SSC Toolbox Social Source Commons Blog

Nonprofit Tech, Tools and Social Media

A program of Aspiration 
Aspiration 

Data: Your Most Important Tech Assetkrourk912som7xic5hjs0ye5k3xysnh2Data: Your Most Important Tech Asset

(English → Deutsch) View original
Translators:

As much as we love tools here at SSC, we find that many nonprofits focus too much on them when thinking about their technology strategy and infrastructure. While tools are an important and necessary piece, it’s important that an organization focus on the more crucial piece of the technological equation: the data. When thinking about organizational technology infrastructure, data, or “the stuff” that an organization puts into tools to make them relevant, should be the focal point. 90dxz4fdmtjnbzrucwpawu5yxt8ov10uWhere does it live? How does it interact with other tools? How can you use it? Let’s talk a bit about why it’s more important than tools.pfb7a3f64upkjfll366p7ubm2y0ojoly

Data are Your Organization’s Lifeblood0a1si9asffv55wfb16crklmnwjhv93rz

When someone says “data”, many people think of technical stuff like code, 1s and 0s, mathematical formulas and things that happen behind the scenes. Well I’m here to say Pish Posh. PISH. POSH.lappwjxa4vjwg9snm6m0a9kyb61ptg95

Data, my friends, are the contents of the work that you do at your organization. Everything from the web pages that you create to the contacts you make at networking events to the conversations you have with your boss through email. If you dig deep enough, many of these things are, yes, code-y and technical at a deeper level, but as an organization you can think of these data as the information that informs, defines and fuels your work.haz0hfeuhubllajhwu8pw3hqzl4e1149

Containers

Data are the raw materials that tools (e.g. CRM, web site CMSes, Facebook, email clients) use to be effective. Think of your email client (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.) without your emails or contacts. Pretty useless, eh? Or think of your web site without the page text, pictures and customizations you’ve made. It would just be an empty skeleton of a web site, right?bm838mrysgi6qrd7udesaeuacpmma1cc

Data are the real organizational assets.zncj5vu4uno8l6bcmjjkk69wl6ltgb86

Your organization’s data are what makes it do what it does. Tools act as containers that hold that data. The containers can change but the data are what stays the same. As a result, we advocate for organizations to take a data-centric approach to their organizational technology rather than a tool-centric approach.tgs8rd2k6m0c7m216q37i0sosgacvffe

WordpressSalesforce


Have a Data-Centric Technology Policy NOT Tool-Centriczf2ul3ecdztcezb2splvfxt95raxjk29

Remember that tools change, break and developers stop working on them all of the time, whereas the data that your organization uses will continue to exist and grow. By prioritizing your data rather than tools, you’ll be focusing on the stuff that really matters rather than the container (tool) it’s currently sitting in.vyz410nhdzm8mz62635rjlvqq5hj920u

Many organization have budget line items for tools but few if any have budget line items for the amount of time, energy and money that goes into data creation and maintenance. Unfortunately, “data” can be an abstract and vague concept especially for budgets. vwhohpwcqrb0hz3lror3bfl7xkpdwe0iBut however vague it is, because it is the real asset, “nonprofits should center their technology strategy and resource allocation around the creation and curation of data, instead of fixating on the cost of applications and processors that edit and store that data.”5ard6vcmvlsgf8ihz428512fjwtv2d1y

Think about Data When Choosing a New Toolg5zyw2pp5pgijptpfm7azsegdzrjsspz

Ideally, all of this talk and stress about the importance of data is happening when you begin a relationship with a new tool (rather than figuring out what the situation is for an existing tool in your infrastructure). When looking at new tools to take on some type of function at your organization, here are a few things to consider as you prepare to send your data off into the big scary world:prcld4hxj2m3hjpkcubw66nwk6n7ablp

  • Plan for the day when you need to switch tools or the tool you’re using breaksfdopb59nxfrped2f8lehtkwuqc0truxx

