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Technology Needs Assessment

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Business Technology Needs Assessment

 

Knowing What Needs to be Accomplished

Have you ever tried to construct a lesson plan without a learning objective? Or run a meeting without an agenda? The result is chaos, or worse. Before considering whether to purchase new computers, software applications, or networking services, staff in an education organisation must identify plans for using the technology. This is not always an easy task, especially when difficult questions arise about the capabilities and limitations of the technologies. Performing a needs assessment helps to formally identify these needs.

 

Business Technology Needs Assessment
Business Technology Needs Assessment

What is a Business Technology Needs Assessment

With respect to technology, a needs assessment is an evaluation of the technical tasks and functions an organization must be capable of performing (that it currently isn’t) or the needs that technology must be able to meet (that are not currently being met). A true needs assessment requires that all possible needs be identified. Determining whether they are realistic, necessary, and affordable comes at a later point in the planning process.

A “needs assessment” is an evaluation of the existing environment and capabilities of an organization relative to the preferred environment and capabilities—with the difference between the existing and preferred conditions being defined as the organization’s “needs.”

An important step in defining an organization’s technology needs is a review of the overall vision for the organization’s technology. This is often best accomplished by referring to the organization’s technology plan. (If a Technology Plan has not yet been developed, then it should be!) The technology plan will detail what resources already exist and what is planned for the future. Planners can then coordinate all decision-making with other long range planning, generally leading to results that provide far more benefits to the organization than a series of independent technology plans.

Who Should Conduct a Needs Assessment?

 

One common needs assessment error is the assumption that only a technology expert can conduct a thorough needs assessment. On the contrary, the needs assessment isn’t about technology; it is about what the organization does, what more it needs to do, and how additional or newer technology can help to achieve its goals. As such, individuals involved in the daily operations of an organization are the only ones who can define task requirements—after all, they are the ones who are most familiar with their organization’s functions, current needs, and future goals.

Staff from within the organization are the only ones who can identify the needs of the organization, but an outside expert can provide information about the possibilities technology can offer.
and do so objectively.

To enrich the staff’s perspective, it may make sense to involve a technology expert during the needs assessment process, but the role of this team member is not to guide decision-making. Rather, the expert should serve as a resource who can explain the possibilities and limitations of technology as they become relevant to discussions.

Business Technology Needs Assessment

Who Should Participate in the Needs Assessment Process?

Most needs arise from “users,” the people who make use of technology as a tool for accomplishing tasks. Whether they are current or potential users, staff members are the key category of participants who must be involved in defining needs. In a school, typical users might include instructional or administrative staff. But they also might be custodians using technology to manage climate in rooms, and maintenance personnel who use a host of technological devices to maintain equipment and monitor building operations. In districts and state agencies, users might include secretaries and business personnel working with computers and communication systems. The list of potential “users” goes on, and varies by organization type, but anyone who uses technology (or wishes to) is a candidate for participating in the needs assessment process. Some staff members may not have a complete grasp of the capabilities of various technologies, but they will know what resources they need every day to perform their duties. Many technology initiatives fail because they have been designed for users without receiving their input.

All potential technology users should participate in the needs assessment process, including students, instructional staff, administrative staff, and operations staff.

Admittedly, it may be difficult to visit with every staff member, student, and parent who has an interest in technology in an education organization, but it is possible to include representatives from each user group. Mechanisms for identifying representatives should result in the selection of both willing participants and less-willing participants-ask for and select volunteers, but also choose some of the more technology-resistant members of the community whose opinions will be equally valuable.

What are the Steps in the Needs Assessment Process?

Once planners have a sense of an organisation’s major needs and requirements, it is time to start gathering more specific information, therefore allowing key decision-makers to make educated decisions. Although the needs assessment is only one component in the overall process of improving technology resources in an organization, it can be treated as a mini-project of its own. Once the specific participants who will contribute to the needs assessment have been identified, the key steps are:

  1. Gathering needs-related information (usually the most critical and time-consuming part of the process).
  2. Reviewing and prioritizing need.
  3. Documenting results.

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How to assess technology needs in your business ?

Technology needs assessment process typically involves several steps. You should:

1. Gather relevant information – audit your infrastructure, processes and current systems. Study your workflows and find out how employees use current technology and do their work. Carry out focus groups with relevant staff, or conduct surveys, interviews, etc to collect as much relevant information as you can. You can use many different business analysis tools for strategic planning.

2. Identify drivers for change – review the strengths and weaknesses of existing IT systems and identify areas that are causing problems. Understand the reasons for change. For example, do you need new IT systems to satisfy new legislation, streamline processes for efficiency, meet customer needs or simply to remain competitive in the market?

3. Determine the requirements – aim to identify all possible requirements. You can decide later which ones are critical, realistic and affordable. The key is to align IT with your overall business strategy. For example, if your objective is to improve customer service, do you need a new system to communicate with customers more effectively? If you’re aiming to increase efficiencies, will the new system help you to simplify operations? If necessary, include your stakeholders in this process.

4. Consider your resources – if you establish a clear need for a new system, decide how much money and time you are willing or able to spend on it. Dedicate resources for the purchase, as well as the implementation of the system, staff training, change management, maintenance and support.

5. Review and prioritise results – if your resources are limited, you may need to prioritise your needs. Work out which system may deliver the most of your requirements for the least amount of money. Make sure to consider the alternatives – perhaps you can resolve your IT problems with adjustments in other areas of business.

Document the outcomes of your needs assessment, so that you can revisit them if necessary. Analyse the results and use them to develop an IT strategy for your business.

Conclusion

 

As businesses get more complex, manual processes and systems become increasingly error-prone and risky, not to mention expensive and slow. Technology can help automate, streamline, and refine, giving valuable team members the space they need to do meaningful, high-value work.

Getting buy-in for it, buying the right tool, and then seeing that business impact, though, is far from simple. 

Hopefully though, with these four steps, you will move toward your business goals by building and then executing your technology assessment plan. From here, your next steps are to pursue the specific technology you need to procure, document detailed requirements, evaluate vendors, and negotiate the paperwork. Once you select a vendor, embark on a consultative, collaborative approach to design and other steps for implementation. Remember that successful technology implementation requires a broader focus on process and organizational design. To achieve business value, consider how the technology change will drive changes in your metrics and support models.

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