October 2008

Shared CRM Between Organizations

Three clients are currently talking about or working on opening up their Salesforce CRM implementations to external organizations. The idea is that they've already created the functionality, so why not share it with others that do similar work. Beyond that, there is the feeling that by sharing contacts, they're leveraging each others connections.

This is not an easy conversation -- contacts are critical to an organization. And, it brings up issues of shared maintenence and support. But, there is the potential that by working together they can be more effective. Contacts are not a zero-sum game.

Looking forward to seeing how this works out.

A little different biting ...

While Peter is busy Biting Microsoft's hand, I figured I'd spend some time biting Apple's hand. I've been an Apple user since the Apple II, which I spent hours programming on back in college (oh yes, this dates me.) The first computer I owned was a Macintosh SE, and I have owned 14 Macs (or, briefly, Power Computing boxes) in the 21 years since.

I won't spend time here on my Linux desktop experiment(s), and I had a blessedly brief sojurn as a Windows user back in the late 90s. For the most part, I have spent the vast majority of my time in front of the Mac OS, from version 1.0 to 10.5. And, at the same time as it makes my computing life wonderful, it gives me profound misgivings.

No one (even Microsoft) will argue with the notion that Apple OS X has the best desktop user interface currently in use. They do say that "imitation is the best form of flattery" and if MS user interface is any indication, they love Macs.

Things "just work" in ways that make me spoiled. But part of the reason this is true is that Apple has a lock on both the hardware and the software. They don't have to spend developer hours making sure that every different chipset and processor and hard drive combination, etc. will work with their OS. So they spend their time on design and making things pretty and easy - because the hardware will work with the software - it's designed that way. Apple is, at it's heart, a hardware company. That's what they sell, and that's how they make a profit - not on software. Whether it be Macs, iPods, or iPhones, Apple sells primarly hardware.

To Apple's credit, they built OS X, their modern OS, on top of an open source base, called Darwin. It is UNIX, and provides an extraordinarily robust and secure underpinning for their user interface. That was a smart move. But, of course, their user interface is proprietary. Apple is still the leader in providing DRMed music to the world, and any application that runs on the iPhone has to be vetted by them, and has to fulfill certain criteria. They continue to make a profit using a standard proprietary software model. And as an open source advocate, that gives me pause.

However, Linux on the desktop (at least in the US) hasn't caught on, and isn't, in all honesty, anywhere near being able to compete with either Windows or Mac OS in terms of usability except for specific kinds of uses (at the low and high ends, like email/web stations and kiosks, or as workstations for developers - although tons of developers also use Macs.) And I can do more, and do it faster and easier on a Mac, so that's what I'm sticking with.

Would I like Apple to be different? Yup. Do I expect it? Nope. Because Apple will always (I think) be selling proprietary and premium products, I don't think they won't ever be in the position Microsoft is - as a monopoly. I don't necessarily think that they would behave much differently than MS in that position (although they'd likely do it with more style.)

Biting the Hand - Conclusion

This is the final post in a three part series on Microsoft.  Be sure to read Part 1, on the history/state of the Windows operating system, and Part 2, on developing for the Microsoft platform.

Two More Stories - A Vicious Exchange

In late 2006, I moved an organization of about 500 people from Novell Groupwise to Microsoft Exchange 2007.  After evaluating the needs, I bought the standard edition, which supported message storageup to 16GB (Our Groupwise message base took up about 4GB).  A few days after we completed the migration, which included transferring the Groupwise messages to Exchange, an error popped up in the Event Viewer saying that our message store was larger than the 16GB limit, and, sure enough, it was - who knew that Microsoft messages were so much larger than Groupwise messages? 

