communication, long-term commitment by the entire
staff, monitoring, support, intervention and patience.
One person on CUSSNET noted that, at the time of his post (July 1997),
California was installing a state-wide information system called Child
Welfare Services/Case Management System (CMS/CWS). The system was
comprehensive and covered everything from caseload listings, client
history, placement and payment processes, contact narratives, management
of court documents, service plans, state-wide search capability, etc. His
story on the introduction of this system offers many lessons for anyone
introducing a new technology, no matter what system it is computerizing:
"Our implementation team had concerns relative to the impact of bringing
our entire county up on the system all at once. Initially there was some
talk both at the line & management level about the "...state forcing
this down our throats..." There are 58 counties in California and all of
them with one exception are coming online at once rather than phasing in
specific programs. New social work graduates expect to find computers in
the workplace. Many of our veteran staff have their own PC's at home or
have purchased notebooks for use at work; this group was also very
receptive to automation. Although CWS/CMS will bring a major impact to how
we process and store client data (which has resulted in a high level of
anticipatory anxiety) we have found that the majority of our staff are
looking forward to using this new tool.
Another participant on CUSSNET had this real-life example to offer, which
also offers good advice regarding the introduction of any new technology:
"We have decided to purchase laptop PC's for our staff in lieu of
desktops to enhance worker mobility - this was a major concern expressed
by line-staff. CWS/CMS also has remote dial-up capability - a worker
will be able to do state-wide searches from schools, police departments,
or from home - compose and submit court reports, service plans,
detention reports from remote locations to their supervisor for review
and approval. Mobility supports autonomy. Information supports risk
"One anecdote - we called a meeting of line supervisors to demonstrate
the functionality of the court module - staff literally stood up and
cheered when they realized how this tool would save them time.
"We had line supervisors do a simple inventory of staff skill and have
tentatively identified several 'soft spots' (staff who may need a higher
level of support) - we plan on shifting a portion of our support
resource to these areas during the initial phase of roll-out hoping to
facilitate early success experiences.
"Anecdotal accounts from other counties (about 25) which have already
come on-line reflect that there is an initial period of frustration and
loss of productivity, this seems to last about 90 days -as one moves
through the learning curve, the tool comes to be perceived as an
integral part of the process. A representative from one county (which
has been up for a year) stated, '...we don't know how we did our work
"A major benefit of this system is the development of a state-wide
database which will support an unlimited array of ad hoc reports - trend
analysis, outcome studies, etc. Clearly, this will add precision in
evaluating the needs of our clients and assessing the effectiveness of
"During the past 5 years I have been using a PC in the work place and
developing different programs some people seem to have a resistant to
technology. What I have found is that if you can get one person using a
program and it really helps them do a better job, others will get
interested. Many organization just force technology on people and I think
it causes a backlash. I think it is like everything else most people
sometimes are just resistant to change.
Another real-life example, this time from a reader on CYBERVPM (a discussion
group for volunteer managers):
"We were able to take a Tracking System for social service activities
and implement this in one unit. It spread from unit to unit after we saw
its benefits. Now counties all over the State are using it in one
fashion or another to suit their needs. This was done without forcing
the technology on anyone. It is a much slower process, but seems to be
more acceptable to staff."
"It was a definite plus that our technical staff are wonderful people and
very well liked and respected. When they come to us with yet another new
program or upgrade or whatever, people are generally trusting that it
isn't frivolous, and that we will get good training and support. Our upper
management is generally very supportive, and each employee has a training
budget we can use to get additional help.
"Speaking specifically of our (Client Services) dept. - it was also
helpful to have one staff member who really loves computers - yet still
understands the office and how work is really done around here. (OK, I
admit, this person is me!) I am able to advocate for our department's
needs, understanding the tasks that need accomplished and the general
level of computer-savvy of the staff - BUT - I can also 'speak
computer-ese' - so the tech guys find me easy to deal with! A big plus
is how excited I get about new applications, etc. - that is usually
infectious and pretty soon everyone wants to 'know how to do that!'
