Tag Archives: data

Year-end Reflections

This post was originally published on the NTEN Blog on December 24th, 2015.

As years go, 2015 was a significant one in my career. The work of a CIO, or IT Director, or whatever title you give the person primarily responsible for IT strategy and implementation, is (ideally) two parts planning and one part doing. So in 2015—my third year at Legal Services Corporation—we did a couple of the big things that we’d been planning in 2013 and 2014.

First and foremost, we (and I do mean we—I play my part, but I get things done with an awesome staff and coworkers) rolled out the first iteration of our “Data Portal.” The vision for the Data Portal is that, as a funder that works primarily with 134 civil legal aid firms across the U.S. and territories, we should be able to access the relevant information about any grantee quickly and easily without worrying about whether we have the latest version of a document or report. To reach this vision, we implemented a custom, merged Salesforce/Box system. This entailed about a year of co-development with our partner, Exponent Partners, and a move from in-house servers to the Cloud. We’ll complete our Cloud “trifecta” in early 2016, when we go to Microsoft’s Office 365.

This was particularly exciting for me, because I have been envisioning and waiting for technology to reach a level of maturity and… collegiality that makes the vision of one place where documents and databases can co-exist a reality. Integration, and one-stop access to information, have always been the holy grails that I’ve sought for the companies that I’ve worked for; but the quests have been Monty Python-esque through the days when even Microsoft products weren’t compatible with each other, much less compatible with anything else. What we’ve rolled out is more of a stump than a tree; but in the next year we’ll grow a custom grants management system on top of that; and then we’ll incorporate everything pertinent to our grantees that currently hides in Access, Excel, and other places.

I’m working on a much more detailed case study of this project for NTEN to publish next year.

Secondly, we revamped our website, doing a massive upgrade from Drupal 7 to… Drupal 7! The website in place when I came to LSC was content-rich, navigation-challenged, and not too good at telling people what it is that we actually do.The four separate websites that made up our entire site weren’t even cross-searchable until we addressed that problem in early 2014. Internal terminology and acronyms existed on the front page and in the menus, making some things incomprehensible to the public, and others misleading. For example, we often refer to the law firms that we fund as “programs.” But, in the funding world, a “program” is a funding category, such as “arts” or “environment.” Using that terminology. along with too buried an explanation that what we actually do is allocate funding, not practice law ourselves, led many people to assume that we were the parent office of a nationwide legal aid firm, which we aren’t.

The new site, designed by some incredibly talented people at Beaconfire-RedEngine (with a particular call out to Eve Simon, who COMPLETELY got the aesthetic that we were going for and pretty much designed the site in about six hours), tells you up front who we are, what we do, and why civil legal aid is so important, in a country where the right to an attorney is only assured in criminal cases. While civil cases include home foreclosures, domestic violence, child custody, and all sorts of things that can devastate the lives of people who can’t afford an attorney to defend them. This new site looks just as good on a phone as on a computer, a requirement for the Twenty-Teens.

My happiness in life directly correlates to my ability to improve the effectiveness of the organizations that I work for, with meaningful missions like equal justice for all, defense against those who pollute the planet, and the opportunity to work, regardless of your situation in life. At my current job, we’re killing it.

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.

Architecting Healthy Data Management Systems

This article was originally published in the NTEN eBook “Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits” in January of 2014.

tape-403593_640Introduction

The reasons why we want to make data-driven decisions are clear.  The challenge, in our cash-strapped, resource-shy environments is to install, configure and manage the systems that will allow us to easily and efficiently analyze, report on and visualize the data.  This article will offer some insight into how that can be done, while being ever mindful that the money and time to invest is hard to come by.  But we’ll also point out where those investments can pay off in more ways than just the critical one: the ability to justify our mission-effectiveness.