The next day, Event Viewer reported that our message store was too large and that it would be dismounted at 5:00 am, meaning that email would be, essentially, disconnected.  Huh?  I connected remotely the next morning and remounted at about 5:10.  I also scoured the Microsoft Knowledgebase, looking for a recommendation on this, and found nothing.  I called up my vendor and ordered the Enterprise version of Exchange, which supports a much larger message store.  A couple of days later, same thing.  My new software hadn't arrived yet.  The next day, the message changed, saying that our message store was too large and would be dismounted randomly! What!?  This meant that the server could go down in the middle of the business day.  The software arrived, and I tossed the box on my desk and scheduled to come in on Sunday (which happened to be New Year's Day, 2007) to do the upgrade. But when I opened the box, I discovered that my vendor had sent me Enterprise media, yes, but it was for Exchange Server 2005, the prior version.  I was hosed.

Frantic, I went to Google instead of the knowledge base and searched.  This yielded a blog entry explaining that, with Exchange Server 2007 Service Pack 2 (which I had applied as part of the initial installation), it was now legal to have message stores of up to 75GB.  All I had to do was modify a registry entry on the server - problem solved.  Wow, who woulda thunk?  Particularly if this had been documented anywhere on the Microsoft Knowledgebase?

But here's my question: What Machiavellian mind came up with the compliance enforcement routine that I experienced, and why was my business continuity threatened by code designed to stop me from doing something perfectly legal under the Service Pack 2 licensing?  This was sloppy, and this was cruel, and this was not supportive of the customer.

Cheap ERP

In early 2007, I hired a consultant to help with assessing and developing our strategic technology plan.  This was at a social services agency, and one of our issues was that, since we hired our clients, having separate databases to track client progress and Human Resources/Payroll resulted in large amounts of duplicate data entry and difficult reporting. The consultant and I agreed that a merged HR/Client Management system would be ideal. So, at lunch one day, I nearly fell off my chair laughing when he suggested that we look at SAP.  SAP, for those who don't know, is a database and development platform that large companies use in order to deploy highly customized and integrated business computing platforms.  Commonly referred to as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, it's a good fit for businesses with the unique needs and ample budgets to support what is, at heart, an internally developed set of business applications.  The reason I found this so entertaining was that, even if we could afford SAP, then hiring the technical staff to develop it into something that worked for us would be way beyond our means.  SAP developers make at least six figures a year, and we would have needed two or more to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.  It's unrealistic for even a mid-sized nonprofit to look at that kind of investment in technology.

So Microsoft holds a unique position -- like SAP, or Oracle, they offer a class of integrated products that can run your business.  Unlike SAP or Oracle, they're pretty much what they are - you can customize and integrate them, at a cost, but you can't, for instance, extend Microsoft's Dynamics HR package into a Client Management System.  But, if you have both Dynamics and Social Solutions, which runs on Microsoft SQL Server, you'd have a lot more compatibility and integration capabilities than we had at our social services org, where our HR system was outsourced and proprietary and the client management software ran on Foxpro.

Bangs for the Buck

So this is where it leaves me - Micosoft is a large, bureaucratic mess of a company that has so many developers on each product that one will be focusing on how to punish customers for non-compliance while another is making the customers compliant.  Their product strategy is driven far less by customer demands than it is by marketing strategy.  Their practices have been predatory, and, while that type of thing seems to be easing, there's still a lot of it ingrained in their culture.  When they are threatened -- and they are threatened, by Google and the migration from the desktop to the cloud -- they're more dangerous to their developers and customers, because they are willing to make decisions that will better position them in the market at the cost of our investments. 

But Microsoft offers a bargain to businesses that can't -- and shouldn't - spend huge percentages of their budget on platform development.  They do a lot out of the box, and they have a lot of products to do it with.  Most of their mature products -- Office, Exchange, SQL Server -- are excellent.  They're really good at what they do.  The affordable alternative to the commercial ERP systems like SAP and Oracle is open source, but open source platforms are still relatively immature.  Building your web site on an open Source CMS powered by PHP or Ruby on Rails might be a good, economical move that leaves you better off, in terms of ease of use and capabilities, than many expensive commercial options.  But going  open source for Finance, HR and Client Tracking isn't really much of an option yet.  The possibly viable alternatives to Microsoft are commercial outsourcers like NetSuite, but how well they'll meet your full needs depends on how complex those needs are - one size fits all solutions tend to work better for small businesses than medium to large ones.

