Technology Transfer Case Study

Pathfinders for Independent Living, Inc., a nonprofit organization, was founded after the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) Pathfinders provides information and assistance to elderly and disabled individuals and their caregivers on how to live as independently as possible. Its core value is to Promote Self-Reliance. The culture within Pathfinders is one of friendly support. Pathfinders’ IT leadership proposed a project to design and build a network infrastructure that would provide security for sensitive data, data storage, Internet access, email access, updated applications and hardware, and user training. Changing the environment would affect the organizational structure and culture of Pathfinders. This paper discusses the organizational changes that occurred due a change in technology.

Technology Transfer

Technology transfer describes activities that have the aim of establishing measurable process improvement through the adoption of new practices. Assistive technology reduces the gap experienced by disabled and elderly individuals in accomplishing daily activities. Some of these technologies are text telephones, Braille computer monitors, infrared pointing devices, artificial limbs, and assistive software. Introducing and encouraging the use of these technologies and many others to Pathfinders’ consumers, is a responsibility of the independent living specialists.

The independent living specialists assist the consumers in identifying the assistive technologies needed, applying for funding to purchase the technologies, and educating the public on the various technologies available. However to provide its services to its consumers, Pathfinders had to adapt to current information technologies.

A Strategy for Technology Transfer

Recognizing the relationship between technology transfer and process improvement is fundamental to Pathfinders’ approach to change. Technology cannot be changed without some impact on the process or personnel that use the technology, be it an increase in productivity, a reduction in cost, or a fundamental change in method. A number of key issues had to be addressed for the technology to be successfully transferred. These are divided into several categories; technology issues, process changes, and changes in culture.

Technology Issues

Pathfinders would join the Information Age by installing, new computers, file servers, network printers, a local area network (LAN), and Internet access. The installation process required preparing the PCs before delivering them to Pathfinders, then a visit to the office site to build the network and deploy the equipment. The PCs were standardized on Microsoft applications. Following the installation of the network, etc., training on the use of the software was provided. With the installation of the infrastructure complete, each independent living specialist and the executive director had a personal computer, email, and Internet access.

Designing and building a training center provided the opportunity for anyone to come in and learn more about computers and office application software. Pathfinders provided some basic training courses. Additionally, computer books were available for use with the computers to learn how to use the programs. Access to the Internet was provided. Funding was allocated through federal funds to support the changes in technology.

Process Changes

Before the technology changes, there were only two stand-alone PCs available for use by the staff, these PCs were very old, running DOS applications. Employees were forced to share the PCs or use typewriters to complete correspondence. Data was maintained on floppy disks and hardcopy. Access to the Internet for research was accomplished by going to the local library, which consumed valuable resources of time and personnel. Deploying the new infrastructure significantly changed the way the employees worked. The changes in infrastructure gave real-time access to the Internet, consumer data, and improved data security.

Changes in Culture

Prior to the deployment of technology, the employees were equal in their knowledge of using the available tools at Pathfinders. With the delivery of their network, a fundamental change occurred within the employee dynamics. An atmosphere of resentment developed due to an imbalance of knowledge and workload. Some of the employees went out of their way to grasp the advancement in technology thereby, improving themselves and their work processes. They pursued the educational opportunities offered to them by Pathfinders and enhanced their knowledge of computer applications. Productivity for these individuals increased, causing an increase in satisfaction by Pathfinders’ consumers.

Conversely, there was a minority of employees, who took a stance in not excepting these changes. These individuals spent much of their time complaining that they could not do the work using the tools provided, or repeatedly requested help from the employees that understood the technology. Defense mechanisms were employed to justify their reactions to the new technology. These employees viewed the technology change as a threat and wanted nothing to do with improving their computing skills or their work environment. However, as training and practice in using the improvements to the technology progressed, acceptance began to increase and resistance began to decrease. Change is difficult in all organizations but to stay in business Pathfinders was forced to change with the times.

Pathfinders operations depend heavily on federal grant money. Each year Pathfinders must forecast how that money will be spent and report that the goals of the previous year have been met. The Federal reporting system began as a hardcopy report that evolved to an online reporting system. Without the changes in technology, Pathfinders would find it difficult to apply for Federal grant money or report its disbursement.

Conclusion

Careful consideration was employed to determine if a change in IT infrastructure was warranted within the Pathfinders organization. Potential obstacles were identified and anticipated. One of those obstacles was the affect that a change in technology would have on the organizational culture of Pathfinders verses the improvement in customer service. Pathfinders identified that resistance to change and fear played a role in the effectiveness of the change. Additionally, Pathfinders identified that as the staff moved along the learning curve, acceptance of the technology increased and fear of the technology decreased.

