The Alaska Museum of Natural History recently completed the Rasmuson Technology Planning Engagement, a new prerequisite to submitting an application for technology funding. We asked Executive Director Katch Bacheller to blog about the experience.

Posted by Katch Bacheller, Executive Director, Alaska Museum of Natural History

The Alaska Museum of Natural History recently completed the Rasmuson Technology Planning Engagement, a new prerequisite to submitting an application for technology funding. We asked Executive Director Katch Bacheller to blog about the experience.  Here’s what she had to say:

Do your computers need replacing? Are you a tech wizard? If so, ignore this. If not, do you understand how the technology world has changed? Aren’t computers like our cars, turn on, drive, change the oil, drive, drive some more? WHY can computers be so difficult? How is it that a sick computer can take a business down? Do computers really lie to you, telling you they have installed updates when, really, they are just playing solitaire or filling their time not working as quickly as we need? What part of all this new technology is a passing fad, like pet rocks, and what is destined to change our culture forever? Do we need the cloud?

No amount of research, reading cyberpunk science fiction or computer magazines could help us answer these questions. As a team, the Alsaka Museum of Natural History Board and I decided that the whole computer world was simply too big for luddites like us. We are rock and fossil people!  We can discuss fossils for hours, but we needed help with our computer issues. Our big problems were failing computers, and no direct access to our website to change content. To the rescue, the Rasmuson Technology Planning Engagement. We did not know they were rescuing us at the time but, in hindsight, they did. We just did not know how much we did not know!

We did not know how much computers have changed. We did not know that computers are systems, like fancy little race cars, although we all have smart phones and are using this technology. If we had taken this computer replacement project on ourselves, it would have eventually failed because we just did not have the knowledge to do it right in today’s world.

The Technology Planning Engagement does not throw you to the technology wolves. They gave us a project book and an expert. I admit, I just did not get the project book, and that’s ok! We had an expert – like an MD – in technology every step of the way.  How much better can it get?

Time? It took very little time! One hour per week, sometimes two, for a couple of months and a lot of thinking. Our expert deconstructed our task list and explained the language of the project book. If you are an MBA graduate, you are probably familiar with this language, but no one on our Board is.  No worries! Our expert also translated our computer needs into today’s world. The expert alone was a priceless gift. We now understand a lot more about the computer world with the help of those who live and breathe technology. My board lives archeology and glaciology.  How in the world did we ever think we could do technology alone?

More importantly, we have a have a solid technology plan based on today’s computers. We have a clear template to think about future technology, the price, maintenance and replacement values. Do you know we spent $1,400 on ink in 2010? That is the cost of buying “less expensive” printers. Who knew less expensive is actually more expensive? You don’t see that in the advertising. Now we have solid plans and templates that will help us cost out any technology we buy from here on out. More important, we have an ally in the mind boggling array of technology that is for sale.

Guess what? We DO need the cloud. Our staff is our success, and we need to do everything we can for them so, really, they need the cloud.

So, should you do the Technology Planning Engagement? If you are thinking about replacing your computers, ask yourself one easy question:  is your expectation that your computer is like a chair, always there, stable and dependable? If your answer is yes, you need these people because, guess what, IT’S NOT!!!!!!!! Computers are systems today and forever more. They need maintenance. They are under attack every single day. Computer systems change so quickly that missing upgrades makes you Fred Flintstone in his little car pedaling fast on the Los Angeles freeway during rush hour. Oh, and computers DO lie to you. They need someone watching them to make sure they are doing their work, the little slackers!

We now know that there is NO WAY any regular person who does not live and breathe technology could EVER do a technology grant without the Technology Planning Engagement expert and plan. They are allies in a battlefield of misinformation. They understand the struggle of a charitable organization and will give you actual facts, not opinions. They will hold your hand all the way through what turned out to be a very easy process. They will stop and explain technology over and over in every way possible until it sinks in. Can you maintain your system yourself? Look at the computer maintenance to do list. Three pages, most of it in some foreign tech language. Our organization would have to devote tons of money to training and upkeep, all which would be 10 times as expensive as getting some tech wizard to do it.

Are you in the technology business? Then go ahead, do your technology upgrade yourself. But if you are in the business of helping humanity, do yourself a favor. Let someone help you. I now understand why the Rasmuson Technology Planning Engagement is a required step and recommend it. It will change your lives as you are changing the lives of those you help.

Note: Rasmuson Foundation supports nonprofit technology.  Most recently, we modified our process to require a “pre-development-like” planning engagement that any applicant seeking Foundation funding for a technology-based project must first complete prior to submitting an application for project funding. The Technology Planning Engagement supports accepted applicants in a technology review and planning process, culminating with the creation of a technology strategy and detailed plan. Once completed, the nonprofit may then choose to prepare a Tier 1 application for project support. 

For more information on the Technology Planning Engagement, contact Jeff Baird at 297-2831.