Right off the bat, acknowledge that it might be a long-term project to get there.  But, acknowledge as well, that you are already collecting all sorts of data, and there is a lot more data available that can put your work in context.  The challenge is to implement new systems without wasting earlier investments, and to funnel data to a central repository for reporting, as opposed to re-entering it all into a redundant system.  Done correctly, this project should result in greater efficiency once it’s completed.

Consider these goals:

  • An integrated data management and reporting system that can easily output metrics in the formats that constituents and funders desire;
  • A streamlined process for managing data that increases the validity of the data entered while reducing the amount of data entry; and
  • A broader, shared understanding of the effectiveness of our strategic plans.

Here are the steps you can take to accomplish these goals.

Taking Inventory

The first step in building the system involves ferreting out all of the systems that you store data in today.  These will likely be applications, like case or client management systems, finance databases, human resources systems and constituent relationship management (CRM) systems.  It will also include Access databases, Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, email, and, of course, paper.  In most organizations (and this isn’t limited to nonprofits), data isn’t centrally managed.  It’s stored by application and/or department, and by individuals.

The challenge is to identify the data that you need to report on, wherever it might be hidden, and catalogue it. Write down what it is, where it is, what format it is in, and who maintains it.  Catalogue your information security: what content is subject to limited availability within the company (e.g., HR data and HIPAA-related information)? What can be seen organization-wide? What can be seen by the public?

Traditionally, companies have defaulted to securing data by department. While this offers a high-level of security, it can stifle collaboration and result in data sprawl, as copies of secured documents are printed and emailed to those who need to see the information, but don’t have access. Consider a data strategy that keeps most things public (within the organization), and only secures documents when there is clear reason to do so.

You’ll likely find a fair amount of redundant data.  This, in particular, should be catalogued.  For example, say that you work at a social services organization.  When a new client comes on, they’re entered into the case management system, the CRM, a learning management system, and a security system database, because you’ve given them some kind of access card. Key to our data management strategy is to identify redundant data entry and remove it.  We should be able to enter this client information once and have it automatically replicated in the other systems.

Systems Integration

Chances are, of course, that all of your data is not in one system, and the systems that you do have (finance, CRM, etc.) don’t easily integrate with each other.  The first question to ask is, how are we going to get all of our systems to share with each other? One approach, of course, is to replace all of your separate databases with one database.  Fortune 500 companies use products from Oracle and SAP to do this, systems that incorporate finance, HR, CRM and inventory management.  Chances are that these will not work at your nonprofit; the software is expensive and the developers that know how to customize it are, as well.  More affordable options exist from companies like MicroSoft, Salesforce, NetSuite and IBM, at special pricing for 501(c)(3)’s.

Data Platforms

A data platform is one of these systems that stores your data in a single database, but offers multiple ways of working with the data.  Accordingly, a NetSuite platform can handle your finance, HR, CRM/Donor Management and e-commerce without maintaining separate data stores, allowing you to report on combined metrics on things like fundraiser effectiveness (Donor Management and HR) and mail vs online donations (E-commerce and Donor Management).  Microsoft’s solution will incorporate separate products, such as Sharepoint, Dynamics CRM, and the Dynamics ERP applications (HR, Finance).  Solutions like Salesforce and NetSuite are cloud only, whereas Microsoft  and IBM can be installed locally or run from the cloud.

Getting from here to there

Of course, replacing all of your key systems overnight is neither a likely option nor an advisable one.  Change like this has to be implemented over a period of time, possibly spanning years (for larger organizations where the system changes will be costly and complex). As part of the earlier system evaluation, you’ll want to factor in the state of each system.  Are some approaching obsoletion?  Are some not meeting your needs? Prioritize based on the natural life of the existing systems and the particular business requirements. Replacing major data systems can be difficult and complex — the point isn’t to gloss over this.  You need to have a strong plan that factors in budget, resources, and change management.  Replacing too many systems too quickly can overwhelm both the staff implementing the change and the users of the systems being changed.  If you don’t have executive level IT Staff on board, working with consultants to accomplish this is highly recommended.