What is a Business Technology

There are countless computer consultants out there. You have the geeks, the gurus, the evangelists, the computer guys, techs, nerds, network consultants, computer consultants and technologists, just to name a few. At the end of it all, regardless of what they call themselves, each provides a different level of service and technical know-how. Too many IT consultants solve every problem by asking you to throw money at it. New computers, new servers, new monitors, new printers, but every time you spend money, you are cutting into profitability. The key is for you to identify the right person for your needs. If you run a company, what you really need is a business technology coach to help you make the right decisions about your technology.

A computer consultant is usually only interested in fixing your computers. He is not versed in any business functions and is therefore incapable of assisting you with many additional services that will maximize your information technology investments. The computer guy is great when the printer breaks or when the computer goes haywire, but a business technology coach can offer you significantly more value. Large corporations hire a Chief Information Officer to fulfill this role, but a small to mid-sized business may not need that degree of full time support. In these cases, a business technology coach will serve you well.

Business Technology is any technology that serves the needs of business, including accounting, networking, and other office systems. So, while an office productivity software suite (e.g. Microsoft Office) is considered business technology, the Microsoft Xbox is not. The realization that there is a growing divide between recreational gadgets and technologies that can directly impact the business world has led to a new way of examining the direct value of technology. Business technology must add value to your company or else it is just a waste of money. There are so many products to choose from, all with competing philosophies and learning curves. More often than not, you simply accept what came with the computer when you bought it and you make due. Or, worse yet, you fall prey to that fantastic salesperson that promises the answer to all your prayers and delivers another expensive nightmare. So, the next fact you need to accept is that not all business technology is valuable to your business!

The key to modern business success is to be sure to align your business goals with your technology plans. Business and technology alignment has become a Holy Grail for large multinational corporations. Because these industrial monsters are so large, anything they can do to make themselves more flexible, more responsive to their customers, is mandatory. Fortunately, most small and medium-sized businesses are agile and fast to respond. Chances are your top customers know how to get in touch with you at any time of the day. However, just because you do not suffer from the problems of these huge dinosaur businesses does not mean you cannot benefit from business / technology alignment. A business technology coach will assist you in aligning your business goals with your technology investments.

The second benefit you can derive from a business technology coach is an understanding of your business processes. No two businesses operate exactly alike. Chances are your business practices have developed organically as your company overcomes new challenges. However, organic growth has a tendency to develop substantial inefficiencies that can impact profits. I have seen cases where companies print and mail out zero dollar invoices ($0.00) simply because the system was poorly automated. This is inefficient and expensive, and can easily be remedied. A business technology coach will analyze how you work to pinpoint and correct these inefficiencies.

A business technology coach will then use his knowledge and understanding of your computer systems and business processes to assist you in building competitive advantage. According to a 2007 IBM study, a business technology coach should be “…engaged as a strategic partner for process and culture change.” This means that the lonely computer geek typing away for hours without human contact is not the right choice if you want to succeed. A business technology coach will be capable of working with others and must possess advanced communication and social skills to act as an agent of positive change. The computer geek that is incapable of communicating ideas or is lacking in social skills is not what you need.

Also, a business technology coach understands that his job is to make recommendations. Remember, you are the ultimate decision maker, so your coach needs to present you with options, instead of ultimatums. In some rare cases there is only one course of action, but in my experience I have rarely encountered them. A business technology coach will present you with multiple options to achieve your goals. However, if so instructed, your business technology coach will make decisions on your behalf based on solid experience and understanding of your objectives.

Technology is a fact of life. From cell phones to computers, technology has become a part of our everyday lives. Whether it’s to improve efficiency or to develop new services, companies all over the world are harnessing technology to improve the way they do business. Don’t trust your technology to someone that doesn’t understand business and how you work. A business technology coach can make the difference to your success.

Leadership Skills Are Necessary for Technology Managers

Technology oriented careers have been making a comeback. Accordingly, talented technology managers are necessary in every area of the field – from Web design and development, to database-driven e-commerce, to software engineering, to technical service and support. Technology positions, from programmer to CIO, are also critically important in organizations from all industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, education, government and service firms. Technology professionals often seek career advancement but need the leadership skills necessary to advance their careers. In response to these industry demands, adult-learning and distance learning schools now offer technology degrees at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, often in accelerated formats.

However, other necessary characteristics of successful technology managers cannot be found on a silicon microchip or in a line of CSS markup code. Some of these characteristics include a talent for leadership; the ability to communicate ideas and directions, and the ability to motivate and mentor staff. These skills are not taught in all technology curricula of the 21st century. However, some information technology and computer science academic curriculum designers are beginning to recognize the importance of teaching soft skills in the classroom. Accordingly, some programs of study now emphasize specialized leadership training for would-be technology managers.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that computer and information systems professionals typically require advanced-level training (namely, a master’s degree) in order to be considered for leadership positions in technology. The BLS also points to the need for technology job applicants to have diverse experience in technology systems and applications. This experience will allow them to lead staff who work in different departments and who have different types of technology skills. An additional benefit to pursuing training for technology management careers is the bright future outlook of this field. These careers are expected to grow 16 percent through the year 2016.

