The best IT systems are the ones you don’t think about. They make child’s play out of data analytics, keep users smiling, and reliably work to boost the bottom line.

Does that sound like your technology experience? I didn’t think so. There’s a reason why.

Back when there were fewer IT choices, a technology purchase was often a haphazard process. People installed systems and software with little guidance.

As problems surfaced, they added on, customized, and upgraded. The results were systems tied in knots more tangled than the clothes in a teenager’s closet. Some messes were so daunting that users “worked around” them for years. The pandemic left groups struggling to straighten out lingering problems.

If a heavy technology deficit is weighing your organization down, a systems assessment is a smart start to lighten that load. You may even discover that some challenges can be fixed by changing behavior instead of systems.

Evaluate the Situation

A technology assessment involves being a detective. Most of the time, a broken system is only a small part of the picture. There is usually a mystery hiding in plain sight. Finding the right solution requires research, observation, psychology, and logic. As a compulsive problem-solver, this is a place where I love to hang out.

A technology assessment involves being a detective.

The things that make users crazy like unreliable data and reporting routines that require an encyclopedia-sized manual to execute may be symptoms of a more fundamental problem.

During the discovery phase of the assessment, the .orgSource team explores your environment. Understanding your strategic goals is an important objective. We evaluate internal processes and resources to see how well they align with those efforts. Then we assess external threats and opportunities that could impact success.

Asking questions is a significant part of the learning process. We use the .orgSource Assessment Tool to measure our clients’ readiness for change. This survey helps us to identify strategic needs and priorities for action at the beginning of a project. Fifty-six questions assess strengths and weaknesses across nine areas of activity:

1. Strategy

  • Organizational attitudes toward digital thinking and outreach
  • Perceptions about digital strategy and competence across various departments
  • Digital integration with organizational strategy

2. Decision-Making

  • How decisions regarding technology are made and who is responsible
  • How data is used in decision-making

3. Innovation

  • Organizational willingness, ability, and processes to innovate

4. Revenue

  • Financial diversification and streams of revenue

5. People/Skills/Culture

  • Whether leadership, environment, professional development, and training promote digital literacy and thinking
  • Whether there is adequate talent to achieve the desired goals

6. Processes/Operations

  • Where data resides, who owns it, and how it flows through the organization
  • Definition and documentation of processes and responsibilities
  • Human, financial, and equipment resources

7. Technology/Systems

  • Current systems and how they interact
  • User satisfaction
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Efficiency

8. Cybersecurity

  • Processes for safeguarding systems and data

9. Metrics/Analytics

  • How data is used to evaluate initiatives, member needs, and customer satisfaction

The survey questions are detailed and thorough. The completed report offers a well-rounded picture of an organization’s digital maturity and pinpoints gaps that impede success. The answers also provide the clues that a digital detective, like me, needs to identify effective solutions.

Solve the Right Problem

This is an example of the way that problems can be nested and why it is sometimes challenging to find the root cause. We had a client whose membership numbers were slipping. The situation was compounded by multiple issues related to their association management system. The process for generating a membership report was confusing and lists and numbers didn’t always seem to be accurate.

After reviewing their survey results and digging a little deeper, we discovered the cause of this frustrating situation. Only a handful of employees received training from the vendor, the rest were trained by their supervisors.

The ad hoc training process was like a game of telephone.

The ad hoc process was like a game of telephone. Each facilitator presented the material differently. And people heard conflicting instructions. To make matters worse, employees across departments were entering data. But there were no guidelines for them to follow. Multiple errors in data entry were corrupting the reporting process.

The association was losing members because poor training and bad data made it impossible to serve them effectively.  

This is an example of a clear problem with a solution that can be implemented immediately. But the survey also helps us to identify areas for improvement that are not so straightforward. There are frequently challenges that are not related to technology but that significantly impact IT and the surrounding decision-making.

Build a Digital Team

The people, skills, and culture area is where these issues typically hide.  Yes, it’s critical to provide the best training available for your staff. But if your team includes employees who are resistant to change and uncomfortable pivoting to meet new demands, your ability to build a digital culture will be severely compromised.

Technology is not a one-and-done activity. Platforms, capabilities, and most importantly customer demand are constantly shifting and growing. Digital solutions must meet or exceed the speed of the marketplace. You can’t keep up without employees who are willing to sprint. Creative thinkers, innovators, and curious people of all kinds are needed.  

Although recruiting a diverse group of problem-solvers is a long-term goal, I can’t overstate the importance of building a team of multifaceted employees who are eager to respond to the company’s changing needs and new challenges as they arise. Intentional hiring can, and should begin with your next empty position—whether it involves responsibility for IT or not.

Plan for the Future

With the survey completed and evaluated, we can begin to explore technology needs and assess whether new systems will be necessary, and if so, which platforms and equipment will support your team and add value to the organization.

Although there is still considerable work to be done–this is the easiest part. When people are supported and guided through change, the digital components fall into place, and you will move toward a system where you can forget about process and focus on results.