Case Studies for Information Technology

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How might the philosophy of integrated systems design impact you?

I have assembled a few examples of the scope and range of work that I do. The examples are very diverse, and demonstrate the potential that is accessible to satisfy a wide variety of needs.

Case Study 1: Office Intranet

Case Study 2: Taskforce for the Homeless Database

Case Study 3: United States Social Forum Registration Systems

Case Study 4: Website paired and synchronized with Full Membership, Donor Database


Case Study 1: Office Intranet

When I came to the Southern Center for human Rights, they expressed a need to work differently with one another. Staff (predominantly lawyers and investigators) were feeling like they were so busy doing their work, that they would loose track of other projects either in their units, or across the organization.

One strategy to connect a diverse and busy office is to develop a tool that is easily accessible, and where stakeholders can work together to develop ideas and projects.

The Internet, particularly in the last 5-6 years, has become much easier for non-experienced users to post pages to - thanks in large part to database driven Content Management Systems (CMS).

An Intranet (not IntERnet) is basically a website that is easily modified by inexperienced users, and that is secure and for members only.

It is a virtual space (much like Facebook or other social networking sites) in which members can discuss and present ideas, post events or schedules, exchange files, share agendas and meeting minutes, and collaborate on wiki-style project documents.

Because of the underlying content management framework, an Intranet can be customized to fit the exact needs of the organization, and have tools and functions that can easily be plugged in to suit any variety of needs in the future.

But the key is knowing those needs.

This is where technological systems meet human systems. Organizational Mapping creates a tangible representation of the organization that uncovers known and unknown needs in order to create the communications infrastructure that will meet those needs.


Case Study 2: Taskforce for the Homeless Database

The Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless delivers amazing services to homeless men and women. The nature of the work they do demands personal attention as well as an ability to handle often desperate needs.

Keeping track of their work via reporting and databases was difficult and time consuming, and coordinating their work together challenging. Not to mention that the statistical records required in order to get funding for a homeless shelter make the US Census project look like a walk in the park.

We started the process by breaking down and mapping not just the information that would be needed for reporting, but all of the existing processes used to gather that information, and the processes and procedures for delivering value to the folks they serve.

In this process, the entire staff became involved in re-developing work-flows, and also determining what kind of information to collect at different points.

Finally, customizations were made to their existing database that mirrored these human processes and systems.

This redevelopment has enabled the case workers at the Taskforce to have a much better Idea of what is going on with a particular client, and ability to share work and clients, and a more sane work environment. It has also paved the way for accurate and complete reporting for the upcoming grant cycle, and made accessing statistics about the work they do as easy as clicking a button.


Case Study 3: United States Social Forum Registration Systems

When ever lots of people are gathered together, there are bound to be lines. When designing a registration system for the US Social Forum, we were expecting 10-12,000 participants. Other similar events boasted registration lines with waits of 4-8 hours. Because of the climate (Atlanta in the heat of summer), and the location of the event, the risk of having people stay in line that long was daunting.

(READ: code violations and public safety concerns)

The idea was to create a registration system that was: affordable, simple, accessible, and that did not require much administration.

Initially this was conceived as a project having to do with technology. In fact, it had more to do with the design of processes that would best conduit flows of people.

Looking at everything from the items in the registration packets and names tags, to the database driven online registration systems, to the use of donated computers stocked with linux operating systems and software, to the floor plans of the space we would be inhabiting, we developed a registration system that gave us the ability to accurately keep good records for posterity, and where the maximum wait time was less than a half hour.

This redevelopment has enabled the case workers at the Taskforce to have a much better Idea of what is going on with a particular client, and ability to share work and clients, and a more sane work environment. It has also paved the way for accurate and complete reporting for the upcoming grant cycle, and made accessing statistics about the work they do as easy as clicking a button.


Case Study 4: Website paired and synchronized with Full Membership, Donor Database

Alternate ROOTS webusers are able to purchase/renew memberships, donate, and register for events online.  Members are also automatically given access to networking and information that isn't available to regular users.  It is not unusual for an organization to be able to do this on a website.  What makes this website special is the degree to which these online interactions are directly connected to their main membership and donor database. 

That means that when a user, member, staff or donor does anything worthy of note on the website, it automatically gets recorded into the membership and donor database for the organization (CiviCRM).  This kind of connectivity between the website and the database allows for  viral input of information directly by users, leaving less administration for staff.

Alternate ROOTS memberships automatically expire after a year, and when that happens, their access to the tools available through membership also expires.  These tools include discussion forums, access to special forms and applications for different grants, polls, and  direct connections with other members and their profiles.

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