Business Process Mapping

BPM_Example

The success of the conversion is less dependent on the platform you choose than it is on the way you configure it.  Systems optimize and streamline data management; they don’t manage the data for you.  In order to insure that this investment is realized, a prerequisite investment is one in understanding how you currently work with data and optimizing those processes for the new platform.

To do this, take a look at the key reports and types of information in the list that you compiled and draw the process that produces each piece, whether it’s a report, a chart, a list of addresses or a board report.  Drawing processes, aka business process mapping, is best done with a flowcharting tool, such as Microsoft Visio.  A simple process map will look like this:

In particular, look at the processes that are being done on paper, in Word, or in Excel that would benefit from being in a database.  Aggregating information from individual documents is laborious; the goal is to store data in the data platform and make it available for combined reporting.  If today’s process involves cataloguing data in an word processing table or a spreadsheet, then you will want to identify a data platform table that will store that information in the future.

Design Considerations

Once you have catalogued your data stores and the processes in place to interact with the data, and you’ve identified the key relationships between sets of data and improved processes that reduce redundancy, improve data integrity and automate repetitive tasks, you can begin designing the data platform.  This is likely best done with consulting help from vendors who have both expertise in the platform and knowledge of your business objectives and practices.

As much as possible, try and use the built-in functionality of the platform, as opposed to custom programming.  A solid CRM like Salesforce or MS CRM will let you create custom objects that map to your data and then allow you to input, manage, and report on the data that is stored in them without resorting to actual programming in Java or .NET languages.  Once you start developing new interfaces and adding functionality that isn’t native to the platform, things become more difficult to support.  Custom training is required; developers have to be able to fully document what they’ve done, or swear that they’ll never quit, be laid off, or get hit by a bus. And you have to be sure that the data platform vendor won’t release updates that break the home-grown components.

Conclusion

The end game is to have one place where all staff working with your information can sign on and work with the data, without worrying about which version is current or where everything might have been stored.  Ideally, it will be a cloud platform that allows secure access from any internet-accessible location, with mobile apps as well as browser-based.  Further considerations might include restricted access for key constituents and integration with document management systems and business intelligence tools. But key to the effort is a systematic approach that includes a deep investment in taking stock of your needs and understanding what the system will do for you before the first keypress or mouse click occurs, and patience, so that you get it all and get it right.  It’s not an impossible dream.

 

The Future Of Technology

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_01…is the name of the track that I am co-facilitating at NTEN’s Leading Change Summit. I’m a late addition, there to support Tracy Kronzak and Tanya Tarr. Unlike the popular Nonprofit Technology Conference, LCS (not to be confused with LSC, as the company I work for is commonly called, or LSC, my wife’s initials) is a smaller, more focused affair with three tracks: Impact Leadership, Digital Strategy, and The Future of Technology. The expectation is that attendees will pick a track and stick with it.  Nine hours of interactive sessions on each topic will be followed by a day spent at the Idea Accelerator, a workshop designed to jump-start each attendee’s work in their areas. I’m flattered that they asked me to help out, and excited about what we can do to help resource and energize emerging nptech leaders at this event.

The future of technology is also something that I think about often (hey, I’m paid to!) Both in terms of what’s coming, and how we (LSC and the nonprofit sector) are going to adapt to it. Here are some of the ideas that I’m bringing to LCS this fall:

