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Technology for technology's sake.

Don't let what the computer can do define what you do do.

I am a techno-junky. I delight in finding new ways to make my computer process information.

I think it's fascinating, for example, to have instant access to the most detailed information imaginable about my record collection. Using my omnipresent notebook computer, I can easily find out if I have any recordings in which both Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton perform, on dates recorded outside of New York City, after World War II.

Interesting data, but is it really useful? And is it worth the effort it took to construct the data base and keystroke the information? It doesn't really matter, since I pursue this hobby for my personal relaxation and enjoyment.

Playing with technology, however, can help you on the job by eliminating fears about mastering the computer and boosting productivity. What I've learned at home, for example, has given me the know-how to solve more than one problem with my association's membership data base.

Certainly, technology today can do so much, but how much of it is really worth doing? Put another way, there is so much a computer can do that its capabilities--not an association's needs--can easily become the driving force behind technological implementations.

As a specific example, consider calendar and appointment schedule programs, which can do a superb job of time management and meeting coordination. Other than for marketing executives with intensive, structured contact activities to manage, however, I have yet to find a single association executive who actually finds it practical to manage his or her calendar via computer. Even an admitted techno-junky like me has found that using the calendar feature on the office computer network (with the active cooperation of other staff with whom I must coordinate) is not really productive.

Going to extremes

Similarly, I'm sure every association that has ever implemented new software has a period during which

* every memo, no matter how modest, has to be an absolute work of desktop-published art;

* no question is so simple that the answer can't be supported by 14 different graphs and charts; and

* no piece of communication is so insignificant that it shouldn't be broadcast to every user who ever got within three city blocks of the computer system.

Usually this fervor wears off and people revert to more reasonable uses of the technology. But the danger always exists of letting what the computer can do define what the manager does do.

The issue gets even thornier when you consider the cost of maintaining computer resources. Most associations have, at some point, discovered that the resources necessary to keep the computer system running are higher than was originally estimated.

The answer to the question, "Can we get the computer to do 'X'?" is almost always yes, but only if there is someone on staff who knows how to make the computer do it. Like any overhead question, this most often becomes an issue with smaller associations that do not have separate administrative personnel--let alone management information system staff--and for which even a slight increase in staffing requirements has a major impact.

Maintaining the system

I have seen this happen in relatively simple computer network implementations for two associations of fewer than 15 staff members. If the computer installation is going to be effective, at least one individual on staff must be reasonably conversant in network management--someone who can add new users and get the system cleared and rebooted if there is a problem. Problems usually are neither serious nor hard to fix, but someone has to know how. Proficiency isn't difficult to master, but it does require more than taking the vendor's introductory training and reading some manuals.

The cost of failing to maintain such capabilities on staff are high. Depending on outside (vendor) support is both costly and too slow to be truly effective. The prolonged downtime waiting for the return phone call from your vendor's technical support staff to resolve a simple problem also fuels a techno-phobe's worst attitudes and hardens his or her resistance to using the computer at all.

The technology is getting cheaper, better, and more user-friendly, but despite the assertions that even the most honest system vendor makes when trying to make the sale, it does require additional time and resources to make the computer do the work.

Is it worth doing?

I love the technology. But that's not what my association pays me to do. And I am hard pressed to make a convincing rebuttal when the chief staff officer asks, "Is it worth doing some minor thing marginally better using the computer if it takes at least a part of a staff person's time on a regular basis just to keep the computer running?"

Make sure you're solving the association's problems and meeting its needs, and not just pursuing the highest degree of technological functionality for its own sake. It's too easy to become intoxicated with the newfound power of technology and let the means to an end become an end in itself.

Mark J. Golden is vice president of government relations for Telocator, The Personal Communications Industry Association, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Technology at Work; computer applications
Author:Golden, Mark J.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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