Finally, it's all well and good to talk about adopting Microsoft software strictly on its merits, but, for many of us, it has far more to do with the critical, non-Microsoft applications we run that assume we're using their products.  For many of us, considering alternatives like Linux for an operating system; Open Office or Google Apps for productivity; or PHP for our web scripting language are already nixed because our primary databases are all in SQL Server and ASP.  At the law firm where I work, we aren't about to swap out Word for an alternative without the legal document-specific features that Microsoft richly incorporates into their product.  But it leaves me, as the technology planner, in a bit of a pickle. Windows XP, Office 2003/2007, Exchange 2007, SQL Server 2007, and Windows Server 2003 are all powerful, reliable products that we use and benefit from, and the price we paid for them, through Techsoup and their charity licensing, is phenomenal.  But as we look at moving to web-based computing, and we embark on custom development to meet information management and communication needs that are very specific to our organization, we're now faced with adopting Microsoft's more dynamic and, in my opinion, dangerous technologies. 

This would all be different if I had more reason to trust the vendor to prioritize my organization's stability and operating efficiency over their marketing goals.  Or, put differently, if their marketing philosophy was based less on trying to trump their competition and more on being a dependable, trustworthy vendor.  They're the big dog, just about impossible to avoid, and they make a very compelling financial argument -- at first take -- for nonprofits.  But it's a far more complicated price break than it seems at first glance.

Quick and Dirty Form Builders

This post isn't about Twitter but it did begin with a tweet. I follow lots of nonprofit techies on twitter and am always learning about new applications and software through my colleagues. So when Beth Kanter (if you aren't following her on twitter, you should) asked about formspring.com I checked it out. I hadn't heard of it before, but it got me thinking about the wealth of fast and simple options now available for nonprofits and how making even simple data collection forms used to require contacting some technical volunteer or programmer.

In response to a request for experiences with formspring, Beth received several responses and summed them up concisely in less than 140 characters.

"Seems like folks are using wufoo and google docs for forms - some have used formspring and say it is easy "

So if you just need a short form to collect some basic information these are a few flexible and not too difficult choices. Keep in mind that this is by no means a complete or even necessarily the best in class list. There are of course tons of form creation options out there - just google "easy forms for web site" to see what I mean. If you are looking specifically to do surveys the possibilities continue to expand.

This is just a brief look at the 3 that were mentioned in Beth's tweet and where to find CMS specific options for those using some common open source content management systems. I'd love to hear more about what organizations are using to quick build simple data collection forms on the fly and why.

Simple stand alone forms are useful for things like:
  • contact forms
  • volunteer or job applications
  • surveys
  • supporter story or feedback submissions
  • temporary campaign petitions & sign-ups
  • even event rsvp and registrations
Here is the quick overview:

Seems super easy to use and has a nice set of options on how you want to receive submission information. They offer SSL submission and even payment integration. Their pricing plan offers 3 free forms with up to 15 fields and 50 saved submissions. If you choose a paid plan, you also get storage space for form user uploads and CAPTCHA to prevent spam entries.

This is the one my friends use and it seems to have been around long enough to have established a pretty good reputation. Their gallery can be a great place for ideas and templates to get you started. You have a paid option for SSL secure forms, paypal integration and spam prevention seems to come with the basic free package as well. The pricing plan offers 3 forms for free with up to 10 fields and 100 submissions per month. Paid accounts also include file storage for user uploads.

google docs based forms (more on how to create)
If your organization already has a google apps account and uses spreadsheets this might be the way to go. It's not quite as simple for the novice but very popular and powerful.

I first found out about this Google feature through a site that went up within a few hours after McCain called for postponing the first debate. Originally it was just a plain google doc based form used as a petition in that first day. Eventually the Demand the Debates site was converted to a more traditional and robust site but the original got quite a response and displayed the speed at which you can deploy a quick campaign with simple tools.

