Thursday, September 16, 2004

Challenges with information technology in the context of communities

This one is my favorite. Partly because I have a small community space on my own site and boy do I have my share of challenges.
In my opinion the biggest challenge is "unavailability" of information technology (IT) resources. I don't know about you but when I go to my IT folks and say please....pretty please can you add some functionality to my site, they look at me and smile and say "Sure, right after we take care of these other 50 million critical things that are right ahead of you." I mean, they are really nice so I can't say anything bad about them and they work really hard every day except that it is frustrating that we have limited resources so they cannot focus on my needs immediately.
Any of you readers identify with my experience?
Lets kind of back track. When do we need IT in a community? We need it when our community really starts to collaborate and share and all of a sudden people are sharing this really cool content with one another and feel the pinch of not having a place to put it. It may also start earlier if the community is more technically oriented and likes to communicate electronically as opposed to the phone. Then you would need to have some collaboration software on at the very least a distribution list that you can send messages to.
There is a ton of "collaboration" type software out there. It is typically the best fit for a community but can be really pricy. I think e-mail works great except it can get cumbersome if everyone is copying everyone on their e-mails and then of course you have to go looking for old e-mails for conversations of things you thought you had, etc.
Software companies such as Groove, Tacit, Askme, and Vignette (bought Inxight or Insight I can't remember now, they are all the same) all play in this space. They have different ways of getting to the collaboration piece. Groove gives you chat rooms, chat groups, e-mail, and a rudimentary data store. Tacit works on filtering e-mails for valuable content and puts it in a repository and tries to identify like users. AskMe is an expertise locator system that profiles individuals and their expertise. It also has collaboration spaces and e-mail, etc. And so does Vignette. This is by no means an official description of what any of these vendors offer its just meant to give you a flavor of what is out there. The reason I even brought these vendors up is because one of the primary challenges in community implementation related to technology is that of vendor selection. My rule of thumb is the amount of analysis I do on a vendor is directly proportional to the cost of the software. If something costs under $1000.00 I try it out almost immediately and don't fret if it doesn't work. What it does is teach me all the things that I want from my other vendors, what questions to ask, etc. Then I go looking for the big guys and am ready to make a more informed decision.
Again, spend as much time on it as it deserves based on the functionality you are looking for.
I know its ideal to have a system that integrates with the main/primary system of the company but in really big organizations that can be quite a challenge. If your needs are simple keep your technology simple.
Another challenge that some organizations face is that they get all the technology in place at first and then as the community forms they find no one uses it. My take on this is that it was too early to implement the community. Without really knowing the members and their needs it is always risky to implement a technology. Don't get me wrong, it could totally work out and if it does then its not a challenge. But if it doesn't it most likely means that your members are not used to communicating in the way that the technology dictates.
So if you all have more technology challenges, please write me.

1 comment:

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