Sunday, January 6, 2008

Big Fish

At first glance, the story of Jonah reads like a dream engagement for an IT professional (if you leave out that unpleasant part about the big fish). Basically, the story goes something like this:

1. Jonah tells the city of Nineveh, “Repent – or be destroyed!”
2. Nineveh repents.
3. Absolutely nothing happens.

For the typical technology vendor, the Jonah story sounds just about perfect: tell the client what to do, the client does it, and then nothing happens. Disaster avoided, 99.999% uptime, everyone happy. But if that’s the sum total of the relationship, it could explain why so many nonprofits report dissatisfaction with their IT support (and IT in general): all this money is spent, but nothing ever happens. Who would be satisfied with that?

Jocelyn and I had a conference call with a potential client last week – an organization that is considered a “thought leader” in nonprofit management. It was pretty clear from the start of the conversation that their current IT support is a “Jonah-style” relationship, at best. However, I don’t think this is the vendor’s fault: the organization has placed planning responsibility in the hands of a junior staffer with great technical skill but no budget or authority to make change happen, and that junior staffer doesn’t have a concrete set of measurable goals to evaluate any proposals. So the organization is unhappy and dissatisfied; the current vendor’s proposed ‘solutions’ are all about its business goals, not the client’s; and my guess is some other IT vendor will be called in soon to try to turn pillars of salt back into people.

Too often, technology is viewed like an expensive foreign car – great fun when it works, but you never know when it will leave you stranded; and those people who keep it running speak a foreign language – can you really trust them? I think technology should be more like a Chevy dealership: when you walk in and ask for a Malibu, they don’t roll out the pickups and Corvettes. They give you what you ask for.

What you ask for. That’s the difference from the old “Jonah” model of technology, but it requires the customer to act first. If you can’t tell your IT vendor what your goals are, how can they help you achieve them? It’s time for you to rewrite the Jonah story:

1. Share your goals and vision with your technology vendor
2. Your vendor can recommend solutions aligned with those goals and vision
3. Something wonderful will happen.

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