Most content management systems either include contact forms or have installable modules that offer them that are easy to integrate with your site. I wanted to provide a few places to look for easy form creation plug ins if you use one of the following systems, even if you aren't a developer.

I've used webform + captcha modules with good results and it was fairly painless to get set up. Customization seems practically unlimited and I will probably use this combination again when the information collected should be kept separate from the main site.

I tried this one out because it was highly rated on drupalmodules.com which is a great resource for sifting through all the modules available from the robust Drupal community.

The only form builder I have used in Joomla is perForms and it works pretty well with some convenient reporting features although set up is a bit less than intuitive, its not too difficult. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be maintained for the newer versions of Joomla.

For more up to date options, I am sure you can find something that works for your site in their great extensions library.

I've enjoyed using Contact Form 7 on my WordPress sites but there are lots of good options out there. My friend Rowan at Free Flow Data raves about CForms as the pick of the litter with enough powerful features to even be used to create a mini-CRM.

Many of the plug ins labeled as contact forms can do much more - find them in the plug in directory.

And finally a couple of things to keep in mind when using any of these quick and dirty tools to build the forms of your dreams.
  • Data accessiblity - how reusable is the data and how easy is it to integrate with your CRM and other systems? Most of the above feature CSV downloads of form data.
  • SPAM prevention and filtering - is CAPTCHA or other spam prevention available?
  • Security - Make double sure you know and are taking all the necessary precautions when dealing with personal information and money from your supporters.
Many thanks to Beth Kanter for the inspiration to put this list together.

6 Laws of Customer Experience Apply to Nonprofits

I've recently been revisiting "6 Laws of Customer Experience" written by a former colleague, Bruce Tempkin. It's a treasure trove of common sense wisdom for nonprofits and companies alike. Simply change the business language to nonprofit-ese and it comes alive. The bottom line is that when constituents have great experiences with your organization, they're likely to become bigger supporters and more involved.

A few examples of the lessons for nonprofits:

- "Experiences need to be designed for individuals." Nonprofits (like companies) often design their web sites generically to serve all audiences and lose site of the individual. Bruce's suggestion? Humanize it! By giving a name, a face, and a story to individual "personas" that typify different constituent segments, an organization starts putting itself in its constituents' shoes.

- "Don't let company organization drive experiences." Your constituents don't really care about how you are organized internally -- program by program. They simply need their questions answered or their problems solved. Bruce suggests keeping an eye out for any time a staff member has to explain to a constituent how the organization is structured.

- "Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated." Actions by nonprofit executives speak much louder than words to staff. Define the kind of interactions your want for constituents and determine ways to measure those (e.g. inquiry response times, follow-up calls, staff helpfulness). Highlight exemplary interactions at staff meetings, track inquiry response times, and observe and rate interactions.

Mapping Blues: Where is the Data?

Online maps are great. After working on this mapping report, it became clear that half the battle with mapping is finding the right data. Recently I was asked where nonprofits can find data about their community. "There are so many sources," I sputtered, before realizing I did not know many of them by name. "Which ones have you used?" she asked. In a Palin moment, I said, "Well many of them, I will get back to you with some examples." Ugh...

While you can buy data, there is so much public data out there to check out first. Resources for data can be broadly applicable, or very specific for narrow uses. Here are some resources I have found useful for finding data, often for free, to use in my mapping projects:

U.S Census: Yes, most everything that the government collects in those giant census surveys is available to download. Tons of demographic information, boundary files for outlining states, counties and cities, and many other resources for free.

Data360: Lots of great data sets, slideshows and graphs contributed by users. Its helpful to click through graphs and slideshows that are close to what you are looking to map to see how others approached the problem. As an occasional surfer, I find this contributed graph of shark attacks somewhat comforting.

