Tag Archives: Book

How Easy Is It For You To Manage, Analyze And Present Data?

apple-256262_640I ask because my articles are up, including my big piece from NTEN’s Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits on Architecting Healthy Data Management Systems. I’m happy to have this one available in a standalone, web-searchable format, because I think it’s a bit of a  signature work.  I consider data systems architecture to be my main talent; the most significant work that I’ve done in my career.

  • I integrated eleven databases at the law firm of Lillick & Charles in the late 90’s, using Outlook as a portal to Intranet, CRM, documents and voicemail. We had single-entry of all client and matter data that then, through SQL Server triggers, was pushed to the other databases that shared the data.  This is what I call the “holy grail” of data ,entered once by the person who cares most about it, distributed to the systems that use it, and then easily accessible by staff. No misspelled names or redundant data entry chores.
  • In the early 2000’s, at Goodwill, I developed a retail data management system on open source (MySQL and PHP, primarily) that put drill-down reporting in a web browser, updated by 6:00 am every morning with the latest sales and production data.  We were able to use this data in ways that were revolutionary for a budget-challenged Goodwill, and we saw impressive financial results.

The article lays out the approach I’m taking at Legal Services Corporation to integrate all of our grantee data into a “data portal”, built on Salesforce and Box. It’s written with the challenges that nonprofits face front and center: how to do this on a budget, and how to do it without a team of developers on staff.

At a time when, more and more, our funding depends on our ability to demonstrate our effectiveness, we need the data to be reliable, available and presentable.  This is my primer on how you get there from the IT viewpoint.

I also put up four articles from Idealware.  These are all older (2007 to 2009), they’re all still pretty relevant, although some of you might debate me on the RSS article:

This leaves only one significant piece of my nptech writing missing on the blog, and that’s my chapter in NTEN’s “Managing Technology To Meet Your Mission” book about Strategic Planning. Sorry, you gotta buy that one. However, a Powerpoint that I based on my chapter is here.

Notes From Here And There

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Long time no blog, but I have good excuses.  Moving cross-country, even with a modest family of three, is no picnic, and we are now, over 13 months since I was offered the job in DC, starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Since summer, I’ve been frantically house hunting and, since December, busy relocating (for the third time) to our new, tree-laden home in Reston.

This, however, doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing or totally neglecting my nptech duties. So here are some things to look forward to:

#ntcbeer. First and foremost. The annual Nonproft Technology Conference runs here in DC from March 13th to 15th, and the 6th Annual #ntcbeer will take place, as always, the night prior (Wednesday, 3/12, 7pm).  This year we’re at the Black Squirrel, a bar that’s a 15 minute stroll from the hotel (in the trendy Adams Morgan district) with three stories and 80 craft beers, which one would hope will meet the requirements. But I’m willing to bet (seriously!  Who wants to get in the pool?) that we will top their max standing room of about 200 people.  Here’s my logic: we averaged about 175 people last year in Minneapolis and the year prior in SF.  Minneapolis likely would have been bigger but a lot of planes were delayed by weather.  This year, we’re in DC, and that means two things: first, this is the largest center for NPOs in the world.  A lot more of the attendees live here. Second, it’s a very social place.  So I think that it’s not only likely that we’ll top 200; I don’t think 300 is out of range. We’ll have the Facebook page up in a week or two and we can hammer it all out there.

Also, #ntcbeer has sponsors this year.  We’ve been bought out by Blackbaud. (kidding!). Blackbaud and CommunityIT will be on hand with snacks and possible giveaways.  We’re figuring all of that out. Sponsorship is good, because this year we did manage to find a bar that doesn’t require a financial commitment up front, but I don’t think that will be possible in SF next year, given what a hard time we had finding a location in 2012.

Related, details to come, is that, prior to #ntcbeer on the 12th, I’ll be hosting a pre-conference workshop on IT Leadership with Richard Wollenberger and Katie Fritz.

As to that writing, keep your eyes open this week and next for NTEN’s release of “Collected Voices: Data-Driven Nonprofits. I spent 2013 participating in NTEN and Microsofts’ Communities of Impact program, where I joined 17 other nonprofit staff in diving into the challenges of managing, maximizing and sharing data in our sector.  We had two in person, two day meetings; numerous calls with bright presenters; active and professional facilitation by Julia Smith, NTEN’s Program Director; and this is the final product.  In addition to a few case studies and short pieces, I contributed an article on “Architecting Healthy Data Management Systems”. As this is really the focus of my career, whether it was unifying the database backend and building a portal to all client data at a law firm in the 90’s, or developing an open source retail data warehouse at Goodwill, or migrating/connecting all of LSC’s grantee data and documents to a Salesforce instance at my current job, this is the work that I think I do best, and I have a lot of best practices to share.  So I’m somewhat proud and happy to be publishing this article. it will be a free download for NTEN members.