    Can you get your data out (in other words, what are the “export” options)? How? What if Facebook accidentally deletes your page? What if your email blasting program breaks? Are you able to prepare for those eventualities by making a data backup?y5fov8taqmwy14yvasmrcb92hkgl3r3r

    What about if a tool choice you made turns out to be bad? How do you move your data from one tool to another?miuc0li4op0k8rubmpmc99vvxs539b2l

    Migration

     t81mnn3bctgxtrht9xtoicl9n2h2jv53c47ygnsu2k655lp7jg8gf55tmyi9rugu

  • Make sure the backup of essential data is a well-defined process0zm4mih61nsrval5edq1d394lo8syfyo

    If you are able to get your data out of the tool, do you know what you need to do to use it again in another tool? Is it using a universal filetype like .CSV or something that wouldn’t be intelligible even if you are able to get it out?6971sx7l6vz0ebfd264au7u2psy8c8t8

  • Know the security and privacy implications for your data, your org AND more importantly your constituentsjgqcs8mi8mmxx3brrni7x9dmnzlnpx1z

    What does the tool’s Terms of Service say about its use of your data? Are the data secure, private, encryptable? Who else is allowed to look at your data? In what legal jurisdiction are your data being stored? As a nonprofit with constituents, you have an obligation to keep their data safe and secure.fnrmb1jxbw9cxv65h3en0bxpl68k3498

  • Find out ownership terms for you datali7ayfqraieg61kmv1xryskj3xhmbqsm

    Are your data really yours? What do the Terms of Service say about ownership?dhcm52kbyi0ez5gnj786bfhzc5zgwho0

Open Source Tools are a Data-Centric Org’s Best Friend9odf6vh81snchxcj9o4mehijaumeaoe9

Choosing tools that are good to you and your data can be tricky. You have to do your due diligence in making sure the container (the tool) for your data is going to treat it all right and let you have all the access you need. While you need to evaluate what your different tools are doing with your data no matter what, Open Source tools generally put you on much, MUCH more steady of a foundation.symxrzjdbha4m68ztvcwfrv9ikl53l2m

  • Open means transparent
    keqrymdehze1xamhh15bswt69t3zpcx0
    OpenSource The nature of open source technology is that anyone can see how it works.g4skgxstkrjzy20dpi2rdgur70qxlkos

    This means that every aspect of an open source tool is out in the open for the entire world to see.hw011jcgug6q2sdb979iv87yfpo6eybl

    No backdoors installed for the government to snoop and no software developers coding secret pieces to gather data on your use.sc5er660iys6exsuxwlh9emx6h71i8q0

  • Not tied to one personfp3jwjvuh2wallobabl26c98opx2pa8v

    Because anyone can dig around in an open source tool and learn how it works, there are many open source tools with very large communities of developers and users who are super familiar with it and can help you out. This, in contrast to a custom-built tool that may do exactly what you want but if the relationship with the developer goes sour, you’re trapped with its functionality, price hikes for services and schedule because no one else knows the tool but the person who made it.1qqhatiuoi2jxh14wteuxjq2lviet57k

  • No profit motiveomonf66o5lonnmxlq8wfdycv22pfz77e

    When you buy a proprietary tool like Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office, those companies are making money. They’re in the business of selling software. Money is their bottom line and motivation. With open source tools, on the other hand, because anyone can see how the tools work, most of the developers aren’t are out to make money, they’re more about supporting users with functions that they need to get real work done.ktpyfz3l8dtk5eszg7suyjwxi9vvdxgn

All of these factors (and many others) lend more transparency how tools are manipulating your data and give you more freedom in terms of how you can get it out. We strongly recommend whenever possible, especially as a nonprofit to choose open source tools.se1kd0vt48h5kqnuvfvflwmvox7hufsd

How Can Our Organization Get On Top of Our Data Management?yaz8iw26ltlrsxkbqve11va76oy12jbr

Ok, so now we’re all freaked out about tools throwing our data around.eqxzbd2z3cro0ce3z4vgcuxdas7k86ec

