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What Your Technology Project Isn't

May 1

Written by: Grants Office, LLC
Wednesday, May 1, 2013  RssIcon

Agencies around the country initiate technology projects in different ways and for different reasons. For some, technology is a way of keeping current and of ensuring that stakeholders have access to the latest and greatest in services. For others, a governing body may mandate a greater focus on technology, in the broad, undefined way governing bodies sometimes have. Still others are won over by a compelling case for return on investment or quality improvement. Or a technology salesperson may have let you know that the current technology has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced.

 

Pursuing a technology-rich project usually also requires finding funding for the project. Indeed, funders at all levels support tens of billions of dollars in technology purchases each year, but technology for its own sake is rarely if ever a sufficient justification for a grant. Moreover, so-called “shopping cart proposals” that request only technology without a compelling basis are destined for failure.

 

It’s important to keep in mind, then that your technology project isn’t just a technology project. If you look carefully, it can at once be a powerful indicator of an unmet (if not specifically documented) need in your organization and a solution to meet that need.

 

Most technology projects are intended to solve a deeper problem. If it weren’t for this problem, most budget-conscious administrators would be satisfied with the status quo.

 

Ask the expert

The good news is that nearly every technology-based project can be articulated as a project to address a need or objective within your organization.

 

The technology itself may be a little mind boggling, but its purpose should be simple and easy to articulate. If it isn’t, it may help to get some perspective by talking to tech-savy advisers you trust.

 

Large manufacturers usually also employ experts who understand both sides of this equation, and although you may not have had occasion to meet them, your salesperson should be able to put together an introductory conference call without too much hassle. Remember when you’re dealing with vendors that although their experts may be Ph.D.s in your field, their P.A.Y. comes from selling products. So, take what they give you with a healthy dash of skepticism, and try to verify it with an outside source.

 

In any case, once you have someone on the line, ask them what these technologies can do, and why customers choose them. Let them tell you about the potential of the technology and how it has been implemented in other agencies like yours. You may also be able to obtain a customer reference who you can call to further explore the practical side of the solution.

 

Keep in mind as you’re learning about all the great things the technology can do that your project will be limited by the context in which it is implemented. For example, sharing critical information on recent gang activity with other law enforcement agencies in your region is a great goal, but if you’re the only one who can transmit and receive the information, either your project needs to expand or it needs to be modified to ensure its useful to your agency in the here and now.

 

Talk to the original decision makers

It may help to get some insight into what the original planners for the technology were thinking. Technology officials are notoriously reluctant to advocate for their ideas, and although they may not point to it in Board presentations and inter-office memos, there is usually a basis for their interest in undertaking a project.

 

In a passing conversation, for example, a teacher may have mentioned that they were having a problem with sharing a single computer workstation to maintain their attendance records. The IT team might then have decided that a new IP-based phone system would enable teachers to track student attendance right from their classroom phones. Furthermore, the phones could be used to report emergencies and provide instructions to teachers on a classroom-by-classroom basis.

 

Without more information, this type of project could seem like nothing more than a minimally fundable (and unnecessary) phone upgrade. Further investigation reveals the potential to transform and improve upon several key operations within the school.

 

Best case scenario

All of these other scenarios assume that you have to do some detective work to arrive at the fundable purpose for your technology project, but there is a way to avoid most of this forensic footwork - and it is the best way to develop a technology project. Don’t start with the technology at all! Rather, begin with your operational needs and mission objectives in mind. Look at where gaps exist between where you want to be in terms of service, quality, responsiveness, and regulatory compliance, and use those gaps to determine the best route forward. In today’s world, technology solves a wide range of operational issues, but you’ll have a much easier time justifying the cost and time required to implement it if you have documented the planning process that concluded with the need for a particular technology solution.

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