Speaking of LSC, I’ve been busy there as well. We held our 14th annual technology conference two weeks ago, with record attendance. Among the crowd were frequent collaborators of mine like Laura Quinn of Idealware and Matt Eshleman of CommunityIT. It was a great time, with a lot of valuable sessions and discussions on data, internet security, and business process mapping.  We held a “Meet the Developer” session where our grantees, for the first time, got to speak directly with the guy that programs our online applications and give him some direct feedback. I attended in order to both facilitate and act as a human shield.  😉

The conference followed the release of our report on the two year technology summit that we hosted.  This consisted of two gatherings of leaders in the access to justice community from legal aid law firms, the courts, the ABA, the State Department, and the NLADA, along with key application developers and strategic thinkers.  We worked on a goal:

“to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.”

Currently, the research shows that only 20% of those that qualify for and need the legal assistance that our funding provides are being served by the limited pool of attorneys and resources dedicated to this work. The report makes the case that 100% can receive some level of assistance, even if that isn’t actual legal representation, by innovative use of technology.  But we are working on the assertion that some help is better than no help, which is what 80% of those who need help get today.

The key strategies include:

  • using statewide portals effectively to connect people to the available resources
  • maximizing the use of document assembly to assist individuals in preparing court forms (a goal that lives or dies by the standardization of such forms, which is currently a big challenge)
  • Expanded use of mobile and SMS (many of the people who need assistance lack computers and smartphones, but can text)
  • Business Process Analysis, to insure that we are efficiently delivering any and all services, and
  • Expert Systems and intelligent Checklists, in order to resource individuals and attorneys to navigate the legal system.

As I mention here often, the right to an attorney only applies to criminal cases, not civil, but the peril for low income families and individuals from civil lawsuits is apparent.  You could lose your house, your children, your job, or your health if you can’t properly defend yourself against a wealthier accuser.  Equal justice is a cornerstone of American ethics. Take a look at the best thinking on how technology can help to restore it.

Technology and Risk: Are you Gathering Dust?

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in April of 2009.

Last week I had the thrill of visiting a normally closed-to-the-public Science Building at UC Berkeley, and getting a tour of the lab where they examine interstellar space dust collected from the far side of Mars. NASA spent five or six years, using some of the best minds on the planet and $300,000,000, to develop the probe that went out past Mars to zip (at 400 miles a second) through comet tails and whatever else is out there, gathering dust. The most likely result of the project was that the probe would crash into an asteroid and drift out there until it wasted away. But it didn’t, and the scientists that I met on Saturday are now using these samples to learn things about our universe that are only speculative fiction today.

So, what does NASA know that we don’t about the benefits of taking risks?

In my world of technology management, it seems to be primarily about minimizing risk. We do multiple backups of critical data to different media; we lock down the internet traffic that can go in and out of our network; we build redundancy into all of our servers and systems, and we treat technology as something that will surely fail if we aren’t vigilant in our efforts to secure it. Most of our favorite adages are about avoiding risk: “It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” and “Nobody was ever fired for buying IB.. er, MicroSoft.”

On Monday, I’ll be presenting on my chapter of NTEN‘s Book “Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission” at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco. My session, and chapter, is about mission-focused technology planning and the art of providing business-class systems on a nonprofit budget. That’s certainly about finding sustainable and dependable options, but my case is that nonprofits, in particular, need to identify the areas where they can send out those probes and gamble a bit. For many nonprofits, technology planning is a matter of figuring out which systems desperately need upgrading and living with a lot of systems and applications that are old and semi-functional. My case is that there’s a different approach: we should spend like a regular business on the critical systems, but be creative and take risks where we can afford to fail a bit, on the chance that we’ll get far more for less money than we would playing it “safe” with inadequate technology. It’s a tough sell, yes, but I frame it in my belief that, when your business is changing the world, your business plan has to be bold and creative. As I mention often, the web is, right now, a platform rife with opportunity. We will miss out on great chances to significantly advance our missions if we just treat it like another threat to our stability.

