I think the recent US national elections hold an important lesson for organizations like APS. Putting the emotional political aspects aside, there was an underlying paradigm shift at work which was very obvious; the way US elections are run has forever been changed. Current elections are all about reaching people using online technology and less about the older, legacy methods like spending millions and millions on television/printed ads.
But more importantly we had two old, white guys (Sanders and Trump) who demonstrated a deft handle on this paradigm shift. They broke from tradition, resisted the lure of following old methods, and used technology to reached far more people with far less resources than those they ran against (who were using traditional approaches).
While change from tradition can be unsettling, embracing technology and using it to its best advantage is critical if APS wants to reverse membership attrition. I hope the APS management team notices the recent US national election and learns the lessons it offers. Old dogs can learn new tricks! Don APS #094826
I agree Al. Frankly, getting real-time feedback is critical in many situations including when a member leaves, when a member renews, when a person visits the new building (via a kiosk), and even when non-members visit the APS website.
The current survey is on Survey Monkey; the decision to host it there puzzles me. APS has an SQL database server. It is not hard to design, develop, and implement a few survey tables and queries. Within a day's work I could easily have delivered to them everything they would have needed to do as many online surveys as they desired. All completely under their control, not replying upon a third party site/company.
I assume that they do not have any staffer who is proficient in the skills needed to do this. That is a discussion for another day.
But I am mystified as to why they do not seek volunteers. I have not seen anyone even float a few request for a scope of work so they better understand their options. I know I would have done it for them and I know there are other members who have the skills and motivation to assist in these type projects.
Perhaps Scott can weigh in here and help us understand the situation better. Don
Quote: . I know I would have done it for them and I know there are other members who have the skills and motivation to assist in these type projects.
Why not write the program for them and gift it to them? Spoon feed new technology to the ole boys as it where. The other members with the required skill sets could then demonstrate to the older generation the advantages offered by the correct program.
Phil, I have already donated a database and source code for another APS project (and also developed and donated some kids games they used at the World Show). Scott also took the time to call me one day and we had a pleasant 'technology' conversation. So I think the groundwork has been laid for additional projects.
But I am not in the loop to know when they need new projects and/or the specifications. On the other projects I struggled to get an understanding of what the APS IT landscape looked like so I developed stuff in a vacuum (not exactly the best way to develop unless a person likes to do things over several times over). Don
"I am mystified as to why they do not seek volunteers......." I don't know the general situation with the APS given that I do live way out here in "fly over country," some 1,400 miles or so from Bellefonte.
But an observation from a local group I've worked with in the past.....clear guidelines are needed for any volunteer effort. That was not provided for the group mentioned and the several highly proficient volunteers ending up installing some web software that worked good for them personally, but turned out to be real problematic for the organization as a whole. Another issue is more general oversight for volunteers on a regular basis. Use of volunteers for skilled work almost always makes a higher demand on staff time. Volunteers can walk at any time, but staff and paid contractors generally have a financial stake in what they're doing.
Using SurveyMonkey is a perfectly sound management decision. It is fast and inexpensive, requiring zero software or database development time (not even "a day's work"), allowing management to focus on the substance of the questions with no worries about whether the software works or is continuously available.
For every IT project that is needed now or in the future, there is a slightly different knowledge base and skill set needed. Hiring and retaining someone with all the skills you will ever need is not simple or inexpensive. Even if you think you did so today, tomorrow or next year, there will be a technology or project that is beyond the expertise of your current hire, so in a small association with limited staff resources, outsourcing is virtually inevitable. I have been in the same situation both in a medium-sized for-profit law firm, and in a large trade association in another field - there always came a day where our IT manager or director couldn't do the job and had to bring someone in. Technology just moves too fast and one or two people can't be competent in everything. Working with volunteers is not practical due to the need to repeatedly communicate IT architecture and configuration details to multiple persons who may come and go at will, making rational management hard to achieve. It makes complete sense to outsource these tasks.
Chris, You and I are usually on the same page but in this case we are not. I think your point is decidedly off-base and incorrect. Database expertise has been basically unchanged for decades. If a person learned how to write a SQL query in 1988 under DBase III they would still be writing them the same way now in 2016. And there is a reason that every single Fortune 500 company uses SQL and stores their data in SQL databases. It is because this is a technology that will serve them well for decades to come. No doubt this is why APS has already invested large amounts of money in the SQL platform.
It might be that using Survey Monkey was the best decision. Was this decision made without even doing the discovery for other solutions? I am willing to bet the decision went something like this... 'gee we want a survey, we have no money, so our only option is to use Survey Monkey'. The best informed decisions are made when you have explored all options, even if you end up having to cheap out in the end.
