07.15.2009 Culture, Community, and Business

ThinkShout takes the "Sotomayor" approach to opinionated technology planning

ThinkShout is still largely in the brainstorming phase of our own brand development. Sure, we're busy with client work already, actively solving interesting social media problems for social entrepreneurs - so we don't have a ton of time for navel gazing. But in the evenings, we do get together to discuss what we ultimately want to do with ThinkShout and how we want to carve out our own niche in the social media and web technology business.

For the past four or five years I've personally been very interested in doing information technology planning for non-profits and start-ups. To me, information technology planning is defined as a two-step process of:

a) understanding an organization's "human workflow" (ie, how they organize around tasks and deliverables, and how they communicate amongst themselves and with their target audiences) and

b) evaluating how technical solutions and automated workflow might streamline that human workflow for efficiency gains.

Of course, in evaluating these potential solutions and efficiency gains, you have to consider concepts like how to choose a software vender, TCO (the total cost of ownership), software life cycles, etc, etc. The best technology planners approach these issues with an open mind toward the various technical solutions available.

But therein lies the rub, you could argue that there is an inherent conflict in a consultancy like ThinkShout combining technology planning services with software development services - as directly providing software requires making opinionated decisions about different technologies and approaches to software development.

This issue used to bother me a lot when I'd be asked to present at non-profit conferences on donor management software while working at a 100% open source software development shop. Personally, I believe very strongly in the open source movement. But at the risk of alienating some folks in that movement, I've got to say that the current open source options for donor management are lackluster at best. And in most use cases, they just can't touch the value of a number of SaaS (software as a service) options.

So, as a software provider, how do you go about honestly and unbiasedly providing technology planning services to your customers? How do you handle those situations when, as a vendor, you realize that the solutions your company offers might not be right for your client?

Interestingly enough, listening to the Sotomayor confirmation hearings reminded me that there's a stark difference between seasoned, informed and opinionated technology consulting and the "hucksterish" peddling of one-size-fits-all software products. Of course the fact that Sotomayor is a Latin woman affects her decision-making as a judge. And of course the fact that ThinkShout directly provides software development services affects our take on technology planning. But rather than see those experiences as causing unfair bias, I am reminded of how much I've learned working directly with small businesses and non-profits in the hands-on development of web applications. These lessons continue to inform ThinkShout's recommendations when providing technology planning services, and provide us with better perspective and objectivity in our consulting.

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