What do we do about it?2lv5z89t2ywsq0akdkw2ss2pajgmyrfq

  • Put together a “data inventory”fseyzjo85p17ra6yl1ahvdl9883jty6z

    Open a spreadsheet and start listing all of the places that your organization has data. Think of communications tools, project management tools, online real estate, white boards, photo albums… Have the spreadsheet account for the following:bhg9hvl58h65a21vbhoxyf5u6f9hpoer

    • Where are all the places your organization has data living?tro82gnai6tewsxsuowoz6h1em670k1k
    • What data are stored there?z54e7tu4hsfi4ztap5eaxnnvwvfrq5kg
    • Who has access?501ku61yxv2mb5p82kewulr6u34ae7ja
    • Is it backed up?31vl44ipbtnwq7ms2h1o5xz9evyyfoc9
    • How is it backed up?w00fcru8ytsu2c0brnv403x8nmgajxq6
    • How often is it backed up?
       t81mnn3bctgxtrht9xtoicl9n2h2jv53c47ygnsu2k655lp7jg8gf55tmyi9rugu
  • Back up your data!
     t81mnn3bctgxtrht9xtoicl9n2h2jv53c47ygnsu2k655lp7jg8gf55tmyi9rugu
  • Make sure that with each new tool adoption, you have a sense of how to get your data out of the toolguqvkjinbv65fiomv9zxkvytb9ajy5m4

Need a template? Here is deeper look into Creating an Online Accounts Inventory.es64viiyaeuknf0wn0ycdulhxdjj4ap8

Data Trumps Tools Every Timemwi9b2s679052ser28kx18vym2x74b3h

In a nutshell, try to prioritize data as the true technology assets at your organization. That way you’ll be able to manage tool shakeups, breakages and switches that are inevitable while protecting the real information that your organization needs to keep saving the world.diud9l1d2m5qzl8lggn06llva7ra2bw5

How do you prioritize data at your organization?vslvc6micssilbm1inua7ufkifpjvq2h

 t81mnn3bctgxtrht9xtoicl9n2h2jv53c47ygnsu2k655lp7jg8gf55tmyi9rugu

(original) View Deutsch translation

As much as we love tools here at SSC, we find that many nonprofits focus too much on them when thinking about their technology strategy and infrastructure. While tools are an important and necessary piece, it’s important that an organization focus on the more crucial piece of the technological equation: the data. When thinking about organizational technology infrastructure, data, or “the stuff” that an organization puts into tools to make them relevant, should be the focal point. Where does it live? How does it interact with other tools? How can you use it? Let’s talk a bit about why it’s more important than tools.

Data are Your Organization’s Lifeblood

When someone says “data”, many people think of technical stuff like code, 1s and 0s, mathematical formulas and things that happen behind the scenes. Well I’m here to say Pish Posh. PISH. POSH.

Data, my friends, are the contents of the work that you do at your organization. Everything from the web pages that you create to the contacts you make at networking events to the conversations you have with your boss through email. If you dig deep enough, many of these things are, yes, code-y and technical at a deeper level, but as an organization you can think of these data as the information that informs, defines and fuels your work.

Containers

Data are the raw materials that tools (e.g. CRM, web site CMSes, Facebook, email clients) use to be effective. Think of your email client (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.) without your emails or contacts. Pretty useless, eh? Or think of your web site without the page text, pictures and customizations you’ve made. It would just be an empty skeleton of a web site, right?

Data are the real organizational assets.

Your organization’s data are what makes it do what it does. Tools act as containers that hold that data. The containers can change but the data are what stays the same. As a result, we advocate for organizations to take a data-centric approach to their organizational technology rather than a tool-centric approach.

WordpressSalesforce


Have a Data-Centric Technology Policy NOT Tool-Centric

Remember that tools change, break and developers stop working on them all of the time, whereas the data that your organization uses will continue to exist and grow. By prioritizing your data rather than tools, you’ll be focusing on the stuff that really matters rather than the container (tool) it’s currently sitting in.

