Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Digital Habitats (Part 5)

This is a cross-post from my blog on the military Social Media tool milBook.

This is the fifth post in a series based on the book Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities (CPsquare Publishing, © 2009) by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith. This post will cover Chapter 7 of the text.

This chapter describes the contextual factors involved in making pragmatic technology decisions that shape a community's digital habitat. These factors are important because neither communities or technologies exist in isolation.

The first context is the community's state of readiness for technology change. The stage of community development is important, as the technology needs of a community will change over time. The diversity and complexity of the community is another factor in the technology needs of a community. Experience with the use of technology can influence whether the community will be able to adopt new technology easily, or will be disrupted by the change in digital habitat. Finally, the community attitudes about technology can substantially impact the decision to make technology changes, and how the changes will be implemented.

The community's relationship with its environment has direct technology implications. Organizational relationships are very important, especially if the community is completely contained in one organization, as this has a wide range of impacts including resources, accountability, and compliance with various organizational standards. The relationship of the community to an IT department or provider has wide-ranging implications on a community's digital habitat. The IT department may have standards or procedures that will need to be followed that may or may not be optimum for the community. Another factor is the community's need to be connected to the outside world, as this will need to be facilitated by the technology. Multimembership must be considered when making technology decisions, as there are ways to make it easier for members to be part of many other groups in addition to the particular community of practice. The way the community addresses security is very important to how its technology is configured. Security touches many parts of the digital habitat and is a key part of its environment.

Time and sequencing issues can influence the decision about what and when a new technology is implemented. Community schedules are a very important consideration, as the change can be more or less disruptive depending on the timing and coordination with the community schedule. There can also be external schedules that need to be taken into account. Although a current decision may be pending, sometimes it is in the best interest of the community to wait, keeping in mind there will be other chances to make the change.

Budgets and resource considerations have a large impact on the technology of a community, as it usually serves to constrain any decisions about changing the digital habitat. Resources usually affects the scope of what can be changed as there is a tradeoff between scope and available resources. Contributors, decision makers, and stakeholders are generally the controllers of the community's resources, and having them on board before making changes is very important. Technical resources and expertise will have a big impact on the technology of the community and the choices that are made. Above all, the tech steward's time is a key resource to be taken into account when any technology decisions need to be made, as this can affect what technology is chosen and how it is maintained and operated.

Finally, the infrastructure considerations are very influential in the technology decisions around a community of practice. Online access and the individual technical settings must be accounted for. Hosting and vendor relationships have wide-ranging impacts on community technology. The options of using an Application Service Provider (ASP), internal hosting, working with software vendors, or programming a solution internally must be carefully evaluated in light of what the community's needs entail. Relationships with internal IT resources and system requirements also need to be part of the assessment of technology and how it will be configured and/or changed. The need for single sign-on and the potential installation of client software can affect these relationships substantially.

Due to the complexity of a community's digital habitat, a tech steward many need to pay attention to a daunting number of contextual factors when making technology decisions for the community. The bottom line is that the tech steward should try to stay aware of the context of the community at all times as it evolves and understand how that context affects technology stewardship.

Please post comments below as you are so inclined.

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