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Conducting a technology needs assessment.

Understand what you need and how you will use it--before you buy.

I am sure that I am not alone when I confess that I am a technology addict. I cannot seem to walk by an electronics store without going in and shopping for the latest whatsoever that I really do not need. I had to be the first on my block to have a home computer, then a laser printer, then a fax, then a fax in my computer, then a scanner--well, you get the picture.

Consequently, some of my technology addiction has found its way into my association work. I introduced my association to local area networks before the bugs were worked out of networks. We seem to have had more than our share of "first" versions of software and gadgets for the computer system. Now we have a local area network that does work. We also have had numerous other devices that we will get around to using sooner or later. Through it all I have learned several important lessons that I would like to pass on in the hope that I can provide you with some well-earned wisdom.

Analyzing information and functions

The most important lesson I have learned is to plan technology acquisitions carefully. That planning begins with a technology needs assessment. If you have ever done a computer needs analysis, the steps are exactly the same.

The first step is to understand your mission. Usually that is the easy step; it is contained in your bylaws and other organization documents.

The next step is to understand the work you are responsible for performing. That is also contained in either a charge statement in your organizing documents or in a strategic long-range plan.

Next, understand the duties and responsibilities of your staff. Understand not only staff members' stated responsibilities but what they actually do every day.

Look at the information they use to accomplish their job responsibilities. How is that information structured? In what form does it come? Do they rework the information for others in your organization? How is that information stored?

In accomplishing the information and function analysis outlined above, what you develop is a map of how information is used in your organization. It forces you to see the processes used to manage that information.

Fitting equipment to process

Now comes the more difficult part: You have to fit the equipment to the processes. In essence, are manual typewriters still being used? How is the office copier used and with what frequency? How are the telephone usage factors determined? What is used in the current computer system, and what is not being used?

Review previous studies used to justify new capital equipment. If you are in the process of implementing total quality management, much of this information can come from committee meetings in which you review processes.

The end result of the information-analysis phase is that you develop an understanding of the mission, programs, people, processes, information, and equipment that make your organization work. The technology-needs component of the analysis comes from looking at other organizations around you (your peers) and studying technology surveys conducted in the industries or professions you represent. Why technology surveys? Because an association representing an industry or profession should not outdistance itself technologically from the industry or profession it represents. Remember the automatic telephone answering system that does everything? Unfortunately, it also puts callers in loops, drops messages, and in general antagonizes members rather than supports staff productivity. Doctors are always cautioned to listen to their patients because they are describing their cure. Association executives need to listen to their members and staff because they are describing their technology needs.

Write up your needs assessment in terms of a report to your leadership. Have your staff critique the assessment thoroughly before distributing it. It is also important to link your assessment and recommendations to your ongoing process for budgeting and acquiring staff. The people factor is always important. Many organizations fail at technology acquisition because they acquire technology without considering the people who will use the technology. Any references to the accomplishments of like organizations and to technology surveys of your profession or industry will certainly support your recommendations.

The following simple steps will save you much frustration:

1. Never buy on the first go-round. Products always improve with age.

2. It always performs better during a demonstration than it does in practice.

3. If you feel that you have to have it now, wait 24 hours. Then try to justify it in the budget.

4. Understand how the new technology will enhance your mission and staff functions before you buy, not after.

5. Involve your staff in the process; they are better than you are in evaluating the use of the contemplated technology.

6. Understand the technology use in your profession or industry. Do not try to be more technologically advanced than your members. Do not get saddled with the perception that you are old-fashioned or resistant either.

7. Make technology assessment part of an existing process--either strategic planning or total quality management.

8. Remember that you are basically in the communication business. The technology that you acquire must support communication among your staff, your members, and yourself.

Do your homework when you acquire technology. It pays to understand your needs and have a plan before you buy.

See you in the electronics stores.

Maynard H. Benjamin, CAE, is executive vice president of the Envelope Manufacturers Association of America, Alexandria, Virginia. Benjamin has consulted to more than 40 associations and previously worked in the computer industry. EMA, with six staff members and 170 corporate members, uses a LAN (local area network) coupled with a bulletin board system and a broadcast fax system.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Technology at Work
Author:Benjamin, Maynard H.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Eye on government.
Next Article:Reshaping your association for the 21st century.

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