Many organization have budget line items for tools but few if any have budget line items for the amount of time, energy and money that goes into data creation and maintenance. Unfortunately, “data” can be an abstract and vague concept especially for budgets. But however vague it is, because it is the real asset, “nonprofits should center their technology strategy and resource allocation around the creation and curation of data, instead of fixating on the cost of applications and processors that edit and store that data.”

Think about Data When Choosing a New Tool

Ideally, all of this talk and stress about the importance of data is happening when you begin a relationship with a new tool (rather than figuring out what the situation is for an existing tool in your infrastructure). When looking at new tools to take on some type of function at your organization, here are a few things to consider as you prepare to send your data off into the big scary world:

  • Plan for the day when you need to switch tools or the tool you’re using breaks

    Can you get your data out (in other words, what are the “export” options)? How? What if Facebook accidentally deletes your page? What if your email blasting program breaks? Are you able to prepare for those eventualities by making a data backup?

    What about if a tool choice you made turns out to be bad? How do you move your data from one tool to another?

    Migration

     

  • Make sure the backup of essential data is a well-defined process

    If you are able to get your data out of the tool, do you know what you need to do to use it again in another tool? Is it using a universal filetype like .CSV or something that wouldn’t be intelligible even if you are able to get it out?

  • Know the security and privacy implications for your data, your org AND more importantly your constituents

    What does the tool’s Terms of Service say about its use of your data? Are the data secure, private, encryptable? Who else is allowed to look at your data? In what legal jurisdiction are your data being stored? As a nonprofit with constituents, you have an obligation to keep their data safe and secure.

  • Find out ownership terms for you data

    Are your data really yours? What do the Terms of Service say about ownership?

Open Source Tools are a Data-Centric Org’s Best Friend

Choosing tools that are good to you and your data can be tricky. You have to do your due diligence in making sure the container (the tool) for your data is going to treat it all right and let you have all the access you need. While you need to evaluate what your different tools are doing with your data no matter what, Open Source tools generally put you on much, MUCH more steady of a foundation.

  • Open means transparent
    OpenSource The nature of open source technology is that anyone can see how it works.

    This means that every aspect of an open source tool is out in the open for the entire world to see.

    No backdoors installed for the government to snoop and no software developers coding secret pieces to gather data on your use.

  • Not tied to one person

    Because anyone can dig around in an open source tool and learn how it works, there are many open source tools with very large communities of developers and users who are super familiar with it and can help you out. This, in contrast to a custom-built tool that may do exactly what you want but if the relationship with the developer goes sour, you’re trapped with its functionality, price hikes for services and schedule because no one else knows the tool but the person who made it.

  • No profit motive

    When you buy a proprietary tool like Adobe Creative Suite or Microsoft Office, those companies are making money. They’re in the business of selling software. Money is their bottom line and motivation. With open source tools, on the other hand, because anyone can see how the tools work, most of the developers aren’t are out to make money, they’re more about supporting users with functions that they need to get real work done.

All of these factors (and many others) lend more transparency how tools are manipulating your data and give you more freedom in terms of how you can get it out. We strongly recommend whenever possible, especially as a nonprofit to choose open source tools.

How Can Our Organization Get On Top of Our Data Management?

Ok, so now we’re all freaked out about tools throwing our data around.

What do we do about it?

  • Put together a “data inventory”

    Open a spreadsheet and start listing all of the places that your organization has data. Think of communications tools, project management tools, online real estate, white boards, photo albums… Have the spreadsheet account for the following:

    • Where are all the places your organization has data living?
    • What data are stored there?
    • Who has access?
    • Is it backed up?
    • How is it backed up?
    • How often is it backed up?
       
  • Back up your data!
     
  • Make sure that with each new tool adoption, you have a sense of how to get your data out of the tool

Need a template? Here is deeper look into Creating an Online Accounts Inventory.

Data Trumps Tools Every Time

In a nutshell, try to prioritize data as the true technology assets at your organization. That way you’ll be able to manage tool shakeups, breakages and switches that are inevitable while protecting the real information that your organization needs to keep saving the world.

How do you prioritize data at your organization?

 



Connect with SSC


RSS Feed  Twitter  Facebook

Aspiration Publications