UNdata: Tons of international data covering , demographic, health, trade, education information and more - a particularly good resource for international development organizations. The site provides multiple options for filtering data, showing/hiding columns, and for exporting to work in multiple mapping/GIS software.

Freebase: Another resource for data contributed by users. I find this site easy to navigate, and has some really interesting data. All contributed data can be associated with topics, grouped together by types, which in turn are grouped together by domain. This structure allows you to find, say, data on the topic Dick Cheney as well as on the type U.S. Vice President - providing various perspectives on related information.

Huge Data Lists: Not for the faint of heart, these are goldmines for finding public data resources, but you will have to dig. Check out the publicdata tag in delicious, or this giant list from Peter Skomoroch.

I would love to hear about your data and mapping projects, and where you found useful information for them.

Biting the Hand Part 2

This is part two of a three part rumination on Microsoft.  Today I'm discussing their programming environment, as opposed to the open source alternatives that most nonprofits would be likely to adopt instead.  Part one, on Windows, is here: http://www.idealware.org/blog/2008/10/biting-hand-that-bites-me-as-it-feeds.html

Imposing Standards

In the early days of personal computing, there were a number of platforms - IBM PC, Apple Macintosh, Amiga, Commodore, Leading Edge... but the first two were the primary ones getting any attention from businesses. The PC was geeky, with it's limited command line interface; the Macintosh was cool with it's graphics. But two things put the PC on top. One was Dan Bricklin's VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet.  A computer is a novelty if you have no use for it, and VisiCalc, as it's modern equivalents are today, was extremely useful. But the bigger reason why the PC beat out the Mac so thoroughly was that the Mac had a strict set of rules that had to be followed in order to program for it, whereas anyone could do pretty much anything on a PC.  If you knew Assembler, the programming language that spoke to the machine, you could start there and create whatever you wanted, with no one at IBM telling you with languages and libraries to use, or what you were allowed or not allowed to do.  As Windows has matured and gained the bulk of the desktop operating system market, Microsoft has started emulating Apple, raising the standards and requirements for Windows programming in ways that make it far less appealing to developers. 

Unlike the early days, when no one had much market share, Windows is now the standard  business platform, so there are a lot more reasons to play by whatever rules Microsoft might impose.  So, today, being a Windows programmer is a lot like being a Mac programmer.  If you're going to have the compatibility and certification that is required, you're going to follow guidelines, use the shared libraries, and probably program in the same tools as every other Windows programmer.  The benefit is standardization and uniformity, things that business computer users really appreciate.

Accordingly, the Microsoft platform, which used to run on pretty much all PCs, now faces competition from Linux and other Unix variants, and for much the same reasons that IBM beat out Apple in those early days. What appeals to Java, PHP, Rails and other open source developers is very much the same thing that brought developers to the PC in the first place, and Microsoft's arguments for sticking to their platform are much like Apple's - "it's safer, it's well-supported, it's standardized, so a lot of the work is done for you".  I would argue with each of these claims.

Is it Safer? 

The formal programming environment is supposedly more secure, with compiled code and stricter encoding/encryption of data in their web services model.  But it seems that the open source model, with, for the major apps, a multitude of eyes on the code, is quicker to fnd and fix security glitches.  Microsoft defenders will argue that, because Microsoft lives in a commercial ecosystem, with paid training and support, that support is more widely available and will continue to be avaailable, whereas open source support and training is primarily community-based and uncompensated. But my experience has been that finding forums, how-to's and code samples for PHP, Python and Rails has always been far easier than finding the equivalent for ASP and C#.  In the open surce world, all code is always available; in the MS world, you either buy it or you pay someone to teach you.

Is it Easier? 

The bar for programming on Microsoft's platform is high. To create a basic web application on the Microsoft platform, or to extend an existing application that supports their web programming standards, you, at a minimum, need to know XML; a scripting language such as Visual Basic or C#; and Active Server Pages (ASP).  Modern scripting languages like Ruby on Rails and PHP are high level and relatively easy to pick up; RAILS, in particular, supports a rapid application develoment model that can have a functional application built in minutes.  These languages support REST, a simple (albeit less secure) way of transmitting data in web applications.  Microsoft depends on SOAP, a more formal and complex method. A good piece on REST versus SOAP links here.

