How to Create a Technology Plan (Yes, You Need One)
Isn’t it funny? Not so long ago we used paper maps to navigate, we perused the Yellow Pages to find a local store, and we called the restaurant to order a pizza. Today, we expect (and even demand) to be able do any and all of these things online. There is no doubt that having a technology plan is central to business success. And nonprofit service delivery is no exception. Customers look for and expect to find many nonprofit services online.
At its most basic level, a technology plan is a high-level strategy that details where your organization is now and where it wants to go in the future with respect to technology and infrastructure.
Developing a strategy and understanding the short- and long-term costs of that strategy can seem daunting. Where do we even start? How do we build out our technology? Do we need something more than our current website? What kind of database should we use? Do we need a mobile strategy? These are all great questions. And developing a technology plan can help answer some of these questions and put you on the road to creating a sustainable and purposeful strategy for leveraging technology to meet your mission.
First, Let’s Take a Road Trip
Before we talk in more detail about technology plans – what’s contained in one and why they are important – imagine you're planning a road trip from San Francisco to New York City.
Chances are you'll have some sort of plan in place before heading west. You’ll probably work out a few details beforehand, like:
- Which vehicle?
- Which route to take?
- Where to stop along the way and how much time at each?
Yosemite (2 nights), Grand Canyon (1 night), Santa Fe (1 night), Houston (1 night), New Orleans (3 nights), Memphis (2 nights), Nashville (1 night), DC (1 night)
- What to pack?
Camping gear, clothing, snacks
- What’s our budget for this trip?
Now you'll have a better idea of what this looks like:
In other words, to ensure a successful trip and to save a lot of time and stress along the way, you plan it out. Otherwise you risk a whole slew of challenges like ending up in the wrong location, missing out on interesting stops along the way, not having the right clothing or gear to comfortably enjoy a place, or spending a lot more money than expected. You might still get there and you might even have fun but, without a plan, you won’t get the most out of your road trip.
Yes, A Technology Plan is a lot like a Road Trip
Really? A technology plan is like a road trip? Yes, it is! Let’s break a technology plan down into its component parts:
A technology plan typically includes a mission statement. This is your map for the road trip. From a big picture perspective, it outlines where you are planning to go and what you hope to accomplish. The mission statement is typically aligned with the organization’s overall mission.
TECHNOLOGY NEEDS ASSESSMENT
Think of the needs assessment like your packing list. What do I currently have and what else might I need before I go on my trip. The needs assessment includes an appraisal of all technology resources and information systems including staffing needs.
LONG-TERM AND SHORT-TERM GOALS
The goals are like your trip details. Where are we going to go and what are we going to do? At a high-level, describe those things that the organization plans to achieve. More detailed information related to each goal should be listed in specific project management plans.
TRAINING AND STAFF DEVELOPMENT NEEDS
Depending on where you are going, you might need to educate yourself about the location, the language, or the local currency. An assessment of current technical skills of staff along with a plan for staff training and education is important for a successful technology implementation.
When you take a road trip, you typically plan out the major details of where you’re going, which would include items like: How long will we stay at each place? What hotel and travel accommodations do we need to make? Do we need to make any reservations in advance? What kind of budget will we need? Your resource requirements is a high-level description of the responsible parties, timelines, benchmarks, required resources, and budgets associated with each goal. Putting together your resource requirements in advance of your budgeting process will also give you a more accurate estimate of resources needed.
While you’re on your trip, you’ll likely assess and make adjustments (e.g., I love this park! Let’s change plans and go again tomorrow.). After the trip is complete, you’ll also assess so that you can make changes the next time you travel. A method for continually evaluating your plan and making adjustments is important for any technology plan.
Aligning your Technology Plan
with your Strategic Plan
Ideally, your technology should be aligned with the organization’s strategic plan. So, for example, if the organization has a long-term goal to increase revenue through fundraising initiatives, you may have a corresponding technology goal with related details such as improving or enhancing the tools you use to collect online donations, upgrading your fundraising software for managing donations, or purchasing a new marketing tool that would allow you to target high-income donors.
If your organization doesn’t have a strategic plan, we strongly suggest that you create one first. Without a strategic plan to guide your technology decisions, you may, for example, end up investing a lot of time and resources in developing a strategy for fundraising while the organization has decided to increase revenue through grant-making.
Still Not Convinced You Need a Technology Plan?
Face it: technology surrounds us today. Having a technology plan helps you prioritize and allocate your resources appropriately in order to achieve your goals on time and within budget. It provides transparency with respect to the goals and, by extension, creates greater buy-in from leadership and staff – buy-in that is critical to getting funding as well as cooperation when you need to implement and train staff and/or clients. Ultimately, a technology plan helps mitigate risks associated with financial investments; confidentiality of clients; contracting compliance; issues
of data loss, theft or breach; and human resource needs for accessing and
Important Next Steps?
Getting the Right People Involved in Planning
As you begin to outline and create your technology plan, involve multiple people in its creation who:
- Are familiar with the mission and goals of the organization;
- Are knowledgeable about business processes particularly in their areas
- of expertise;
- Have expertise in and appreciation for technology and its impact;
- Have decision-making authority within the organization; and
- Are able to synthesize information from various individuals and sources.
Once you’ve gathered your tech plan gurus, put a list of technology goals with possible solutions in front of them. This can help kick-start the conversation and give people an idea of what can be accomplished. Identify which of these goals you hope to accomplish in the next year. It’s oftentimes much easier for people to respond to suggestions and provide feedback than to brainstorm from scratch. However, it’s important to account for the fact that priorities will change and new goals will emerge. A process which is flexible enough to accommodate new requirements mid-stream, and allows for a re-prioritization based on your goals is ideal.
Keep Your Plan Front and Center
Once written, keep the plan front and center and communicate your goals to staff regularly. Re-evaluate your technology goals and update them, as needed. Keep in mind that a technology plan is a guiding strategy and, like many plans, needs to be responsive and open to change as the environment, the needs of your organization, and technology, itself, change.
For more information and resources on best practices in managing technology within a human service organization, see COA’s standards:
• RPM 2 – Risk Prevention
• RPM 4 – Insurance Protection
• RPM 5 – Technology and Information Management
• RPM 6 - Security of Information
• RPM 11 – Technology-Based Service Delivery
• RPM Reference List
Note: This blog post's contents are adapted from a presentation offered at the 2017 NTEN Conference by Tim Stockert, Vice President of Information Technology and Business Intelligence at COA, Henry Hernandez, CIO at WASC Senior College and University Commission, and Sara Chieco, Director of Technology, Social Impact at Presence Product Group.