  • At a tactical level, no surprise, the future is in the cloud; it’s mobile; it’s software as a service and apps, not server rooms and applications.
  • The current gap between enterprise and personal software is going to go away, and “bring your own app” is going to be the computing norm.
  • Software evaluation will look more at interoperability, mobile, and user interface than advanced functionality.  In a world where staff are more independent in their software use, with less standardization, usability will trump sophistication.  We’ll expect less of our software, but we’ll expect to use it without any training.
  • We’ll expect the same access to information and ability to work with it from every location and every device. There will still be desktop computers, and they’ll have more sophisticated software, but there will be less people using them.
  • A big step will be coming within a year or two, when mobile manufacturers solve the input problem. Today, it’s difficult to do serious content creation on mobile devices, due primarily to the clumsiness of the keyboards and, also, the small screens. They will come up with something creative to address this.
  • IT staffing requirements will change.  And they’ll change dramatically.  But here’s what won’t happen: the percentage of technology labor won’t be reduced.  The type of work will change, and the distribution of tech responsibility will be spread out, but there will still be a high demand for technology expertise.
  • The lines between individual networks will fade. We’ll do business on shared platforms like Salesforce, Box, and {insert your favorite social media platform here}.  Sharing content with external partners and constituents will be far simpler. One network, pervasive computing, no more firewalls (well, not literally — security is still a huge thing that needs to be managed).

This all sounds good! Less IT controlling what you can and can’t do. Consumerization demystifying technology and making it more usable.  No more need to toss around acronyms like “VPN.”

Of course, long after this future arrives, many nonprofits will still be doing things the old-fashioned ways.  Adapting to and adopting these new technologies will require some changes in our organizational cultures.  If technology is going to become less of a specialty and more of a commodity, then technical competency and comfort using new tools need to be common attributes of every employee. Here are the stereotypes that must go away today:

  1. The technophobic executive. It is no longer allowable to say you are qualified to lead an organization or a department if you aren’t comfortable thinking about how technology supports your work.  It disqualifies you.
  2. The control freak techie.  They will fight the adoption of consumer technology with tooth and claw, and use the potential security risks to justify their approach. Well, yes, security is a real concern.  But the risk of data breaches has to be balanced against the lost business opportunities we face when we restrict all technology innovation. I blogged about that here.
  3. The paper-pushing staffer. All staff should have basic data management skills; enough to use a spreadsheet to analyze information and understand when the spreadsheet won’t work as well as a database would.
  4. Silos, big and small. The key benefit of our tech future is the ability to collaborate, both inside our company walls and out. So data needs to be public by default; secured only when necessary.  Policy and planning has to cross department lines.
  5. The “technology as savior” trope. Technology can’t solve your problems.  You can solve your problems, and technology can facilitate your solution. It needs to be understood that big technology implementations have to be preceded by business process analysis.  Otherwise, you’re simply automating bad or outdated processes.

I’m looking forward to the future, and I can’t wait to dive into these ideas and more about how we use tech to enhance our operations, collaborate with our community and constituents, and change the world for the better.   Does this all sound right to you? What have I got wrong, and what have I missed?

Career Reflections: My Biggest Data Fail

This article was published on the NTEN Blog in February of 2014.  It originally appeared in the eBook “Collected Voices: Data-informed Nonprofits“.

Peter Campbell of Legal Services Corporation shares his biggest data fail, and what he’d do differently now.

This case study was originally published along with a dozen others in our free e-book, Collected Voices: Data-Informed Nonprofits. You can download the e-book here.

Note: names and dates have been omitted to protect the innocent. 

Years ago, I was hired at an organization that had a major database that everyone hated. My research revealed a case study in itself: how not to roll out a data management system. Long story short, they had bought a system designed to support a different business model, and then paid integrators to customize it beyond recognition. The lofty goal was to have a system that would replace people talking to each other. And the project was championed by a department that would not have to do the data entry; the department identified to do all of the work clearly didn’t desire the system.

The system suffered from a number of problems. It was designed to be the kitchen sink, with case info, board updates, contact management, calendaring, web content management, and other functions. The backend was terrible: a SQL database with tables named after the tabs in the user interface. The application itself had miserable search functionality, no dupe checking, and little in the way of data quality control. Finally, there were no organizational standards for data entry. Some people regularly updated information; others only went near it when nagged before reporting deadlines. One person’s idea of an update was three to five paragraphs; another’s two words.