Is it Standardized? 

Well, this is where I really have the problem.  MS controls their programming languages and environments.  If you develop MS software, you do it in MS Visual Studio, and you likely code in a C variant or Visual Basic, using MS compilers.  Your database is MS SQL Server. Visual Studio and SQL Server are powerful, mature products - I wouldn't knock them.  But Microsoft has been blazing through a succession of programming standards that a cheetah couldn't keep up with over the years, revamping their languages rapidly, changing the recommended methods of connecting to data; And generally making the job of keeping up with their expectations unattainable. So while their platform uses standardized code and libraries in order for developers to produe applications with standardized interfaces, the development tools themselves are going through constant, dramatic revisions, far more disruptive ones than the more steady, well-roadmapped enhancing of the open source competition. 

Mixed Motives

The drivers for this rapid change are completely mixed up with their marketing goals.  For example, MS jumped on the web bandwagon years ago with a product called Frontpage.  Frontpage was a somewhat simplistic GUI tool for creating web pages, and it was somewhat infamous for generating web sites that were remarkably uniform in nature.  It was eclipsed completely by what is now Adobe's Dreamweaver.  If you try and buy Frontpage today, you'll have a hard time finding it, but it didn't go away, it was simply revised and rebranded. Frontpage is now called "Sharepoint Designer".  It's a product that Microsoft recommends that Sharepoint administrators and developers use to modify the Sharepoint interface.  Mind you, most of your basic Sharepoint modifications can be made from within Sharepoint, and anything advanced can and should be done in Visual Studio.  There's no reason to use this product, as most of what it does is easier to do elsewhere. 

So it comes down to time, money and risk.  The MS route is more complex and more expensive than the open source alternatives.   The support and training is certified and industrialized. All of this costs money - the tools, the support, the code samples, and the developers, who generally make $80-150k a year.  The platform development is driven by the market, which leads to a question about it's sustainability in volatile times for the company.  As concluded in part one, Microsoft knows that the bulk of their products will be obsolesced by a move to Software as a Service.  The move from O S-based application development to web development has been rocky, and it's not close to finished.   

Look for part 3 sometime next week, where I'll tie this all up.

Ask Idealware: eAdvocacy Alternatives to Kintera?

Lenny asks: We're an all volunteer 501c4 that has been using Kintera. They're asking a great deal of money for continuing to use Kintera. We would greatly appreciate suggestions of other service providers. We talked to Democracy in Action but they only help c3's

We do action alerts on state and local issues that enables our readers
to send email to officials like the Governor, state legislators, city councils, and county commissions. We can segment the list and target specific geographic regions, and we're able to provide copy for the readers to send as well.

Heather Gardner-Madras, of gardner madras | strategic creative says:

When Laura asked me about fielding this question I was eager to update my knowledge about what is available in this space, having worked on building such tools back in the day. So I contacted some of the smartest people I know in this arena including Rowan Price and the rest of Free Flow Data, TJ Griffin of Jackson River LLC and Jon Stahl at One Northwest. Unfortunately what I found out just verified what I already knew - your options for email advocacy are pretty limited right now.

Apart from Kintera there are really only 2 other major players that offer the email your representative feature complete with district look up and contact information: CapWiz (which is now Capwiz·XC and owned by Roll Call) and Convio, which is not likely to be less expensive. And although Democracy in Action is exclusively C3, they do have a for profit sister company Wired for Change that works with C4s. However I am not sure you can find the eAdvocacy tools you are looking for through that company.

If you don't need automated user districting and know the email addresses of your advocacy targets, CitizenSpeak might also be worth a look. CitizenSpeak started as, and still maintains, a simple system to create targeted email campaigns, but they recently rebuilt their platform as a Drupal module which opens doors to integrating this with the Drupal CMS. Since its a free open source service you won't find the power and features available from CapWiz and Convio, of course, but it seems to be a solid open source option for smaller organizations mounting targeted campaigns.