We need stable systems, and we often struggle with inadequate funding and the technical resources simply to maintain our computer systems. I say that, as hard as that is, we need to invest in exploration. It’s about maximizing potential at the same time as you minimize risk. And its all about the type of dust that you want to gather.

NTC (Just) Past and Future

Photo by Andrew J. Cohen of Forum1

Photo by Andrew J. Cohen of Forum1

Here it is Saturday, and I’m still reeling from the awesome event that was the Nonprofit Technology Conference, put on by org of awesomeness NTEN. First things first, if you attended, live or virtually, and, like me, you not only appreciate, but are pretty much astounded by the way Holly, Anna, Annaliese, Brett and crew get this amazing event together and remain 100% approachable and sociable while they’re keeping the thing running, then you should show your support here.

We had 1400 people at the sold-out event, and if that hadn’t been a capacity crowd, I’m pretty sure we had at least 200 more people that were turned away. What does that say about this conference in a year when almost all of us have slashed this type of budget in response to a dire economic situation? I think it says that NTEN is an organization that gets, totally, and phenomenally, what the web means to cash-strapped, mission-focused organizations, and, while we have all cut spending, sometimes with the painful sacrifice of treasured people and programs, we know that mastering the web is a sound strategic investment.

Accordingly, social media permeated the event, from the Clay Shirky plenary, to the giant screen of tweets on the wall, and the 80% penetration of social media as topic in the sessions. As usual, I lit a candle for the vast majority of nonprofit techies who are not on Twitter, don’t have an organizational Facebook page, and, instead, spend their days troubleshooting Windows glitches and installing routers. My Monday morning session, presented with guru Matt Eshleman of CITIDC, was on Server Virtualization. If you missed it, @jackaponte did such a complete, accurate transcription, and you can feel like you were there just by reading her notes (scroll down to 10:12) and following along with the slides.

My dream — which I will do my best to make reality — is that next year will include a Geek Track that focuses much harder on the traditional technology support that so many NPTechs need. I stand on record that I’m willing to put this track together and make it great!

I was also quite pleased to do a session on How to Decide, Planning and Prioritizing, based on my chapter of NTEN’s book, Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission.  It was really great to start the session with a question that I’ve always dreamed I’d be able to ask: “Have you read my book?”.  I’m in debt to NTEN for that opportunity!

The biggest omission at this event (um, besides reliable wifi, but what can you do?) was the addition of a twitter name space on our ID badges. Twitter provided a number of things to the — by my estimation — half of the attendees who hang out there.

  • Event anticipation buildup, resource sharing, session coordination and  planning, ride and room sharing and other activities were all rife on Twitter as the conference approached.
  • Session tweeting allowed people both in other sessions and at home to participate and share in some of the great knowledge shared.
  • For me, as a Twitter user who has been on the network for two years and is primarily connected to NTEN members, Twitter did something phenomenal. Catching up with many of my “tweeps”, we just skipped the formalities and dived into the conversations. So much ice is broken when you know who works where, what they focus on in their job, if they have partners and/or kids, what music tastes you share, that catching up in person means diving in deeper. The end result is clear — #09ntc is still an active tag on Twitter, and the conference continues there, and will continue until it quietly evolves into #10ntc.

One thing, however, worries me. This was the tenth NTC, my fifth, but it was the first NTC that the online world noticed. Tuesday, on Twitter, we were the second most popular trend (the competing pandemic outranked us). NTEN’s mission is to help nonprofits use technologies to further their missions. But, as said above, this conference was, in many ways, a social media event. I’m hoping that Holly and crew will review their registration process next year to insure that early spots in what is sure to be an even more popular event aren’t filled up by people who really aren’t as committed to changing the world as they are to keeping up with this trend.

But, concerns aside, we need to send that team to a week-long spa retreat, and be proud of them, and proud of ourselves for not only being a community that cares, but being one that shares. I urge even the most skeptical of you to jump on the Twitter bandwagon, we’re not on there discussing what we had for breakfast. We’re taking the annual event and making it a perpetual one, with the same expertise sharing,  querying, peer support and genuine camaraderie that makes the nptech community so unique – and great. Come join us!

Where I’ll Be at NTC

Five days from now, the Nonprofit Technology Conference starts here on my home turf, in San Francisco, and I’m hoping to catch a few seconds or more of quality time with at least 200 of the 1400 people attending. Mind you, that’s in addition to meeting as many new people as possible, since making connections is a lot of what NTC is about. So, in case you’re trying to track me down, here’s how to find me at NTC.