We've almost become competitive - each trying to learn a 'new trick' to
teach the others!
One lesson we have learned to our advantage: having a "linestaff"
person who is computer-savvy is really great. Many times staff feel
uncomfortable asking a tech staff to help them with the "little things"
- especially when they need someone "right now!" I try to be available
to answer questions, reboot machines, get the printer working again,
etc. It took some time for my manager to be comfortable with my spending
time on this, but in the end she understood that it was helping all our
department work better - it is now an acknowledged part of what I do!
"It may be interesting to note that my department manager has been the
last one to come onboard. Although she has had a computer on her desk
from the beginning, she is just now beginning to really use it. For a
long time, you knew not to send her an e-mail - she never learned to
open up her Mailbox! I am always glad when she asks me to help her do
things, because for a long time she would just give up in frustration
and use the 'ol typewriter! This budget cycle, I think she is pretty
much being forced to learn Excel in order to submit her department's
budget -- and I think that's a good thing! But I think this is one
example of linestaff making the change-over BEFORE management, and in
our case it worked just fine!"
Still another CYBERVPM participant said:
"The main problem for us introducing technology was finding employees that
could use it, and finding the time and energy to train those who couldn't.
I've also struggled with fixing problems created by those who think they
know what they are doing. Overall though, I think that technology has made
my job as a volunteer coordinator 10 times easier. I wouldn't be able to
do it without my volunteer management software, the databases, etc.
And with all that said... the reality is that no amount of training and
support materials is guaranteed to compel staff to change their
communication and work behavior that might defeat the introduction of
technology tools. What changes behavior, beyond training?
I'm putting in two personal stories here to illustrate what I mean by
different ways to motivate behavior change and an embracing of tech tools:
- Peer pressure
- Messages from a variety of sources
- Incentives to change behavior
- Penalties for non-participation
These illustrations include examples of peer pressure (new members expected
use of online tools by the association, staff expected by their peers to use
new software), incentive to change behavior (elimination of postal costs and
phone charges to mail or fax press releases, testimonies from colleagues at
staff meetings, recognition by supervisors for use of new tool).
Back in the 1990s, I was a board member at a professional association. I
was in charge of new member recruitment and publicity. For my fellow board
members, I developed materials and a training to talk about the benefits
of using email instead of sending postal mailings to invite new members to
our meetings, to no avail; my fellow board members remained skeptical. It
took generating a standing-room-only audience of newcomers for a monthly
meeting, something that had never happened in the group's history, to
convince the board that, indeed, we could sell an event successfully with
email. I asked at the beginning of the meeting for everyone who found out
about the event via email or the web to raise their hands, and most of the
room raised their hands. As of that meeting, there was an expectation that
the organization would use email and its web site for communication -
there was no going back. I've always wondered how long it took this org to
use social media when it came around...
I was a part of a huge, multi-office international organization that
adopted a new software program that would take over all human resources
and budget database functions. Unfortunately, those who would actually
use the software weren't involved in the choice, so they felt very much
that something was being imposed on them that they didn't ask for. Bad
start, definitely. The organization engaged in several activities to
both educate staff on why the software tool was a good thing and how to
use the software, such as:
and on and on. About 60% of the staff became both comfortable with the
software and convinced it was worth using. But 40% didn't. What finally
got them to use it was a mandate -- their reports would no longer be
accepted in any format except such that was generated from the database
itself. The mandate got the remaining 40% on board within probably two
- training as a group watching a slide show presentation or
interacting with a live trainer
- training from each individual's desk top watching a slide show
presentation or with a trainer sitting right there with the person
- a user guide distributed to all staff
- onsite user group meetings
- a phone hotline to get immediate questions answered
- discussions in department and organizational-wide staff meetings
- recognition of staff members use of the software by supervisors in
department and agency-wide meetings
What could these methods look like in practice? Here are some ideas:
Also see Being Fluent with Information
Technology, an excellent book that will help you measure your
success in getting your nonprofit staff up-to-speed regarding using
technology. It's from 1999, and still dead-on in its advice. It's no longer
available at its original URL, but if you type this URL into archive.org,
you can access the book: http://bob.nap.edu/html/beingfluent/
- Peer pressure
Ask each staff member, at each staff meeting and in all program and
employee regular progress reporting and evaluation reports, to provide
an update on how they have used one of the tools or engaged in any
learning activities regarding tools.
