Some parts of doing IT strategic plans are easy. For example, about all you need in order to find out what’s wrong with the current system is to ask, listen and take notes. Much more difficult is finding out what applications users need that they don’t know they need.
The problems start with the fact that end users are not familiar with applications, and IT isn’t really familiar with what its users do. This is the IT innovation gap: How do you match needs with solutions? Even if a hard-working CIO puts in the time to learn the organization’s business, there’s this other issue: Which is the right app for the identified need?
These questions are so true that they have become trite, but calling them trite isn’t an answer. So imagine my joy when I found out about a new effort that actually takes a pretty good stab at them.
Monitor Institute and the Foundation Center released a report this month called, Harnessing Collaborative Technologies: Helping Funders Work Together Better. The report does two things very well. First, it defines the landscape of collaborative technologies that are appropriate for foundations. It did this by interviewing a lot of program-side types about what they do, as well as using need assessments in surveys. From this, they came up with a nice bunch of collaborative need categories: learn information, find partners, design strategy, build community and trust, transact work, assess progress and results, and, finally, influence others.
They then went out and looked for relevant applications, which they call tools, coming up with more than 150 of them. They sorted them into categories such as communications and meetings, conference management, content management, data analysis and visualization, fundraising and matching, and a whole lot more. Finally, they combined the the categories of collaborative need with the categories of tool, and voila, you have a nicely indexed approach to what applications address each need. They then provided the information about each app, in a nicely organized report.
But wait, there’s more! GrantCraft, an extremely cool website that provides information for funders, built an application that helps you do the matching and get the information. It’s available on a website, and it works well on mobile devices, too. So, for example, if you’re interested in an app to help you learn, you click on “learn,” and the app highlights the appropriate categories of apps, you pick one that sounds good, and it lists the apps. You click on an item in the list, and you get a summary of the app and a link to where you can get it.
Although the whole effort is built around collaboration, the collection of apps is applicable to more than that. For example, the data analysis and visualization section includes those great apps, Gapminder World, Philanthropy In/Sight and Tableau, among others. Other categories also feature apps that can help collaboration or can be used without collaborating at all.
BTW, while you’re checking out the collaborative app finder, take a look at the rest of the GrantCraft site. If you’re involved in any way with nonprofits or funding, you’re very likely to find more good stuff that will interest you.