Technology leadership training programs at the master’s degree level will typically have two or three core academic components. The first core component, obviously, is technology. Students who pursue this type of master’s degree typically begin the program with knowledge of at least one higher-level programming language; and are comfortable with database management or development, as well as computer networking systems administration. The master’s in leadership and information technology course of study will build on students’ foundations in information science and systems, enabling students to approach these disciplines from a leadership and management perspective.

Students will learn to lead employees as well as communicate with all levels of the organization and customers.

In CIO Magazine’s 2007 State of the CIO survey of more than 500 IT professionals, the three skills “most pivotal for success in your role” were: the ability to communicate effectively, strategic thinking and planning, and ability to lead/motivate staff. In other words, leadership skills. The primary characteristics that all technology managers must have are leadership skills. These attributes enable technology leaders to motivate staff; to direct projects or business activities in a way that maximizes profits, and to ensure that staff on hand are competent and contribute to strong worker retention. According to career advice site Monster.com, the best managers and leaders in technology are those men and women who are directly involved in project management and task delegation, rather than those who give orders from afar.

In the tech industry, there exists a decades-old stereotype about the social inclinations of technology workers. Unfairly or not, they have been historically pegged as lacking in leadership skills and strong communication abilities. Industry efforts to disassemble this stereotype is one primary reason why students interested in technology management are able to enroll in master’s-level programs of study that combine technology skills with interpersonal and leadership skills.

The other reason more and more master’s-level technology programs of study focus on business and leadership skills is because technology manager careers have become more specialized and decisions-driven. Managers in tech fields must be able to assess the technology systems in place at their companies, and make system implementation and upgrade decisions that will be positive for their employees and clients. Technology must support and align with organizational goals. Making the right technology decisions requires developed leadership skills, strong soft skills, and polished business acumen.

As technology continues to change and develop rapidly, technology leadership master’s degree programs will continue to develop targeted curricula, integrating technology with the business world to produce strong leaders.

Assistive Technology, Needs Assessment

Many senior citizens or people with disabilities or injuries make use of assistive technology-tools, products, or kinds of equipment that help people perform tasks and activities. They can be as simple as a hearing aid, a walker, or a magnifying glass, or as complex as a computer or motor scooter.

More specifically, assistive technology or adaptive devices are services or instruments that help senior citizens or people with disabilities perform the activities they used to perform but must now perform differently. Anything that helps the elderly continue to do daily activities in the context of in home care is considered assistive about technology.

Assistive Technology Options and Devices

Many kinds of disabilities exist, so many kinds of assistive technology have been created to help people overcome a great range of disabilities. Some kinds of assistive technology are described below:

  • Adaptive switches. These are modified switches that senior citizens can use to adjust devices like air conditioners, power wheelchairs, etc. by using the tongue or voice.
  • Communication equipment. This is anything that helps someone send and receive messages, such as a telephone amplifier.
  • Computer access. This is special software that helps senior citizens access the Internet or basic hardware like a modified mouse or keyboard to make the computer more user-friendly.
  • Education. This category includes audio books, Braille writing tools, and resources for people to get additional vocational training.
  • Home modifications. This can include some remodeling to overcome physical barriers and live more comfortably. An example is constructing a ramp to allow wheelchair access.
  • Tools for independent living. This is anything that allows senior citizens to enjoy daily life without additional assistance. An example is a handicapped-accessible bathroom with grab bars in the bathtub.
  • Job-related items. This is any process or device that facilitates your job. This could include a special type of chair or pillow if you work at a desk or a back brace if you perform physical labor.
  • Mobility aids. This is any device that allows a senior citizen to move around more easily, including a power wheelchair, a wheelchair lift, or a stair elevator.
  • Orthotic or prosthetic equipment. This is a tool that compensates for a missing or disabled body part. This could include shoe inserts for someone with fallen arches or an artificial arm for someone who has undergone an amputation.
  • Recreational assistance. This is a method or device that enables people with disabilities to enjoy fun activities. A couple examples are swimming lessons from recreational therapists and specially made skis for senior citizens who have lost a limb.
  • Seating aids. This is a modification to a chair, wheelchair, or motor scooter that helps someone remain upright, move up and down without assistance, or decrease the amount of pressure on the skin. This could be as simple as an extra pillow or as complex as a motorized seat.
  • Sensory enhancements. These are devices that help people who are partially blind or deaf to participate in more activities. This could include a caption option on a television for a senior citizen who is hard of hearing.
  • Therapy. This could include equipment or processes that encourage and work toward recovery after an illness or injury. This may involve both services and technology, like having a physical therapist use a specialized massage unit to restore a more complete range of motion in stiff muscles.
  • Transportation assistance. This category includes devices for senior citizens that facilitate getting into and out of vehicles and driving safely, including adjustable mirrors, seats, and steering wheels. Drive-up windows at the department of motor vehicles that allow the elderly to maintain and register their vehicles are also included.