- Messages from a variety of sources
Staff should be encouraged to talk about tech tools in all program
planning meetings and how they could be/should be used. Staff members
should also be encouraged to circulate links to newspaper articles,
blogs or other online articles that highlight the benefits and
challenges of using certain tools.
- Incentives to change behavior
- Supervisors should laud staff members who report use of online
collaborative tools, in face-to-face, one-on-one meetings, at staff
meetings and in other internal communications.
- Use of collaborative tools should be acknowledged in staff
- Honest discussions of problems in using online collaborative
tools should be encouraged and those who participate in such should
be lauded for talking about such.
- A requirement to use certain tools. For instance, requiring staff
members to use GoogleDocs,
rather than email, to collaborate in the writing and editing of a
file, no exceptions.
- Staff could ask other staff members to comply with the use of
certain tools. For instance, a staff member could say, “Hi, I just
received the document you want my comments on as an attachment to
your email. Please share it with me via Googledocs and I will be
happy to get started right away.” This is more than peer pressure
– this means a staff member is required to use the tool, or not
receive staff feedback.
- Supervisors should note a staff person's refusal to use at least
some online collaborative tools, particularly the official shared
work space for VDH staff, in performance reviews and in face-to-face
meetings (followed immediately by conversations on how to address
this lack of use, support needed, etc.).
Don't discount these resources because they were written so long ago - what
they recommend is still applicable to today. Devices and software comes and
goes - but best practices pretty much stay the same.
- "Designing for Change: The Texas Commission on the Arts Creates A
Village in Cyberspace"
a case study by the NEA, looks at how a state arts agency used
communications technology to streamline processes and increase
productivity back in 2000. To view it, cut and paste this URL into archive.org:
- Free Help With Databases & Software
Before you introduce a new software package, check over this list and
see what free help is available for the staff.
- Choosing Specialized Software
Label-making software, volunteer management software, project management
software, presentation software, artwork software, client-management
software, fund raising software, etc. -- the "Buy v. Build" database
debate, what to look for in a particular software package, links to
indices of software and software-advice for not-for-profit and public
sector agencies, etc.
- Customer Database Principles
- Customer Database Regular Maintenance
- How Not-for-Profit and Public Sector
Agencies Are REALLY Use Online Technologies
Every not-for-profit or public sector organization has two primary
resources: people and their ideas. What the Internet offers is an easy,
immediate, extremely efficient way to connect with people and ideas.
However, visions of becoming a super-efficient organization, reaching
lots of new donors and clients, raising enormous amounts of new money
and effortlessly administering an agency will not come to pass with an
Internet account. Here's real-life examples of what agencies are using
the Internet for, and links to other resources offering even more advice
Assessing Technological Capacity
Articles and tips to access an agency's technological capabilities. To
view it, cut and paste this URL into archive.org:
A series of helpful articles by various authors To view it, cut and
paste this URL into archive.org:
- CUSSN (Computer Use in
Social Services Network)
The CUSSN site offers a library of and information on shareware,
freeware and demos of software for those who work in fields relating to
cognitive therapy, clinical/therapeutic (provides or assists in
treatment/intervention), health, welfare/child protection, aging,
developmental disabilities, education/training, data analysis, and
various other social services-related fields. The site also provides
information about resources and conferences related to human services
and IT (information technology), Computers in Human Services (CUSSN
Journal information), course/training outlines/materials for human
services & IT submitted by instructors, and how to join the CUSSN
- Arts Wire Training and resources on technology planning To
view it, cut and paste this URL into archive.org:
- California Technology Assistance Project's Guide to Technology
Planning To view it, cut and paste this URL into archive.org:
Planning: It's More Than Computers!.
- South Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium's Guide
to Technology Planning To view it, cut and paste this URL into archive.org:
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