Welles: The dynamics of technology

A Soros technology executive achieved results by connecting organizational behavior and IT

The Dynamics of Technology for Social Change

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“It’s not about technology — it’s about the process where everything fits in.” That’s not the view of just another management guru. It is a comment from a technology expert who has developed large international projects. He achieved results by connecting information and communications technology to organizational behavior.

Jonathan Peizer, former chief technology officer for the nonprofit Soros Foundation, summarizes the factors that influence results in his book, “The Dynamics of Technology for Social Change.” His purpose is to promote effective relationships among nonprofit organizations, private companies and government agencies on projects that help improve people’s lives.

Although many of his examples come from his work in the late 1990s, the practical guidance from his experiences in more than 30 countries is still applicable.

In the international sector in particular, many projects require that nonprofit, private and government entities to work together. But those organizations have different stakeholders, timeframes and concepts of return on investment. With so many variables, projects can stumble before they even get off the ground.

“The dynamics of how entities interact in resourcing and implementing projects is the key, regardless of whether it is a health program or educational program,” Peizer wrote.

Other books reference many of his principles, but he puts it all together. For example, to start a project, all parties need to share a common focus. Customer service has to be job one. That means understanding who will be the users of a technology and what they need, not what you assume they need. User trust is a critical ingredient, and one way to create trust is by explaining technology and solutions in nontechnical language. Leaders should work with those willing to implement the project first and expand a circle of support from there.

Too often, technology people assume they are suppliers responding to demand before they fully understand the demand, Peizer wrote. By asking questions, you can decide which application or software to implement. Starting with a test project is an important way to determine the issues before building a full-scale model.

Despite all that technology does for us, we sometimes overlook its effects on our language and communication. It took us only a few months to turn an Internet search engine’s name into a verb, and we now frequently refer to googling information. Merriam and Webster added the word to the latest edition of its dictionary: “transitive verb: to use the Google search engine to obtain information on the World Wide Web.”

Some of us still talk about xeroxing documents, another verb that followed a company’s technology invention.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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