Three Ways IT Teams and Staff Technology Champions Can Collaborate
Association technology teams are seeing a boost in the number of non-tech staffers finding solutions to their IT problems. Knowing that, organizations must create a culture and process where all staff have a way to bring their ideas to the table.
With the acceleration of technology literacy among staff since the pandemic, it’s not surprising that IT departments have also seen an increase in the number of technology champions throughout the organization.
“In the past, everyone turned to IT to ask for solutions, but now people are finding their own solutions,” said David Stephenson, senior vice president of technology at Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). “IT needs to figure out how to govern it, how to make sure its secure, how to make sure we don’t have redundant systems across the organization.”
In this environment, IT departments need to create a space where staff feel comfortable approaching IT with new ideas and tools.
“You want to maintain relationships with staff across all departments,” said Josh Bula, web development and director of information technology at the Florida Music Education Association (FMEA).
Here are three steps organizations can take to foster a collaborative environment where staff have a role in forwarding innovation and technology.
Understand Staff Needs
Staff often have different needs when it comes to tech tools and interfaces based on their departments, their work with members, and their location.
“As a global organization, I’ve had tech champions from Japan and the Philippines bringing new tools to my attention I’d never heard of before,” Stephenson said. “We also had to figure out how to support global applications like WhatsApp because that’s what members in certain parts of the world use.”
Employing application specialists in your organization can better help IT departments stay up to date about the needs of different departments. The application specialists are assigned to different business owners and products so they can support those specific areas and bring back information to the IT department.
“It’s essentially embedding people into different departments,” Stephenson said. “We have technology product owners who work with each business unit and figure out how to implement new systems that they’re interested and help them connect the dots, so you want a structure in place.”
In addition to recognizing the needs of different departments, IT teams should be open to ideas that staff technology champions bring to them.
For example, when staff approach Bula with a new solution, he talks with them about how that technology fits into the bigger picture for the organization and plans out the best course of action, even if that differs from the original request.
“When IT is open to new technologies, the team can ask the right questions about problems staff are trying to solve and have the data to have real discussions about what is or isn’t doable and other tech options that might be more compatible with the existing infrastructure,” Bula said.
Fostering a collaborative environment will also help IT identify technology champions and take advantage of their passion for technology.
“Inviting tech champions to serve on committees will give them a sense that their talents are making a strong contribution to the organization and its mission,” Bula said.
While technology champions typically have the best intentions in mind when finding and then using new technology tools, they may not factor in data security and safety.
“For example, if staff need to collaborate with members, and IT says it’s not going to open external sharing on OneDrive, they’re going to find another way and IT may not be in a position to shut it down if it’s in support of members,” Stephenson said.
In those cases, Stephenson recommends building structure around the solution. For example, if IT discovers that their association has 10 different Dropbox accounts, the team can roll the data under one corporate account and place an admin on it to give them some insight and control.
IT departments should also ensure staff have regular cybersecurity training. Bula gives staff data and real-world examples of how organizations can get hacked and the dangers that arise from not following security policies.
“You want to explain to staff why we have these best practices and security policies,” he said. “The more knowledgeable they are, the more they’ll understand why they may not be able to pursue something.”