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Assess Your Tech: Why Nonprofits Need Technology Assessments

By: Chris Peters

This article was adapted from TechSoup's MaintainIT Project, an effort funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to gather and distribute stories around maintaining and supporting public computers. Originally published September 22, 2009, this article was updated September 18, 2014 to remove old links and outdated sections. 

A more recent TechSoup Canada tech assessment article can be found here. 

A technology assessment provides you with a snapshot of the current computing environment in your nonprofit. It also gives you a high-level perspective on your staff skills, budget, vendor relationships, procedures and policies. A technology inventory, on the other hand, is a more specific, low-level description of what you own and where it’s located. Your inventory might include details about when and where the technology was purchased, who provides tech support, warranty information and the number of licenses you own. The assessment and the inventory are often done at the same time and often included in the same report.

Why Do a Technology Assessment and Technology Inventory?

  • An assessment lets you avoid duplicated effort. Perhaps someone in your IT department has been researching and testing donor management software.
  • An inventory prevents duplicate purchases. Did someone in another department already buy licenses for the latest version of Intuit QuickBooks? Did you buy it yourself and then forget? A thorough, up-to-date inventory helps prevent wasted time and wasted money.
  • A good assessment lets you know if any critical procedures or policies are missing. For instance, what steps will you take if you find out that one of your servers has been hacked? Do you have a regular backup routine in place? Do you have a disaster recovery plan?
  • A good assessment lets you know where to spend your technology training dollars. Are staff lacking in email skills? Word processing skills? Do they want to know more about Web 2.0 and cutting-edge technology? Also, what sorts of hard IT skills do you have on staff?

 Key Actions

  • Start with a technology inventory. You can inventory your IT infrastructure with a pen and some paper if it changes infrequently. In mid-sized and large organizations, specialized inventory software (known as asset management software) makes this task more scalable and easier to sustain. For a description of this type of software, read IT Asset Management. A free asset-management tools that work well for small and mid-sized organizations is Spiceworks
  • Answer some self-assessment questions.

What Questions Should You Ask During an Assessment?

A technology assessment will answer some or all of the following questions:

  • What technology skills does your staff possess? How much do they know about different hardware and software topics?
  • Do you have any written policies relating to the use of technology in your organization? Do you have any informal, unwritten policies that need to be documented?
  • What are your procedures and policies with regard to data backup, computer security, technology purchasing, change requests, tech support and so on?
  • What’s the current state of your website, your local network, your Internet connection and other key technologies? Are there any weaknesses or threats that need to be addressed?
  • Who do you turn to for advice about technology?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities in your organization that relate to technology? Are these documented?
  • Who are your technology vendors and sales representatives?
  • Who provides your Internet connection? How fast is that connection? What sorts of networking equipment (routers, switches, firewalls) do you have?
  • What are the major technology services you provide to your staff, volunteers, donors and other constituents?
  • Do you provide training opportunities for your staff, volunteers and others who use your technology resources?
  • Are you currently working on any new technology projects or services?
  • Do you have a current, up-to-date technology inventory? In other words, how many computers do you own? How many servers? Which software packages and operating systems have you installed? Do you have enough software licenses?

Conducting a thorough technology assessment on a regular basis will ensure that your organization is on top of your inventory, able to fill any gaps in infrastructure and policies, and is prepared for opportunities and sustainable growth.

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