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Data: Your Most Important Tech Asset1jxo0kggaazx85xhil9y9nq0v32rybnqData: Your Most Important Tech Asset

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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. usuy4onpzd19opvmfuaq1p1ijv8rakrvWhere 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.dgpp8uqwen863s7s8eun23btvy6wr6qv

Data are Your Organization’s Lifebloodte5yktq7w6e2b8j10nc1v3z0i2ywxubh

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.k0hl0u0ya1ko92fwxef5jy8y7rbjxd67

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.gzrdl8hh5htvvj6q61ic4r3pc5vp3g19

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?10fbz040cxh4pyjks2t3dg2j9tg1otjg

Data are the real organizational assets.hyhbz3o9m8g7v7fm0rcr20ffr4780457

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.c45qq1ee0krbjuwnhcm3kj1sa4x7m84o

WordpressSalesforce


Have a Data-Centric Technology Policy NOT Tool-Centricb54gvh6gw5fdwy6q54fr44w4ax7ua9bb

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.ghqisckx4es8a416xzxbmj9o9wvfgs7n

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. anmdja8gyw88ly9o8ylfatatzuld2ua3But 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.”wz04b4x5bteeurz2ktqtsqnl5hpxh774

Think about Data When Choosing a New Toolshswx1e7pso3098xczuiekjuuwsmpt38

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:12mickof24t6ell9q7f3jx9rhj4q5txw

  • Plan for the day when you need to switch tools or the tool you’re using breaksmlag8tbgs3hy8hglbp8usm8lfpq396xm

    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?nwiybwvkj94pdpu0vefmavks4enbj21x

    What about if a tool choice you made turns out to be bad? How do you move your data from one tool to another?a9yly9kwiv8tkvqz7tf7qb63lmdcqm1r

    Migration

     iv844voot2qag7a6mvh6yib3wr56ndxwjds8ebu4e7wwz7lu4k1twox1rt8zq5wz

  • Make sure the backup of essential data is a well-defined processcbx24go638ivtt0vtrd9sdejkl9vvyux

    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?p0gv49l35i59bld917r6uex2h9e9q4j5

  • Know the security and privacy implications for your data, your org AND more importantly your constituentsdee195ax4lrv199qw59asdkwhhmbfpkj

    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.yejz5wfytjfmvn4jhm2ji1i7d56ni2j7

  • Find out ownership terms for you datardobuk9h022l7a1kote0epgooxqi5uzn

    Are your data really yours? What do the Terms of Service say about ownership?fq3zixgtyo6owgej1qelun30mmgjcxyh

Open Source Tools are a Data-Centric Org’s Best Friendyjugkiig8ctyjoshkgldvxf7ucwa5tlt

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.tmi0mdgggpi0cbllk9uxxmwceeh26p4p

  • Open means transparent
    cw8zpyzk8w59y1hi3y1ogd71l3xbg39i
    OpenSource The nature of open source technology is that anyone can see how it works.73as7reit6a7hbvxtfgljf9mkskrua0s

    This means that every aspect of an open source tool is out in the open for the entire world to see.dgpyun4cssfb7hre7dz8hexg21tt2ej6

    No backdoors installed for the government to snoop and no software developers coding secret pieces to gather data on your use.e8yfxq5gkg1kt7mtq16zz5q59qq1uany

  • Not tied to one person773rmvz08h5i5c1ux8hxdbo3ih9eg2je

    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.ftxelf9q4bbmk5wpbylij6fjpom1ylx4

  • No profit motive8rk8s239auxjvaspzmeydtchye4v1ts0

    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.bapoob8sza3bpo5jlmpp4ibtd27756a7

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.xtc412dsoq82j10c6mhyvo94s7a1qird

How Can Our Organization Get On Top of Our Data Management?prhy987cu8u0unecurswpb61iy9ut949

Ok, so now we’re all freaked out about tools throwing our data around.3y0r91mrxi0xdys9lrpcbwqmhngbqhej

What do we do about it?wx5lg6ga3imdoko9rxi96162qey5t8af

  • Put together a “data inventory”1s3rmk5nkmqzw8384u1d4ibe74opiuaa

    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:kktqpn79ubd9iygook8n5954fv4yc8fn

    • Where are all the places your organization has data living?djg3wbjtich7clvpuq230f3274ntg0ck
    • What data are stored there?oh3f3ydu6ul45pr7jevjv2jiyv542rpg
    • Who has access?6rtw6jfzx08wrxnnk3kadbu7nkkvc5b8
    • Is it backed up?mt5fgge8sytoozj7ki7k663aoue0clmp
    • How is it backed up?f9a9omq9hhg4h4yq9o11jujqylfdzv05
    • How often is it backed up?
       iv844voot2qag7a6mvh6yib3wr56ndxwjds8ebu4e7wwz7lu4k1twox1rt8zq5wz
  • Back up your data!
     iv844voot2qag7a6mvh6yib3wr56ndxwjds8ebu4e7wwz7lu4k1twox1rt8zq5wz
  • Make sure that with each new tool adoption, you have a sense of how to get your data out of the toolcxfrdnai87x8k7j7teomo1oafke63ku6

Need a template? Here is deeper look into Creating an Online Accounts Inventory.qwp2g292lopxp7aj32atrvkk3yzus6p9

Data Trumps Tools Every Timeml8uyv50oxcupz6xt0pqcxln1nn9owg1

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.az60m9vcnjggfokeoy7ube9g1wvcwhzx

How do you prioritize data at your organization?kfsvte6dt1ke9sgfcmisnjowandn0qca

 iv844voot2qag7a6mvh6yib3wr56ndxwjds8ebu4e7wwz7lu4k1twox1rt8zq5wz

(original) View 中文 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?

 



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