Pathfinders for Independent Living, Inc., a non-profit organization, was established after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Pathfinders offers information and support to disabled and elderly people and their caregivers to help them live independently. Its core purpose is to Encourage Self-Reliance. Pathfinders has a culture of friendliness and support. Pathfinders IT leadership suggested a project to design a network infrastructure that would offer security for sensitive data, data storage and Internet access. It also included user training and updated applications. The Pathfinders’ organizational structure and culture would be affected by a change in the environment. This paper discusses organizational changes that resulted from technological advances.
Technology transfer is a term that refers to activities that aim to improve process performance through the adoption and implementation of new techniques. Assistive technology helps people with disabilities and older individuals to accomplish their daily tasks. Text telephones, Braille computer monitors and infrared-pointing devices are some of the technologies. Independent living specialists are responsible for introducing and encouraging Pathfinders to use these technologies, as well as many other options, and are accountable for their success.
Independent living specialists help consumers identify the correct assistive technology, apply for funding, and educate the public about the available technologies. Pathfinders needed to be able to offer its services to consumers using current information technology.
Technology Transfer Strategy
Pathfinders’ approach towards change is based on the recognition of the importance of technology transfer and process improvements. It is impossible to change technology without having an impact on the people or processes that use it. This could be an increase in productivity or cost reduction or a fundamental shift in the way you work. To successfully transfer technology, there were several key issues that needed to be addressed. They can be divided into three categories: technology issues, process modifications, and cultural changes.
Pathfinders would be joining the Information Age by installing new computers, file servers and network printers. After preparing the computers, Pathfinders would deliver them to their offices to install the network and equipment. Microsoft applications were used to standardize the PCs. After the network was installed, the staff provided training in the use of the software. After the infrastructure was installed, every independent living specialist and executive director were provided with a personal computer, email and Internet access.
The opportunity to learn about office software and computers was provided by the design and construction of a training centre. Basic training courses were provided by Pathfinders. Computer books could also be used to learn how to use programs. Internet access was available. Federal funds were used to finance the technological advances.
Prior to the technological changes, there were only 2 stand-alone computers available for staff use. These PCs ran DOS applications and were quite old. To complete correspondence, employees were required to use the typewriters or share their PCs. Floppy disks and hardcopy were used to store data. Access to the Internet was only possible by visiting the local library. This took valuable time and staff resources. The new infrastructure had a significant impact on the work of employees. Changes in infrastructure allowed for real-time Internet access, improved data security, and consumer data.
Before the deployment of technology, employees had equal knowledge about how to use the tools at Pathfinders. The employee dynamics changed fundamentally after the network was delivered. A lack of knowledge and a high workload led to resentment. Many employees were willing to go the extra mile to learn about the latest technology and improve their work processes. They took advantage of the Pathfinders educational opportunities and increased their computer application knowledge. These individuals were more productive, which led to a higher satisfaction rate for Pathfinders’ customers.
However, there were a few employees who refused to accept these changes. These people spent a lot of time complaining about the inability to use the tools or asking for help from employees who understood the technology. To justify their reactions to new technology, defense mechanisms were used. These employees saw technology change as a threat, and they did not want to improve their computing skills or work environment. As the technology improved, acceptance started to rise and resistance to it began to decline. Although change is hard for all businesses, Pathfinders had to adapt to the new technology in order to remain in business.
Federal grant money is a key component of Pathfinders’ operations. Pathfinders have to forecast how the money will be spent each year and report on whether they achieved the goals set for the previous year. Federal reporting began as an electronic report in hardcopy. It evolved into an online system. Pathfinders without the technological advances would have difficulty applying for Federal grant money and reporting its disbursement.
To determine if Pathfinders needed to change their IT infrastructure, careful consideration was given. Potential obstacles were identified and planned for. One of the obstacles was the impact that technology changes would have on Pathfinders’ organizational culture. This is in contrast to the benefits of better customer service. Pathfinders found that fear and resistance to change played a part in the success of the change. Pathfinders also found that staff accepted the technology more quickly as they moved up the learning curve.
Stacy A. Marple, an IT manager with 27 years of industry experience, is a certified professional in IT management. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Phoenix. She also holds certifications in project management as well as IT best practices. Ms. Marple is a MircoTrain Technologies instructor of project management professional (PMP), and MS Project courses.