I set out to replace it with something better. I believed (and will always believe) that we needed to build a custom application, not buy a commercial one and tweak it. What we did was not the same thing that the commercial systems were designed to track. But I did think we’d do better building it with consultants on a high-level platform than doing it by ourselves from scratch, so I proposed that we build a solution on Salesforce. The system had over 150 users, so this would be relatively expensive.

Timing is everything: I made my pitch the same week that financial news indicated that we were diving into a recession. Budgets were cut. Spending was frozen.  And I was asked if I could build the system in Access, instead?  And this is when I…

…explained to my boss that we should table the project until we had the budget to support it.

Or so I wish. Instead, I dusted off my amateur programming skills and set out to build the system from scratch. I worked with a committee of people who knew the business needs, and I developed about 90% of a system that wasn’t attractive, but did what needed to be done reasonably well. The goals for the system were dramatically scaled back to simply what was required.

Then I requested time with the department managers to discuss data stewardship. I explained to the critical VP that my system, like the last one, would only be as good as the data put into it, so we needed to agree on the requirements for an update and the timeliness of the data entry. We needed buy-in that the system was needed, and that it would be properly maintained. Sadly, the VP didn’t believe that this was necessary, and refused to set aside time in any meeting to address it. Their take was that the new system would be better than the old one, so we should just start using it.

This was where I had failed. My next decision was probably a good one: I abandoned the project. While my system would have been easier to manage (due to the scaled back functionality, a simple, logical database structure and a UI that included auto-complete and dupe-checking), it was going to fail, too, because, as every techie knows, garbage in equals garbage out. I wanted my system to be a success.  We went on with the flawed original system, and eventually started talking about a new replacement project, and that might have happened, but I left the company.

Lessons learned:

  1. If I’m the IT Director, I can’t be the developer. There was a lot of fallout from my neglected duties.
  2. Get the organizational commitment to the project and data quality standards confirmed before you start development.
  3. Don’t compromise on a vision for expediency’s sake.  There are plenty of times when it’s okay to put in a quick fix for a problem, but major system development should be done right.  Timing is everything, and it wasn’t time to put in a data management system at this company.

Google Made Me Cry

Well, not real tears. But the announcement that Google Reader will no longer be available as of July 1st was personally updating news.  Like many people,  over the last eight years, this application has become as central a part of my online life as email. It is easily the web site that I spend the most time on, likely more than all of the other sites I frequent combined, including Facebook.

What do I do there? Learn. Laugh. Research. Spy. Reminisce. Observe. Ogle. Be outraged. Get motivated. Get inspired. Pinpoint trends. Predict the future.

With a diverse feed of nptech blogs,  traditional news,  entertainment, tech, LinkedIn updates, comic strips and anything else that I could figure out how to subscribe to,  this is the center of my information flow. I read the Washington Post every day,  but I skim the articles because they’re often old news. I don’t have a TV (well, I do have Amazon Prime and Hulu).

And I share the really good stuff.  You might say, “what’s the big deal? You can get news from Twitter and Facebook”  or “There are other feed readers.”

The big deal is that the other feed readers fall in three categories:

  1. Too smart: Fever
  2. Too pretty: Feedly, Pulse
  3. Too beta: Newsblur, TheOldReader
“Smart” readers hide posts that aren’t popular, assuming that I want to know what everyone likes, instead of research topics or discover information on my own. There’s a great value to knowing what others are reading; I use Twitter and Facebook to both share what I find and read what my friends and nptech peers recommend.  I use my feed reader to discover things.
Pretty readers present feed items in a glossy magazine format that’s hard to navigate through quickly and hell on my data plan.
The beta readers are the ones that look pretty good to me, until I have to wait 45 seconds for a small feed to refresh or note that their mobile client is the desktop website, not even an HTML5 variant.

