People Are the Key to Your Technology Success

I get it: talking about tools is really fun. And there are so many of them! Want to map the geographic locations of your Twitter followers? Maybe you’re interested in analyzing the amount of time on average after you send a newsletter that readers open it! Or, perhaps you’ve got a free afternoon and want to devote it to watching the real-time site traffic and the pages where visitors go and where they leave.

[Ed. note: We’ve purposefully left out hyperlinks to the tools referenced above so that you are not distracted and continue reading.]

Whatever it is you want to do and whichever tools may be right for those goals, the real key to success is not, unfortunately, with the technology. Success with technology requires people.

Evaluating Your Needs

Sure, some of the needs you identify will be technical functions of the work, like “allows multiple users”, or “automatically creates backups”. Often, this kind of technical comparison can be managed by technology as well! When evaluating your organizations’ needs, though, there’s no robot as qualified as the humans in your organization. Evaluating your needs, whether for a light-weight tool or task, or something fundamental in your work, requires the perspective that you and your staff bring to understanding the setting and situations in which your staff will use the tool, the growth potential for your work or the way those needs may change over time, and even the skillsets or necessary training that may be required. We can’t look at a comparison of similar tools and get the kind of answer we need; our own insights and organizational knowledge are required.

Coping With Change

Congratulations! You’ve successfully identified your goals and needs, and have selected a new piece of technology to add to your arsenal! Once again, you’re faced with the mash-up of technology solution and human interference. This time, it’s around adoption. There may be apps for most things, but there isn’t one for coping with the push-back, fears, or hesitations around changing and adopting new tools. Culture change, even when adopting something that seems small, requires a thoughtful recognition of current processes and systems (both people-centered and technology-based) that will be impacted by this new piece of technology. From there, you can create your roll-out plan that addresses those areas of concern and supports staff.

Recognizing New Needs

Wait, your technology may not be meeting your needs anymore? Yeah, that happens. Just as it requires the context and perspective that you and your staff bring to the evaluation of your needs when selecting a tool, so too do you need to be the actors in recognizing when an existing tool may just not be right for you any longer. It’s easy to know a piece of technology has reached it’s end when it actually stops working. For tools that are still functioning, but just aren’t functioning in the ways you need them to, that’s when it’s time for some intervention and review. It can be difficult to spot these issues when everyone is doing their best to keep moving forward, so it’s critical that you create space for this kind of review and analysis regularly. Best to identify the issues before they get too big.

Oh, I forgot one other critical area where people are necessary: to actually use the technology. In that case, I might have to stop here so I can go back to tagging Instagram photos with locations from Foursquare.

Have you successfully integrated the humans you work with and the technology they need? I’d love to hear about it!

Amy Sample Ward
Driven by a belief that the nonprofit technology community can be a movement-based force for positive change, Amy is NTEN’s CEO and former membership director. Her prior experience in direct service, policy, philanthropy, and capacity-building organizations has also fueled her aspirations to create meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate community engagement and educational opportunities for all organizations. Amy inspires the NTEN team and partners around the world to believe in community-generated change. She believes technology can help nonprofits reach their missions more effectively, efficiently, and inclusively, and she’s interested in everything from digital equity to social innovation.