Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Adding real value through ICT

A lot has been written in recent years regarding the importance of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) staff understanding the business in which they work and therefore being able to add real value to the business through their selection and application of technology. Organisations the world around have taken heed of this, particularly after noting the positive results generated for the trailblazers, and have worked to get their ICT staff aligned with the organisation instead of treating them as outsiders. Many specialist sectors tend to be a little behind in these trends, and it seems to me that this is the case in the charitable sector, at least in the UK (exceptions noted!).

So how can ICT staff in charities can add real value? It can take some time for the best of us to identify technologies that will help in a given sector, let alone an individual organisation, but with charities there is a neat starting point - almost all charities depend on specific aspects of culture: the willingness of people to give, to volunteer; to spend some of their own time doing things for the benefit of others. Regardless of what else a charity does, educate, feed, heal, house, clothe, etc., it is essential to their success that the general populace has the desire and interest in giving freely, whether of time, skills, cash or a mix of the three. Anything that promotes this behaviour in our culture encourages charity and therefore helps charities to thrive.

This is the same positive aspect of cultures and individuals that allows open source software to thrive; people give of their time, their skills and/or their cash for the benefit of the greater good. So there is one simple thing that ICT staff in charities can do to add real charitable value; switch their charities to using open source.

Switch the charity to open source not because a given technical solution available at that instant of assessment and acquisition is "the best". Nor because the use of open source allows you to ensure the chosen solution becomes the best (once in use and the success criteria far better understood). Nor because the same technical people interested in open source are more likely to be interested in working in the charitable sector even if that means lower pay. Not even for the other long term cost savings offered by open source. Think, for a moment, about the tendency of charities to be helping the under-privileged in the global society and how an open source solution, having no cost of purchase, is likely to permit adoption by those very same under-privileged people, and how the charity's use of it tends to help to improve the software for all other users; let that influence the decision.

But in the final analysis, switch to open source because it promotes a charitable outlook in the greater society. The ultimate way to add value to your charity through technology. Technically not necessarily simple, but philosophically so, and drawing on ancient philosophies at that. Cultivate the desire to give charity; giving begats giving; do unto others as you would be done by.

To promote your charity, act charitably in your choice of ICT.

(A version of this posting appeared on Oxford Archaeology's blog server in 2007)