I also disagree with your outsourcing argument. It makes little sense to me to write a long-term strategic plan that outlines an heavy reliance upon IT but then not fund it or grow the internal resources needed to support it. How well has outsourced IT worked for APS so far? They have a six figure website that is now unusable by a large percentage of online users. When I send them source code it takes them months to implement it; something that I would be able to do in a few hours. How is this advantageous?
You state, "It makes complete sense to outsource these tasks." I see now why we are not on the same page; I do not see IT as a 'task'. I see IT as strategic, a direction, a part of the APS mission statement. Do you really think it is a good idea to outsource the strategic elements of APS's future?
Steve, True enough, volunteers bring their own set of management issues but they solve the biggest problem ('we have no money').
All, There are plenty of excuses that can be used for avoiding change. There are plenty of excuses for avoiding technology. But I see no one denying that the internet has forever changed how, when, and where we all access information.
If learning how to use IT to our best advantage is not the solution to declining membership what is? Keep firing and changing the APS management team? Build a new world head-quarters? Stay the course with a website that 50%+ of all online users can't access? Keep investing in PDF technologies and just hope that someone one day develops a future for them? Bury our heads in the sand and just hope that IT and the internet is just another hula-hoop? Frankly it appears we are out of solutions that have not already been tried.
Time will be the ultimate judge on these issues. In 15-20 years those of us who are still alive will be able to look back on this thread and will be able to determine the accuracy our posts. Don
I see the survey decision as tactical, not strategic. I actually agree with you quite a bit, but I guess I consider myself realistic in the short term - I recognize that APS has other pressing priorities and in particular is focused on retiring the Match Factory mortgage. Current revenue and budgeting appear to dictate moving slowly on IT; they are not going to hire an IT director at $150K+ plus benefits. I expect the momentum will increase over time as projects are defined and the Match Factory is paid down. Both of us are outsiders, anyway. This survey may be the harbinger of a significant new budgeting initiative. Time will tell and I know it can never move fast enough for you, but it appears that management is moving in the right direction and I feel it's best to support the positive things that are happening. Nothing wrong with agitating for more, as well.
As a non member of APS, I recently completed their survey. Afterwards I had some thoughts I wish I had included, so I sent Scott English an e-mail. I started it with this " eBay has probably done more in the last 15 years to encourage new collectors and bring back former collectors than anything the APS has ever done "
Agitating enough for you ? That was the attention getter.
We all know the problems with eBay. I went on to suggest that the APS put their full resources behind creating a stamp auction website. A true auction site minus the Buy It Nows and the high reserve items. They already have the Stamp Store for that.
A site with oversight ! A site with integrity. Where collectors could have confidence. A site where listings are vetted by fellow APS members. A site where anyone can buy but only members can sell. A site where any item can receive certification at the buyers expense. A site where items sold over a certain $ amount are automatically sent for certification. If the item is deemed fake the seller is refunded and the buyer forfeits the stamp to the APS, taking it out of circulation. Imagine the number of WF coils that would be removed. Reputable buyers and sellers would flock to it. The scammers would avoid it.
Of course an auction website wouldn't sit very well with their stamp dealer and auction house advertisers. But I'm betting the revenues derived from the increased membership, auction fees and certifications would more than offset it. With a significant gain in membership the advertisers couldn't afford to turn their back on it.
Anyways, that's what rolled through my mind at 3 in the morning.
Thanks Chris, I agree that there is plenty of common ground. But we still disagree on the primary issue at hand; that being whether IT is strategic or tactical. There is a new, good YouTube video on the APRL keynote speech at the opening of the dedication of the new APRL by David Beech.
He covers the importance of digitization to the future philatelic libraries and makes the point (around the 8:00 mark of the video) that at some point in the future ALL library content will be digitized.
And I would also call your attention to the APS mission statement which is as follows; Our Mission: • to promote stamp collecting for people of all ages • to offer services to its membership and to philately in general, including knowledge and education, which enhance the pleasure and friendliness of stamp collecting • to initiate and coordinate new programs for the benefit of stamp collecting and of all collectors • to represent the United States of America in the world body of philately • to assist its members in acquiring and disposing of philatelic materials
This mission statement clearly puts the APS in the business of disseminating information, each bullet item involves delivering philatelic information. And the first rule of business is "don't outsource your core competencies". For me, this alone is enough justification to grow internal IT resources.
But please allow me to explore additional reasons why I feel that outsourcing Information Technology (IT) is a bad idea for APS.
Like the rest of us, APS is now forever be tied to computers and networks. The APS Store is a SQL database. The APRL primary library index is a SQL database. The APS circuits are managed by a SQL database. Other information technologies form the foundation of the way APS works. So what happens if computers, networks, or other systems go down? Did you see what happened with Amos when their systems went down for weeks and weeks? What would happen if the APS is hit by a nasty outage? Having other employees sitting idle while the computer/network is down is a huge (and costly) loss of productivity. But by having IT in-house, response time is only a matter walking down the hall. If the system goes down in-house IT folks do not go home until it is back up and running.
When you have home-grown internal IT workers they develop a tremendous familiarity with the network and systems (obviously since they would be the ones who designed and built it). In-house IT employees will always outperform out-sourced personal because of this familiarity and they will get things done faster and cheaper. Part of this efficiency is continuity. With outsourced IT you have no real control over who they send to help you or which engineers they assign to a project. I am here to tell you that that is no worse feeling than being sold on a service or product by a skilled professional but then finding out that it is hand off to some green intern or new hire. When you out-source, the IT tech they send out to each time may be different.
Having in-house IT means that other employees can build relationships, they will know each other and learn how to interact with each other. Is that help call simply a ‘user issue' or is there an actual hardware problem with the printer? Say an employee has to get a report out this afternoon and runs into a problem. If you have internal IT they would simply call down and get immediate, familiar, intimate help. If you have outsourced IT, you will have to call them, schedule the help, hope you get a competent person who is familiar with the system, software, and issue(s). You will have to hope that they have the bandwidth and means to provide real-time help. If you absolutely need to have that report that afternoon, bring a trebuchet loaded with cash. Time is almost always an issue with outsourced IT. Be prepared to often hear ‘we will be there next Monday'. And add the travel time (which you pay for) to this. You are at the mercy of the outsourced company, their time bandwidth, the skill level of their employees, and their costs.
And when a new, unknown problem arises are you willing to pay for the privilege of educating another companies employees? And the issue of ‘priority' in outsource situations cannot be stressed enough. What priority will APS receive when a large outage happens and the IT contractor is buried with help calls from other customers? Who gets priority? Simply put, the company that spends the most money will get top priority. If you want to remain on top of the priority list, you will either have to spend a lot of cash or keep your IT in-house.
Additionally, with out-sourced IT you tend to get ‘locked in' in many ways. You may not have any control over the tools, development platforms and other resources which they use to build your products and services. One day you look up and find that the organization has proprietary code or development environments which ultimately drive you to spend huge amounts of money or porting efforts. Do you even own the underlying code or are you just ‘renting' it from the outsourced company? Is there a tight development contact defining exactly who owns the source code and any IP? APS has already implemented outsourced code, was this all original development or did the outsourced company reuse code they already had? Was the code developed in a way that it can be reused for additional projects? Does APS have the right to do this with what they have paid for already?
If you don't understand how to solve a problem, then I would not recommend blindly handing the situation over to a outsourced company. You won't be sure if they've developed an effective solution and you have little or no chance to find out in a timely manner. Coding is like buying a used car. At first the car looks great so you buy it. After a while various things start going wrong and there even can be some types of major malfunctions. So you need to have in-house technical expertise (one way or the other) just to evaluate all aspects of the work done by an outsourced firm. This is especially true of technology and software issues, replying upon outsourced firms to solve technical issues cause you to miss the opportunity to gain a complete understanding of how your systems work. For example and going back to the APRL dedication library speech, would APS really consider outsourcing the digitization project when it represents their future? I am not just talking about the daily digitalization tasks (scanning and converting), I am also talking about what it will take to properly store, index and deliver this content moving into the future. Anyone up for rolling the dice on which information technologies should beused based upon an outsource companies opinion? Or is it best to hire and grow the IT professional and visionaries who will be invested long-term what other are calling the future of the APRL? I am more comfortable with having the real stakeholders (APS staff and APS members) making the technology decisions, not some outsourced company which may or may not care.
In my business experience we always had the most success when we went with a ‘we want to control our own destiny' approach. To be fair, there are valid reasons to outsource. There were a few things which we did outsource; for example payroll. We would hire a great CFO and give him a small staff to help us with large strategic financial decisions and to plow through the massive tax code changes each year. But the mundane, repetitive tasks such as doing weekly payroll went to an outsourced firm.
So at the end of the day I truly believe in APS having control over own destiny for its core competencies. IT is not simply some geeky guy running about fixing printers. IT is all about delivering information when and where users need it; it forms the very fabric of an organization like APS and to outsource this is a huge mistake.
I do think that it is rich that we are debating this issue using online technologies and on a SQL database! (This forum is run on a SQL database.) Don
Edit to kcaramat: Thank you for your input and good point about commercial philately. They were certainly the early technology adapters. I agree that eBay has allowed an opportunity for APS to step in. And that opportunity extends to other online resources (like this forum) where APS could do a better job with vetted philatelic information.
I also think that Scott and handful of others are lighthouses sitting on the shoal of a dangerous coast line. The APS ship has been taking on membership water for some time and it is critical that no missteps be made at this time. They have my respect and my support, I truly hope they are able to assist APS with navigating these waters.