Reaping the best from the latest crop of IT developments takes time, says John Tate.
As we head into the autumn I thought you might like an update on how my allotment has been faring this year. I have been particularly busy on the work front and so weeds have proliferated and the bugs/diseases that have struck have not been attended to with sufficient care. However I have had a huge crop of courgettes, asparagus, cucumbers and blackberries. Sweetcorn, runner and French beans have been under-performing and my potatoes have suffered from the blight. First crop of salad was majestic – but follow-on crops weaker. With more time I could have weeded the sweetcorn/beans and dug the potatoes out of the ground earlier to avoid the blight developing. But with a long working day, love and care got relegated to a few hours at the weekend. Not enough!
On the IT front time is an issue for FDs. You need to keep abreast of IT developments but this takes time and if you lose touch with what is going on it can be difficult to catch up. Charity projects around new media are launched on what must be a daily basis. Thousands of new products come on the market every month and maybe there is one that you really should look at adopting? (eg the Apple Apps store where as at June 2010 there were nearly 250,000 apps).
New theories on change management hit the press/web and bookshops on a weekly basis as business gurus try and find the ‘Philosopher’s stone’ to making change happen successfully. There are millions of words you can read on this – how much time can you allocate to this?
Few standards really exist in IT so it is not easy to find a crowd to follow. For example there are many choices for accounting software and contact databases (fundraising/membership etc) and little consistency as to which type of charity uses what product. There are lots of pitfalls to avoid in the selection process. So if you are looking for a new system you need to do the research and this requires time.
So many choices...
Last month I hosted a roundtable with eight large corporates to discuss their desktop strategies. The organisations were mainly huge – for example one has over 400,000 staff. Each had hundreds or thousands of IT staff with the resource to keep up-to-speed with technology and really do the research. All the organisations had a large number of out-of-date desktops and we discussed their different choices for the next generation of device. There was some consistency in that all organisations had a large number of Windows-based PCs and were going to implement Windows 7. All were also looking at using virtualisation technology on their desktops. This allows users to access remote applications more easily and potentially allow users to work from any device an organisation has as if it were their own. This promotes mobile working and sharing of hot desks etc. However this was where the standards started and finished.
When it came to the choice of virtualisation technology, the four organisations I was speaking to were all adopting different vendor products from Citrix, Microsoft, VMware and Symantec. These technologies are as important to the desktop as the Windows operating system and the fact that there is no standard means charities who are interested in desktop virtualisation will again need to put in the research to make the right choice. Competition is of course healthy but it doesn’t make for quick and easy decisions. If you just pick one product you may find it doesn’t work the way you want, cost a lot more than the alternatives or become defunct as a newer product takes its place. To add to the confusion around the desktop, differences emerged as to whether to adopt Apple technology in the workspace, the choice of mobile devices (and whether these will replace the conventional desktop) and whether cloud computing will become the standard of the future.
Consultants/IT suppliers can help you by providing resource to select new technologies and maintain your environment. In fact some of my fellow allotment-holders sneakily pay for people to help them on their plots. But much like vegetable growing you need to accept you are never going to have a perfect IT system. You need to get your board/ management team and staff to appreciate this and make the most of the good – and use your time/ resource as best you can!