What made Google Reader the reader for most of us was the sheer utility.  My 143 feeds generate about 1000 posts a day.  On breaks or commutes, I scan through them, starring anything that looks interesting as I go.  When I get home from work, and again in the morning, I go through the starred items, finding the gems.

Key functionality for me is the mobile support. Just like the web site, the Google Reader Android app wins no beauty contests, but it’s fast and simple and supports my workflow.

At this point, I’m putting my hopes on Feedly, listed above as a “too pretty” candidate.  It does have a list view that works more like reader does.  The mobile client has a list view that is still too graphical, but I’m optimistic that they’ll offer a fix for that before July.  Currently, they are a front-end to Google’s servers, which means that there is no need to export/import your feeds to join, and your actions stay synced with Google Reader (Feedly’s Saved Items are Google’s Starred, wherever you mark them).  Sometime before July, Feedly plans to move to their own back-end and the change should be seamless.

July is three months away. I’m keeping my eyes open.  Assuming that anyone who’s read this far is wrestling with the same challenge, please share your thoughts and solutions in the comments.

 

 

Best Of 2012: Nonprofit Technology Grows Up

This article was first published on the NTEN Blog in December of 2012.

I think that the best thing that happened in 2012 was that some of the 2010-2011 “bleeding edge” conceptual technologies stood up and proved they weren’t fads.

When NTEN asked me to write a “best tech of 2012” post, I struggled a bit. I could tell you about the great new iPads and Nexus tablets; the rise of the really big phones; the ascendency of Salesforce; and the boundary-breaking, non-gaming uses of MicroSoft’s Kinect. These are all significant product developments, but I think that the David Pogues and Walter Mossberg’s out there will have them covered.

I think that the best thing that happened in 2012 was that some of the 2010-2011 “bleeding edge” conceptual technologies stood up and proved they weren’t fads. These aren’t new topics for NTEN readers, but they’re significant.

Cloud computing is no longer as nebulous a thing as, say, an actual cloud. The question has moved somewhat soundly from “Should I move to the cloud?” to “Which cloud should I move to and when?” Between Microsoft’s Cloud ServicesGoogle Apps, and a host of additional online suites, there’s a lot to choose from.

Similarly, virtualization is now the norm for server rooms, and the new frontier for desktops. The ultimate merger of business and cloud computing will be having your desktop in the cloud, loadable on your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, from anywhere that you have an internet connection. Key improvements in Microsoft’s latest server platforms support these technologies, and Citrix and VMWare ars still growing and innovating, as Amazon, Google, Rackspace and others improve the net storage systems where our desktops can be housed.

Social networks aren’t the primary fodder for late night comedians anymore. Maybe there are still people ridiculing Twitter, but they aren’t funny, particularly when every product and place on earth now has it’s own Facebook page and hashtag. I mean, hashtags were created by geeks like us and now you see one superimposed on every TV show! I remember joining Facebook in 2007 and calling it “The Great Trivializer”, because the bulk of what I saw was my smart, committed NPTech friends asking me which five albums I would bring with me to a deserted island. Today, Facebook is a place where we communicate and plan. Its’s grown in ways that make it a far more serious and useful tool. Mind you, some of that growth was spurred by adding Google+ features, which are more geared toward real conversation.

But the big winner in 2012 was data. It was the year of Nate Silver and the Infographic. Nate (as countless post-election pundits have pointed out), via his fivethirtyeight blog at the New York Times, proved that data can be analyzed properly and predict the future. This is the power of aggregation: his perfect electoral college score was built on an aggregated analysis of multiple individual polls. I think this presents a clear challenge to nonprofits: You should keep doing your surveying, but for useful data on the demographics that fuel your mission, you need to partner with similar orgs and aggregate those results for more accurate analysis.

Infographics make data poignant and digestible. They tell the stories behind the data in picture book format. Innovative storytellers have used videos, cartoons and comic books to make their points, but nothing is as succinct at telling a data-based story as an infographic. There should be one or more in your next annual report.

