Monday, April 23, 2007

Are bigger organizations better at technology??

OK, so I have said I was going to talk about "is bigger better because of economies of scale\recognition or is smaller better because it forces innovation\thriftiness?" Before I begin though, my blog describes this as random thoughts on Nonprofit technology, so sorry these posts dont blend together. But it is random, as described.

I have often heard the argument that bigger orgs have more money, so therefore are better at technology. In the most general statements, I would agree that the larger orgs have an advantage of having more access to funds, expertise and economies of scale, however...

Almost all of the bigger orgs that I have encountered, it seems that their larger size does typically mean a better basic infrastructure, but does not mean better technology. Many larger orgs start to get the attitude that they are so much better or different that they just "HAVE TO" invent or create everything themselves. While other big orgs dont have that issue, they either are too big to make quick decisions to seize opportunities or have such a large org chart that all the work gets done in department silos.

This concept of silos is a huge issue that I think many larger orgs will have to overcome quickly and technology will force the issue. Here is what I mean, the finance controls the budget, operations department defines the process that everyone uses, HR decides who gets hired, leadership influences the culture and IT provides the tools. So you end up with the wrong items funded, process that cant be supported by the tools, staff with the wrong skills and leadership that just doesnt understand what is wrong.

It seems that many of the larger orgs have also been around for quite some time and many keep the same leadership for long spans. The leadership and the culture of how they accept change seems to matter more to the success of technology, rather than just the size of the budget. At least in my anonymous, random opinion. If the leadership was open to change years ago and accepted and embraced technology by giving it the funding and staff it needed, that means much more than just their size. Then the leadership needed to continue to be open and allow technology to be a part of the strategic plans of the organization and have a direct tie to the mission.

Conversely looking at smaller orgs, many of these orgs are nimble and can seize opportunity quickly. They are able to turn the whole organization in a new direction quickly and adapt to change. I thought I once heard that starvation leads to great innovation. Meaning that as small orgs they are forced to be creative and frugal with the smaller resources they have. But one mistake is all it could take to send these orgs to closing. Plus with smaller budgets it is harder to have the basic funds available for a secure infrastructure, let alone the expertise to support and understand it.

Smaller orgs also face the challenge of being defined by their funders. The main funder says, well in order to get the money, you have to... And thus it is done, the nonprofit is now at the mercy of changing who they are to get the money. Also there doesnt seem to be enough funding for technology infrastructure, all of the money has to go to the mission or service delivery.

With all of that being said, I also think that the type of organization that you are has a bearing on your technology. If you are a human service org spending most of your time on people to people interaction, technology appears to be less important. If you are an environmentalist or activist org, you rely heavily on some technology to spread the word to a larger audience. Anyway dont want to go to far on that though, that could be a whole new post.

In conclusion, I think that that culture and leadership of an org determines the success of technology, more than the sheer size of the org. So it is up to the organization to decide if it wants to be successful with technology or not. Dont get me wrong, I think that many orgs are very successful even though they dont use technology well, but just imagine the possibilities if they did.

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