Most of the huge snowstorms this past winter that dumped piles of snow on Philadelphia, New York and Boston amazingly bypassed Washington DC. I’m not complaining – last year we were hit with three 20-inch snowstorm, totally paralyzing a region which panics at the very hint of snow. Still my backyard in suburban Virginia was left littered with huge tree limbs that had fallen in one storm or another over the winter. So Saturday I took out my trusty chain-saw and plunged into the debris pile. It was a hard but satisfying challenge. First I had to pull the limbs out of the pile and into position, then I had to cut them into 2-3 foot sections, and then carefully stack them into piles, while tying up the leaves and brush into big bundles. When it was over, the yard was looking considerably more orderly. I could see the results of my work and after a day’s effort, measure my progress. How often does this happen when running an organization I wondered, where you can be confronted with a tangled web of a mess and turn it into something clean and orderly?
One of the best examples I can give is one that had surprising impact on GuideStar. When the Omidyar Network, a generous supporter of GuideStar, first recommended a Technology Audit as a condition of awarding us a second grant, I’ll admit to some trepidation. But with its emphasis on scale and sustainability, Omidyar thought this was a good way to measure how ready our IT resources were for the challenges ahead.
The audit was conducted by the Silicon Valley Group, a collection of ex-CTO’s from major leading high-tech organizations. Their analysis was extensive, reviewing our IT strategy, our IT personnel and our IT resources. When the audit was completed, their SVP wrote up a report that concluded we had the capability to scale up the way Omidyar and we hoped would happen, but it also recommended that we undertake two projects and address our legacy technical debt. Those of you with technical operations know what I’m talking about -old databases, complicated, overly complex connections, and other detritus from 15 years of changed systems, people and equipment.
With Omidyar’s support, and plenty of gusto, like me with a chainsaw, our IT team went to work and cut out most of our legacy technical debt. The result: a simpler, faster, more efficient, more responsive and available GuideStar. I recommend every organization take a Technical Audit on a regular basis. It can make a difference in helping in helping to put your organization on the path to being a high performing one.
The preceding is a guest post by Bob Ottenhoff, Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.