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« Some takeaways about organizational culture from Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO | Main | Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities »


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Sumit Roy


Thanks for the post. Its great to know about your experiences @ Packard Foundation.

I am a web solutions provider dealing with web 2.0 implementations in Non Profits and just to add one small note to the points that you have mentioned...the best way I found to make the IT department really support a social media cause is to excite them with a Technology related challenge. They have a huge online community and with something like a Techsoup they can be just the catalyst that a campaign would need. Ill post a story on my blog which may provide and insight on this.

Thanks again !! and by any chance does Mary Watson @ Packard has Jane for a middle name ;)

Peter Campbell

Beth - it sounds like Matt has the requisite open attitude that I think separates a true technologist from the average IT Gatekeeper. But, if I were there -- skeptic that I am -- I'd put it to test: is the willingness to make 72 exceptions to the IT rules extended equally to existing staff and visiting dignitaries, such as yourself? In the IT world I live in - Chief Technologist to 150-500 person orgs since about 1995 -- such an open attitude from IT is unusual.

What you know is that access to new technology and the ability to experiment with it are required ingredients for significant breakthroughs, like a successful fundraising campaign on a tool like Twitter. What an IT Director knows is that standardization is key to survival. As technology scales, and you support hundreds of desktops, instead of just a handful, the more alike those desktops are, the easier they are to manage. It's the same equation that allows a McDonald's to serve 50 people in the time that it takes a fine French restaurant to serve two people.

So there's a tricky balance to be maintained between keeping things automated and manageable, and supporting innovation. In about 1999, InfoWorld did a report that concluded that 75% of all IT Departments were reviled by their primary constituents. The typical techie -- and I hate to generalize like this, but I've seen it over and over -- is far more focused on managing the technology than mining it for mission-focused results. They're resistant to making exceptions (although they all do, of course - if the CEO wants that Outlook add-on, are you going to say no?). With all of the demands on IT, and the small staffs non-profits hire to support it, it can easily feel like the only way to manage it is to contain it.

My take is that standardization and automation are, of course, required, but flexibility is just as important. If IT is going to be an enabling force in our organizations, we have to encourage and support experimentation. Earlier in my career, I had an IT Director that I reported to (and eventually replaced) tell me "We only support Wordperfect. If they use a spreadsheet or database, it will only confuse them - they can do all of that in tables". She was sure that the only way that she could support technology was by restricting the use of it. My take is, if you teach someone three programs, they can pick up the fourth on their own. More to the point, if you are a technology limiter, and don't let your users out of the boxes that you provide for them, you'll get what you're looking for - a user base that does the minimum with technology. If you are, instead, an enabler -- someone who values innovative use (and that means understanding that innovation can come from anywhere, not just the people who sign your paycheck), then you'll have a user base that is appreciative enough of technology to largely support themselves. For most technology directors, this sounds like chaos theory, of course.

So, what I say -- and I know that you'll appreciate this -- is that, for a CIO/IT Director, a key metric is the ROI on flexibility. We need to standardize, but we can't contain it, not if we truly want technology to be a factor in our organizational success and advancement.

There's a lot more to this -- many orgs take these problems even further, when management actually appreciates things like web filters and locked down desktops removing the threat of HR abuses, effectively putting IT in the role of the organizational schoolmarm, another deadly inhibitor of innovation. I could (and might someday) write a book about it. :)

Carrie Young, Socialcast Client Development

Hi Beth,

Interesting post - as a SaaS vendor, we are oftentimes in the position of trying to blend the competing needs of IT and end-users. We have found that having a strong senior-level advocate from another department - sometimes the VP of HR, the COO, etc. - helps in making IT more comfortable with social media tools.

For non-profits in particular, we offer free use of our software, so IT departments are less hesitant because there's no cost involved.

Steve Heye

OK, this thought is related but might not be exactly what you were looking for, but here goes.

One of the biggest moves our IT/Network side of the house made recently was to drastically change the filters on websense. We were blocking basically everything that could be seen as a time waster or just wasnt a part of people's work. These filters and websense were originally added because bandwidth was so expensive and we had very little of it. People attempting to use our business software were not able to complete transactions for members in a timely fashion because the bandwidth was clogged.

We improved our bandwidth, but still have limitations and struggles with it. So we lowered some of the websense filters to allow Facebook, LinkedIn and a bunch of other sites. We still block most streaming media though.

We decided it was a management issue, not a technology issue to keep people productive and using technology appropriately now. Too many people needed some of these tools to do their work to continue blocking it.

These changes have brought numerous challenges of abuse, questions and people finding new clever ways to subvert our websense filters, but why punish everyone for a few people's abuse?

Anyway just my sort of related thought. Why does the Technology team have to become the enforcers to replace lack of management?


Thank you for this interesting & informative post about the at-times conflicting needs between end-users & IT. Liked the part about how the IT dept showed a willingness to listen & work with end-users. Having said that, I can only wish for an IT dept that's as open & flexible as the one at Packard.

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