Peter starts as Chief Information Officer at Legal Services Corporation in January.

(Great) Mission Accomplished

Great News! I’ll be joining Legal Services Corporation as their Chief Information Officer in January. Those of you who read my Looking For A New Job post in August know that I had some pretty strict requirements for the next gig, and this one meets and/or exceeds them.

LSC is the nonprofit that allocates federal funding to legal aid programs across the country.  From their web site:

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation. Established in 1974, LSC operates as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that promotes equal access to justice and provides grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. LSC distributes more than 90 percent of its total funding to 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices.

Great Mission: Long time friends know how motivated I was by Goodwill’s mission of helping people out of poverty, and as important as the environmental work that I’ve been supporting for five years is, there was a part of me that missed the component of direct assistance to people in need.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to support Earthjustice’s work.  I am an environmentalist, and I will continue to put money and resources toward supporting that cause.  But causes are both emotional and intellectual things, and social justice/helping people in need strikes a more resonant chord in me than the environmental work did.  I think it ties to the type of ethic that brought my mother to her work running a clinic for pregnant teenagers in downtown Boston.

Great Challenges:  Three things thrilled me as I interviewed for LSC.  First, data management is a critical work process.  Not only are grants based on data that communicates about the performance of the grantees’, but the organization is, in turn, measured by the effectiveness of the grantees.  There are compliance and communication challenges that will require some creativity to address. Data strategy is what I do best, and I can’t wait to get started on the work at LSC.

Second, the first thing we discussed in the first interview was the priority to move to the cloud.  As with any large org, that’s not a slam dunk, but as I believe that the cloud is where we’re all headed, eventually, it’s great to be working for and with people who get that as well.  It was a hard sell at my last job.

Finally, LSC does more than just grant funds to legal aid NPOs, they also support the strategic use of technology at those organizations. When I left a job in the early 90’s as a Mailroom Manager/Network Administrator, I did so because technology was my hobby, so I wanted to do it full time.  For the last six or seven years, my “hobby” has been supporting small and mid-sized NPO’s in their use of technology, through this blog, Idealware, NTEN, Techsoup and a number of other orgs that have provided me with the opportunities.  Once again, I can fold my hobby into my day job, which has to be as close to the American dream as it gets, right?

Great Additional Challenge: Getting there. As my new job is 3000 miles form my current home address, I’m going to be relocating, in stages.  I start in January; my family will follow me out when the school year is up this coming summer. If any of my DC friends know of a good six or seven month sublet or roommate opportunity within commuting distance of Georgetown, I’d love to hear about it.

Longer term, we’ll be looking to find a place in northern Virginia that, like our lovely home here in CA, has ample space for an active family of three and enough trees and nature surrounding it to qualify as a Natural Wildlife Federation backyard wildlife habitat.  Oh, and isn’t too grievous a commute to DC…

This isn’t a small step for me and my family, but it’s absolutely in the right direction.

Looking For A New Job

Today is my last day at Earthjustice, coinciding almost exactly with my first day at the job five years ago. Some of you might ask why I would leave one of the best orgs on earth, and I’ll discuss that below.  But, right up front, I want to tell you about the two things I’m looking for and ask you to be on the lookout for me. Here’s my resume.

