Monday, August 22, 2011

Need More Tech Support at Your Nonprofit Org? Try Looking Within.

Flickr: Wheelforce

Understaffed? Overwhelmed? If your nonprofit's IT department can't keep up - and expansion is not an option - you may want to enlist the support of tech-savvy employees from other departments at your organization. By creating a team of technology liaisons, you can save money, cultivate internal talent, and extend your reach.

As the Director of Communications and Technology at QSAC, an agency that provides services to people with autism in New York, I understand the financial challenges of operating a nonprofit organization in today's economic climate. Budgetary restraints often require management to get creative.  Last year, I was faced with the daunting task of migrating QSAC's one thousand employees (at twenty work sites) from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps. At the time, our technology department consisted of myself and a part-time IT consultant. After a rocky initial phase, it was clear that we were not adequately staffed to accommodate the concerns of the employees throughout the transition. Frustrations mounted and I was desperate to find a solution.

I decided to seek out the most tech-savvy person in each department and form a team of technology liaisons. The plan was to focus my energy on training this core group of people who would then provide support to staff at their own work sites - and thankfully, it worked. The liaisons assisted throughout the Google Apps migration and helped to ensure a seamless transition. 

I now meet with our technology liaisons on a monthly basis to train them on any new tech being introduced at the agency before it is implemented. Afterwards, they return to their departments and disseminate the information. By providing a couple of hours of training per month, I am able to keep the entire agency up to speed.

In the end, everybody wins...

Benefits to IT Department:
  • Allies: Your technology department will have internal support the next time a new system is implemented
  • Competency: Your current employees know your organization better than any external firm or new hire
  • Less interruption: Rather than providing low level support, your IT department will be freed up to focus on leadership and strategy

Benefits to the Technology Liaisons:
  • Growth: Employees have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership qualities
  • First dibs:  Tech liaisons often get to play with new technologies before they are implemented

Benefits to Staff:
  • Comfort: When employees need support, familiar faces are often less intimidating than a helpdesk
  • Accessibility: On-site tech support is faster and more convenient than seeking remote help

Benefits to Organization:
  • Efficiency: Technology becomes further integrated into daily operations
  • Evolution: Consistent dialog with employees leads to collaboration
  • $$$: Money can be allocated to what really matters - carrying out the mission of the organization

While this post might be geared towards larger nonprofit organizations, the concept may also apply to corporations and smaller orgs. The idea is to look within, identify available resources, and see what's possible!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Phone Calls: The New 'Dropping in Unexpected'?

I know I'm probably going to get a lot of flak for this but here goes... 

Maybe I'm not rude for ignoring your impromptu phone call. Maybe you're rude for thinking I'm rude for not answering.

Let me explain.

I have a lot of friends, family members, and colleagues who get frustrated with me for not picking up the phone when it rings. But here's the thing - when you call unexpectedly, it's an interruption. Whether I'm working on a project or eating a meal, picking up the phone requires me to stop what I'm doing and make you the priority. Now, herein lies the problem. Without a heads up, I have no way of knowing how important your phone call is. Chances are, unless it's an emergency, it can wait. In fact, the vast majority of phone calls I've missed over the years have been far from urgent. It just so happens that the calls were on your terms; when it was convenient for you. Yet, I'm often considered the rude one.

This does not mean that I hate talking on the phone. I'd simply like some prep time. I want to make sure you have my full undivided attention when we engage in conversation. I'd rather not be in the middle of typing up a proposal or chewing a mouthful of food. If your call happens to be an emergency, there are plenty of other ways to let me know. The phone is not the be all end all. In fact, it's far less of an "in your face" method of communicating when compared to IMing, text messaging, or even emailing.

This also does not mean that I hate random phone calls. Sometimes they're nice and I really appreciate them. All I'm saying is - don't get mad at me if I don't pick up.

Years ago, there was no caller ID. People had no choice but to pick up every phone call because they had no idea who was on the other end. However, times have changed. We're now presented with information before we pick up the phone that helps inform our decision to answer. It's an adjustment we need to make.

Communication is ever-evolving. Think about it, before the phone, if you wanted to talk to someone, you'd go to his/her house and knock on the door. It was acceptable because there was really no other immediate way to get in touch. Nowadays? Not so much. Do you really want your mom to ring your doorbell in the middle of a steamy lovemaking session? Not so much. "MOM! Why didn't you call first?"

Well, now the same goes with the phone. Why didn't you text/IM/email first?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I'm Cutting the Cable Cord

Photo credit: sam_churchill
I'm getting rid of cable. 

I'm not doing it because of Google, or Boxee, or Roku, or Apple. I'm getting rid of cable because it sucks. I'm tired of spending $150/month for an entire cable package, HD box, and DVR when all I watch is a handful of shows. I'm tired of forking over money to Time Warner Cable, which, in my opinion, is one of the worst companies I've ever had to deal with. Above all else, I'm tired of being controlled. My dad, who watches more TV than anyone I know, has been increasingly spending more time sitting in a desk chair watching Hulu on his computer instead of sitting in his recliner watching shows on his big screen TV. That alone signifies that something needs to change.

When cutting the cable cord, you basically have two options (that is, if you intend to continue watching your favorite TV shows):

Option 1: You could buy an adapter/cable to connect your computer to your TV. This allows you to watch all of the free (read: ad-supported) TV content available on the web on your big screen. However, this option is a bit inconvenient, as it hogs the computer and requires connecting it to the Television with each use.

Option 2: You could buy an Internet-capable set top box (ie. RokuBoxee BoxApple TVGoogle TV) to stream the content to your Television. This option, though more expensive, is ideal as it requires one time set up and it frees up the computer for other use.