Now that you know what falls into the category of assistive technology, you may be wondering what the benefits are. For starters, many senior citizens view assistive technology as a way to live independently without worrying about having long-term elder care or living in a nursing home. It allows in home care to be conducted in areas of living such as bathing and going to the bathroom.

Studies show that the majority of senior citizens who use methods of assistive technology have reduced their dependence on others, including paid assistance. Families may need to make monthly payments for this kind of equipment, but the costs are generally less than those associated with in home care or nursing homes. This means that assistive technology can reduce the cost of elder care for senior citizens and their families.

Assistive Technology Needs Assessment in the Elderly

Is assistive technology right for you? Planning and assessment are important parts of deciding whether to use assistive technology since it can interfere with your current services or the way in which those services are provided.

This assessment is most thorough when it involves many people within your spectrum of support. For instance, if you have trouble communicating or are hard of hearing, you may wish to consult with your doctor, an audiology specialist, a speech-language therapist, or other elder care provider to identify your specific problem and determine the plan that will best address your needs. If assistive technology is a part of this plan, your team can help decide which devices are appropriate for you, choosing the most effective tools at the lowest cost. Training to use the devices chosen may also be included in your plan.

A case study shows the benefits of conducting a needs assessment and working with a team in terms of improving the quality of life of an elderly woman:

A team worked together to help Christina find and buy a hearing aid that allowed her to hear well again. She could watch television again with the help of special magnification equipment and a telecaption decoder. More assistive technology allowed her to talk on the phone and use the computer like she used to. When combined with her hearing aid, assistive technology improved the quality and ease of Christina’s life.

When you’re considering assistive technology, it’s helpful to look at both simple and complex solutions to find the one that’s best for you over a range of time. Complex, high-tech solutions may be more expensive, but they’re usually more adaptable if your needs change over time. Simple, low-tech solutions may be cheaper in the short-run, but they aren’t as adaptable. Before purchasing any expensive assistive technology, make sure it can be upgraded to change with your needs and upgraded as improvements are designed. Here are some questions to ask when considering assistive technology:

  • Which tasks do you need help with, and how frequently do you need help?
  • Which types of assistive technology will enable you to be most independent?
  • Is there a more advanced device that addresses more than one of your needs?
  • Does the manufacturer have a preview policy so you can try out the equipment and return it for credit if it isn’t what you need?
  • How do you expect your needs to change over the next six months? the next six years or longer?
  • Is the equipment up-to-date? Will it likely be off the market in the near future?
  • Which kinds of assistive technology are available that meet your needs?
  • Which types of assistive technology have you used before, and how did those devices work?
  • Will you always need help with a certain task, and can the device be adjusted to fit your needs as your condition changes?

Costs and Payment Options for Assistive Technology

Another important aspect of deciding whether you’d like to use assistive technology is cost and financing. Currently, no single private insurance plan or public program will cover the entire cost of assistive technology under any circumstances, but Medicare Part B can cover up to 80 percent of the cost of equipment that falls under the category of “durable medical equipment.” This includes devices that are “primarily and customarily used to serve a medical purpose, and generally are not useful to a person in the absence of illness or injury.”

Some state-run Medicaid programs also cover some assistive technology. This may help you, but it will not cover the entire cost of buying an expensive device like a power wheelchair.

If you’re a senior citizen who is eligible for veterans’ benefits, you may also want to explore the possibility of financial assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). This agency has an existing structure to pay for the large volume of devices it purchases, and it invests in training people to operate assistive technology.

Other options to pay for assistive technology are private health insurance and paying with your own funds. Paying out-of-pocket is generally a viable option for simple items like modified eating utensils, but most senior citizens need assistance in paying for more complex devices. Another option is finding discounts, grants, or rebates from not-for-profit organizations or companies that want you to try a certain product that you might not otherwise consider. If you’re looking into this option, you may want to be careful-businesses with commercial interests have the potential to be fraudulent.

Since private health insurance does not cover the entire cost of this equipment, you may want to look into subsidy programs, which can provide some kinds of assistive technology at a reduced cost or for free.