These are the main choices that I am aware of but of course I might have overlooked something great. So if readers know of a good option I missed, please leave it in the comments.

There are a couple reasons worth mentioning for this drop off in "Write your Representative" email tools and vendors:
1. Its not economically strategic for vendors to build and maintain email advocacy tools.
In addition to the normal software development costs, the expense and difficulty of maintaining accurate and usable legislative target databases can become prohibitive.

2. The rise and proliferation of Webforms as the only means of online contact for elected officials.
Add to the expense of maintaining up to date contact information the more recent hurdle of cracking the ever growing and mutating number of webforms that legislators now require for contact and the market seems even less profitable.

3. There are growing doubts about whether email blasts to congress are effective.
Many nonprofits have cut back on eAdvocacy due to the reduced effectiveness of this approach in bringing about real policy change. The sheer volume of email congress receives has increased to the point where as Colin Delany says on ePolitics "Hill offices largely ignore them and will often treat thousands of identical messages as essentially a single message ..." At a state level and for custom targets like corporation heads email advocacy can still be effective, but this is obviously a much smaller market for vendors.
So the upshot is that in moving away from Kintera and assessing other tool options, this might be an ideal time to investigate other means of mobilizing your supporters and trying new routes for advocacy as well.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at ask@idealware.org. Have other great options? Disagree with our answer? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

Web Meets World

The folks over at O'Reilly, who brought us the term "Web 2.0" and lots of great software books for geeks, are having a benefit auction in conjunction with their annual Web 2.0 Summit this November in San Francisco. Themed "Web Meets World", they are soliciting donations and donation ideas, along with recommendations for charities that should benefit, all through their Facebook "Web 2.0 Summit" community.

I like the focus this year, which is looking at how web 2.0 can be used for solving pressing world problems. While I like my Apple iPhone, and love how it can emulate a cigarette lighter, its these kind of silly applications can really bring you down when you turn attention back to global warming... is this all people can think of? The Netsquared folks over at TechSoup have done a great job supporting web 2.0 initiatives for social good, I hope that the influential folks at O'Reilly can contribute some more momentum here.

One of my favorite organizations, Witness is reported to be one charity that will benefit from the auction. They provide video cameras to human rights groups, and technical assistance to bring their messages out. I used to work for Witness over 10 years ago when it was three people. It has grown far since then, and is a terrific program and resource for rights groups worldwide.

The Human Factor... Staffing Makes or Breaks Tech Projects

I’ve been having increasingly good conversations recently with clients about staffing for their technology efforts (particularly web site and CRM/database projects). Fabulous!!

I would argue that insufficient staffing is one of the top causes for the underperformance of new initiatives, both during a new project and on-going. In fact, most organizations vastly underutilize the tools they currently own because of staffing issues.

The car is a useful metaphor. As sophisticated as cars are, it’s a technology that doesn’t drive itself. One doesn’t need to know the interworking of the engine and electrical system to operate the car on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes, you need to take the car to a mechanic for maintenance and upgrades – just like your technology systems.

Here’s what I’ve been telling clients:
1) Dedicate staffing to support and evangelize tools. As a rule of thumb, I’ve been suggesting organizations dedicate 0.25 FTE for every 10 staff members as on-going support and evangelizing new tools – double or triple the time during implementation and the first few months after launch.

2) Spread the responsibility. Make online responsibilities and competency something that a majority of staff participate in. Assign specific online responsibilities in staff job descriptions, such as developing content for specific sections of the web site (pages, newsletters, video) , monitoring and managing social networking presence, or providing monthly reports of web and other online statistics. Build the organizational culture by adding an online health status report to all major staff and/or program meetings.

3) Make online competency a job hiring must. Ensure that online competency is considered and weighed in all new hires, particularly for management, communications, and marketing/outreach positions.