This part aims to cover what you might want and need to know about: the kit the contributes to your IT, protecting your investment in IT and complying with good practice, legislation and regulation. You may choose not to read the first chapter - "The History of IT" - but we hope it is interesting, fun and provides a useful context for much else in the book.
People from most not-for-profit organisations should familiarise themselves with almost all of the material in this part, although the level of detail you will need on the good practice, legislation and regulation will vary with your organisation's size and complexity. We have tried to tailor the advice to enable not-for-profit organisations of all sizes to apply the requirements sensibly.
People from very small organisations, i.e. those which have not connected computers with each other or the outside world, probably don’t need to worry too much about chapter 10 - "Information security". However, as soon as you do start connecting, then issues raised in that chapter will become more pertinent.
In this chapter we shall:
Computers have been around for longer than most people realise. The abacus, the comptometer, the electronic typewriter and the punchcard are all examples of devices used for automating aspects of work. For those who are interested in the history of science and technology, the history of computing is especially relevant and there are many books on the subject (see Appendix B - Directory).
For those who have little interest or no interest in such matters, it is possible to become an expert superuser of IT without ever having heard of, for example:
No. For the ordinary IT user, the underlying physics and electronics (alluded to above) is even less essential context than the history. The transistors etched on to the silicon chip are essentially a huge collection of on/off switches. Computer programmes simply utilise and interpret the output of those switches, using binary (1s and 0s) as the base of calculation to do useful things. By doing many simple calculations very quickly indeed, and by channelling the power of those calculations in useful ways, computers can be made to perform tasks that are helpful and useful to you. Computers really are simply sophisticated calculators configured to do the things you recognise as "the things we use computers to do".
As the physics and electronics boffins get better and better at channelling computational power, the possibilities for making computers friendlier and more useful to you increase. Until a few years ago, for example, most of us would have been unable to afford sufficient computing power to have Windows images on our screens or speech recognition routines. Today such tools are affordable to most of us. You do not need to understand the complex science that lies behind the advances in information technology, but should be aware of Moore's Law (see above).
Not-for-profit organisations tend to think of themselves as followers rather than leaders in the use of IT. Interestingly enough, though, one of the very first implementations of a large-scale computer system was in a not-for-profit context. Herman Hollerith designed and built a computational machines for the US Census Office to use for the 1890 census. Many experts consider this to be the first practical example of a computer implementation (Babbage's "machine" never worked). There was much criticism at the time, as the census cost some $11.5M, double the cost of the previous (unautomated) census. However, experts countered that the cost of the 1890 census would have been much higher without automation and that the use of automation had in fact saved some $5M dollars.
The not-for-profit sector took very much a back seat in the history of IT after the heady Hollerith days, ceding the centre stage to big business, defence and space exploration (arguably not-for-profit, perhaps) until relatively recently. By the 1960's and 1970's, many larger businesses were using IT for back office tasks such as payroll and financial ledgers. A few larger not-for-profit organisations similarly started to use IT in this way, often through bureau services. Some bureau providers spotted specific opportunities for business in the not-for-profit sector, such as providing donor recording systems to help with fundraising or membership systems for membership-based not-for-profit organisations.
In the 1980's two things started to happen concurrently which started to bring IT into the spotlight for not-for-profit organisations:
As with SMEs, not-for-profit organisations tended to focus at first on administrative functions such as accounting and payroll, plus donor and membership records. Specialist voluntary sector oriented suppliers emerged, many of whom tried to cover many aspects of administration, not just the voluntary sector bits. Many not-for-profit organisations struggled long and hard with ghastly financial systems which "came as part of the suite" with the donor recording system they wanted and there were still many not-for-profit organisations using bureau services well into the 1990's. Some organisations are still struggling along with ghastly old ledgers and the like, although the imperative to upgrade to avoid Year 2000 (Y2K) problems drove out many of the old dinosaur applications in the late 1990's.
Strangely, the advent of Application Service Providers (ASPs - see chapter 3) in the commercial sector has raised the notion once again that an approach very similar to the bureau style (using a third party to look after your computing and application needs), once so popular with the not-for-profit sector, might be back in fashion. This time around, it might be smaller organisations that take the lead with the ASP model. This interesting area of development is discussed, in context, in several chapters of this book.
Fad and fashions come and go in the IT sector. Nevertheless, it is clear that IT has relentlessly invaded the not-for-profit sector since the 1980's and is without question here to stay for all but the smallest organisations.