I recently decided to test the waters by purchasing a Logitech Revue Google TV box. I found that Apple TV and Roku, while inexpensive up front, would cost more in the longrun as both require pay-as-you-go rentals and subscription services (that is, unless you pirate content, which I don't). Boxee is great, but I just couldn't justify spending $200 on the Boxee Box when the software is available as a free PC/Mac/Linux download. Google TV seemed the most promising as it offers all of the subscription services (Netflix, Amazon Video On Demand, HuluPlus) and a web browser for accessing the vast amount of free content available on the web.

Sounds perfect, right? Wrong. 

All of the major networks, ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC have blocked Google TV from accessing their online content. Hulu has also blocked the box. They can give all the excuses they want, but the real reasoning behind it? Networks are afraid of mass exodus away from cable and onto the Internet. Why? Because cable sucks and people aren't stupid. We're tired of spending money on overpriced bundles when what we really want is a la carte content.  Finally, a company (in this case, Google) is stepping in and trying to relinquish control that the cable providers hold over consumers - and the networks don't like it.

I'm sorry, but the fact that the big four networks are able to block Google TV is criminal. In essence, the Logitech Revue Google TV box is a computer. It comes bundled with the same Chrome web browser that I use on my Macbook Pro. All of the free (again: ad-supported) content is still available to me if I access it with my laptop via 'Option 1' (see above) - so what makes the Logitech Revue any different? Nothing. Cable providers will soon learn that double standards do nothing more than annoy and frustrate consumers.

So am I going to wave my white flag, give in, and stick with Time Warner Cable? Hell no. I'm keeping my Google TV box to access YouTube, Vevo, The Onion, CNET, and all of the online content providers that "get it". When I want to watch some network TV, I'll hook up my laptop via 'Option 1' and run the free Boxee software.

If only ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, and even HBO and Showtime could see Google TV and similar services as an opportunity to expand their reach and discover new revenue streams. They have hardware and software companies willing to do the dirty work for them. All they need to do is be innovative for a change and think outside the box - no pun intended.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Use Gmail As Your Universal Social Networking Inbox

Labels only appear as
notifications are received.
To view your full list of labels,
click on the 'more' link.
The more social networking sites I join, the more notification messages I receive. It's an annoying fact of life. At one point I was so inundated that I actually unsubscribed myself from receiving email notifications from all of the services I use. It worked for a while but then I started to miss stuff. Messages would sit unread. Friends' birthdays would come and go. Opportunities would pass me by. Then I realized the power of Gmail. In just a few steps I was able to make a colorful, organized, functional social networking inbox by making use of Gmail's features.

Here's how you can do it...

Step 1: Create Labels
Gmail's label feature is a fun, colorful way to categorize your social networking accounts. My recommendation is to assign a color that closely matches the site's logo or color scheme. Create a label for each and every service you use. If you're concerned about overkill or clutter, don't worry. I'll explain later.

Step 2: Create Filters
In order to keep your inbox neat and clean, you'll want to have all of your social notifications bypass it and get filed away for later viewing. This is probably the most time-consuming step, but also the most rewarding.

Do this for every site you've joined:
  1. In Gmail, click on 'Create a Filter'.

  2. In the 'From:' field, enter the domain name of the social site for which you're creating the label (do NOT put 'www' at the beginning). In the following example, I use '':

  3. Select 'Skip the Inbox (Archive It)' so the notifications never get mixed in with your regular email.
  4. Click 'Apply the Label' and select the service from the drop-down menu. This will automatically categorize the notification as it is received.
  5. Check 'Also apply to __ conversations.'  This will assign the label to past notifications.
  6. Click 'Create Filter'.

Step 3: Activate Google Labs Feature 'Hide Read Labels'
This is what makes it all worth it. Remember when I suggested creating a label for each and every service you use? Well, this step will keep all of those labels hidden 

  1. In Gmail, click on the little green labs icon up top.

  2. Scroll down to 'Hide Read Labels'. Click 'Enable' and then 'Save Changes'.

    Once setup is complete, you have a fully functional, non-intrusive alert system - much like the way Google Buzz works. Your email remains untouched and your online social life is neatly tucked into the side bar.

    This is by far the most extensive, customizable approach to managing multiple social networking profiles that I have come across. If this setup process seems like too much of a hassle, definitely check out some of the popular lifestreaming applications like Seesmic, Hootsuite, and Tweetdeck. However, keep in mind that these applications only support a handful of social networking sites and functionality is very limited (particularly with larger services like Facebook and LinkedIn).

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Use Foursquare to Get Your Butt in Shape

    I recently got some friends to join me on Foursquare and I'm not gonna lie - things are getting pretty cut throat. If you're unfamiliar with Foursquare, it's basically a location-based social network in which users claim their turf by checking in at venues to earn badges and mayorships. It's a lot of fun, but I have an issue with getting my friends to join - no it has nothing to do with with privacy - it's that we tend to frequent the same spots, so I find myself defending my hard-earned mayorships (eight and counting). But then it dawned on me. I could actually use the competition to my advantage - at the gym.

    I'm going to be totally honest. I hate going to the gym. I'll look for any reason not to work out - but right now I'm the mayor of American Physique and I know my best friend is out to steal my title.  Just knowing she's there, checking in with that smug look on her face is enough to get me off my lazy butt and onto the elliptical. Call me a geek all you like. Spring is just around the corner. It's time to shed that winter weight and transform into a fit geek.

    So there you have it. Invite your gym buddies to join Foursquare and you've got a way to hold yourself accountable. 

    Has social media affected your fitness routine at all? Let's hear about it in the comments!