First, A CIO/VP/Director Technology position that meets the following criteria:

  • Serves a mission that improves lives.  I’m not terribly picky about which mission — social/economic justice, environmental, educational, etc. Nor does it have to be a nonprofit, if the for-profit has a social good component factoring in it’s bottom line. I’m a big believer in social enterprise models, and my combined business/NPO background is well-suited for that environment.
  • Presents a good challenge.  A decent sized company, somewhere between 200 and 2000 employees, with multiple locations.  I have a strong background putting in the standard data and communications systems, but I think my best talent, as demonstrated by my work at Lillick & Charles and Goodwill, is in data strategy and integration. So my dream job includes, but is more than just managing the staff and systems.  I want to take an organization closer to their mission via their technology.
  • Pays enough for me to be the sole provider for my family.  Not looking to be wealthy, but my partner has the harder job doing the homeschooling, so we need to get by on one income.
  • A direct report to the CEO.  This is my new requirement; I used to think that it was acceptable to report to the COO, but my recent experiences have proven that organizations that don’t consider technology an important enough topic to sit on the executive team don’t get technology. You can install servers from middle management, but you can’t sufficiently prepare for and oversee the organizational change required for putting in strategic systems like CRMs and information management tools. I’m not power-hungry, and I have no care to dictate strategy. But deploying technology requires collaboration and cooperation across departments, so I need a position that puts me on the team that sets organizational priorities and direction.
  • Any geographic location. Most of these jobs are on the east coast, and we have lots of family there, so, while we love the SF Bay, we’re willing to relocate.

Finding this job won’t be a slam dunk, so I’m also looking for temporary gigs to keep my family afloat while I look for this position.  I’m best suited for Acting CIO/Project Management work or IT management consulting. But I’m open for all sorts of things, and, as an IT Generalist with plenty of hands on installation and development experience mixed in with the management skills, there are a lot of things that I can do.

So why did I leave the best org on earth? It’s not because I don’t deeply respect the work being done at Earthjustice, and I’ll miss the people, particularly my staff. In some ways, it’s because I was spoiled by other jobs.

In the 90’s, I architected a data strategy for a commercial law firm that, by 2000, had all data systems integrated for single data entry, with other systems being automatically updated, and most applications, including the Intranet, hooked into Outlook — document management, CRM, voicemail, etc.  It thrilled the efficiency geek in me to have a clean, managed data platform and an easy to use portal, a bit ahead of the rest of the corporate world.
At Goodwill, I built an intranet platform that eventually included a sophisticated retail management and reporting system that served Goodwill’s thrift needs far more directly than any commercial product.  I started the e-commerce business, which is now the most profitable store there, yielding the highest-paying jobs for their clients.
In both cases, my technology planning, strategy and creativity came into play, and the results were measurable.  I realized soon after I landed at Earthjustice that what was wanted from IT was something less challenging.  Earthjustice is an organization that does amazing legal and advocacy work protecting the environment, and the people who work there are brilliant.  But, so far, they haven’t been focused on using technology to manage or analyze the case work. Accordingly, I got to do some great work there, including greening the server room and rolling out VOIP and video.  But the work wasn’t as transformative, or as demanding of my talents, as work I’ve done elsewhere. It was all about the infrastructure and not so much about information.
It was a great comfort knowing that, at the end of the day, even if they weren’t using technology the way that I thought they should, they were still an amazingly effective organization doing some of the most important work of our time.  That tempered my frustration, and carried me through five years.  I think they will reach a point where they see more value in data and document management systems — presumably, my successor there will get to take on those projects. I’ve brought the technology to a stable point and built a good team to manage and support it, so this is a good time for me to move on.
If you’ve read this far, then you are likely a member of my extended nptech network and a friend. I’m not going to get the type of job described above by submitting cold resumes: I’m asking you to alert me to opportunities and, if possible, refer me in to the ones that fit. I’m counting on your help.
And if you’re an IT Director looking for a great job with an amazing org, you should check this opportunity out.

Talking Databases For A Change

NTEN‘s new issue of Change is out and I got a chance to sound off to Idealware‘s Chris Bernard about the dream of “one database to rule them all” — doing all of your organization’s Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) in a single system. My interview is on page 22, but the whole issue is a dream for NPO’s struggling with wrangling information.

Suggestion: use a big monitor to view this. Change is a great magazine, but the Bluetoad viewer is somewhat tough to use on small screens.

NTEN Change, Issue 4