Saturday — I’ll be home prepping, on email and Twitter, and then off to Jupiter in Berkeley (2181 Shattuck, right at Downtown Berkeley BART) at 6:00 pm for the Pre-NTC Brewpub Meetup I’m hosting. We have a slew of people signed up at NTConnect for the event. If you’re coming, get there promptly so you can help me reserve adequate space!

Sunday morning is Day of Service. I’ll be advising a local education nonprofit on low cost options for enhanced voice and video. NTC kicks off with the Member Reception, and I suspect that there will be lots of talk about our book at that event – if we’ve never met, this will be a good chance to figure out which of the 1400 attendees I am.

The Science Fair – NTEN’s unique take on the vendor show – is always a blast. If you’re at a booth, I’ll be coming by, but I’ll also be spending some time manning the Idealware booth, so that’s another good place to catch up. Dinner Sunday? I haven’t made plans. What are you doing?

Monday I keep busy hosting two sessions:

At 3:30, I’m at a loss, with excellent sessions by Peter Deitz, Allen (Gunner) Gunn, David Geilhufe, Dahna Goldstein, Jeff Patrick, Robert Weiner and Steve Wright all competing equally for my attention. If Hermione Granger is reading this, perhaps she can help me out.

On Tuesday, my tentative plan includes these breakouts: Google Operations: Apps and Analytics; Evolution of Online Communities : Social Networking for Good; and Measuring the Return on Investment of Technology. I caught a preview of the last one, led by Beth Kanter, at a Pre-NTC get together we did at Techsoup last month; it’s going to be awesome.

As a local co-host of the 501 Tech Club and a member of this year’s planning committee, I consider myself one of your hosts and am happy to answer any questions I have about what there is to do in the Bay Area, where I’ve lived since 1986. The best way to reach me is always on Twitter – if you’re attending the conference, following me, and I don’t figure that out and follow you right back, then send me a quick tweet letting me know you’re at NTC and I will (although, disclaimer required, I will quickly block people who use Twitter as a means to market products to my org). If you haven’t already gotten this hint, Twitter is an awesome way to keep connected during an event like this.

NTENsity

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It’s T minus 67 days and counting to the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which has risen to THE social and professional peak event in any given year for me. The conference runs from Sunday, April 26th through Tuesday, the 28th this year, and it’s at the Hilton in downtown SF, quite convenient to Bay Area based Techcafeteria. Let me tell you how excited I am, then share a couple of recommendations on how you can have a great time and support the work that NTEN does.

This will be my fifth year attending, and, working my way up to the conference, I co-hosted a pre-conference event at Techsoup last week; I’m doing two NTEN Webinars on Personal and Server virtualiation next month; I’m celebrating the release of my first chapter in a book next month, when NTEN’s Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission comes out; and I’m hosting another pre-conference meetup the night before at a great brewpub in Berkeley. If you’re going, be prepared to meet a lot of really interesting people and to soak up a lot of challenging and helpful thinking about nonprofits and the web, all at one of the best-run tech conferences that you could hope to attend. If NTEN’s CEO and perennial party planner Holly Ross knows one thing (and she knows a lot of things, including how to play the trombone!), it’s how to plan a conference.

Those two things: First, if you’re going, do what you can to participate in the Day of Service. What’s that? I put together a slide show to tell you:

You can sign up and choose a Bay Area charity to advise or help out at NTEN’s site. This is what it’s all about – not just talking, sharing and socializing with peers, but practicing what we preach while we’re at it. I can’t recommend this enough.

Second, if you are or aren’t going, but you recognize, as I do, the value that the most web-savvy group of socially minded techies can bring to nonprofits who are struggling to keep up in this economy, support the NTEN Scholarship fund. Holly is going as far as one foolis–er, brave woman can to inspire us to help her raise $10,000 by the end of the month. Convio will match what we give and send 57 people who can’t otherwise afford it to the event. Give right here!

Let me know if you plan to attend, and/or you want to party with us beforehand. I hope to see you there!

Book Report

NTEN‘s first book is available for pre-order, and you can find me in it. “Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders” is a one of a kind book, designed to help the CEOs, COOs and EDs in our industry understand how technology supports their organizations. I wrote chapter 4, “How to Decide: IT Planning and Prioritizing”. You can also order it on Amazon; NTEN members can pick it up for $30 when they register for the annual conference. The book is due out in March.

Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission