Thursday, December 8, 2005

When Technology Decisions aren't Technology Decisions

The guys over at Greenpeace have launched a big advocacy project called Melt. They have decided to "roll their own" technology platform for the effort. In the comments, I think there is a more compelling case for what why they rolled their own... the price of what appears to be a very high quality development shop (Thoughtworks) was the same/ less than proposals for folks using technologies like Drupal/CivicSpace.

In nonprofit land we have been making the case for years that technology decisions are "neutral." You develop your requirements, get vendors to bid on the project, and make a decision about what best matches your requirements. And over the past 10 years the sector has invested millions of dollars of donor money in building the same systems over and over again.

Now that open source has entered the conciousness, projects are being created under open source licenses, but the basic technology decision is still: (1) How much? (2) Quality of the people delivering and (3) Are the requirements met?

Around CiviCRM we are trying to meet these three questions head-on for customers. We are recruiting high quality shops that can deliver low cost solutions that meet customer requirements.

But we what we really care about, is leveraging the kinds of investments that Greenpeace is making into software that benefits the entire sector. Greenpeace is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. By participating in existing ecosystems, that investment could be leveraged to help the broader environmental movement, disaster relief, and small grassroots groups accross the world.

Greenpeace made a rational choice for them. They might even have plans for spending the million dollars or so it would take to create a sustainable community of technology firms, customers, and users around Melt.

But it is expensive and risky to go down this path. When ecosystems of nonprofits (CivicSpace Labs, the Social Source Foundation), firms (twenty plus consulting firms that operate in the ecosystem), and users (500+ installed sites) already exist, we hope major players like Greenpeace would also factor in how their investment could impact the "public good."

[P.S. Greenpeace has had lots of challenges with vendors who have made similar arguements in the past so I undertand their desire to work with a high caliber vendor. I would simply hope other major efforts in the future factor in the opportunity to leverage their technology investments to the benefit of the broader nonprofit sector.]

1 comment:

Rolf said...


I think you're raising important points. I have posted some further thoughts on our blog to let people have a little detour again :-)