by Alan Weisenberger

“The new pastoral candidate says he’ll take the job if we buy him a Mac instead of a PC.”

This is a dangerous way to start a blog, but it’s worth the risk, because ministry leaders are continually required to weigh personal preference against organizational need.

Technology decision makers who are truly looking out for their organizations’ best interests sometimes have to say “no” to good ideas. It can happen when someone—often a higher ranking someone—wants new software or a technology gadget that is sure to make them more efficient. So they ask, “Why can’t I just use the technology tools that work best for me?”

I’m not suggesting that technology decision makers (like me) are always right when we deny one of these requests. Sometimes we’re guilty of saying no for the wrong reasons. When evaluating these requests, we have two responsibilities:

1.   Understand the need behind each request.

2.   Offer solutions that best meet the needs of the organization—which may or may not match the wants of the individual.

Sometimes the reasons to say no are hidden costs. What might your IT staff work on if they weren’t getting each person’s favorite screensaver working? When you consider the labor, lost productivity, and hard costs of installations, upgrades, testing, compatibility issues, troubleshooting problems, and training (even if it’s self-training), a typical software package will cost 10 to 20 times its purchase price over its useful life. So ask yourself whether you would buy that $100 package if it cost $1,000, because eventually, it will. Even “free” software adds another variable into an organization’s network, and every variable adds support costs. Here’s a rule of thumb that we try to live by:

If you want to keep your IT infrastructure cost-efficient and reliable, limit the variables you introduce into it.

Often the reason to say no is because allowing individual flexibility can constrain organizational flexibility. A simple example. If everyone gets to choose their own word processing program, they may have trouble sharing files, they won’t be able to share knowledge about how to do things, and your IT staff will have more licenses to manage, more patches and upgrades to install, and more compatibility problems to troubleshoot.

Being part of something bigger than ourselves (like our ministry) means we have to accept the individual constraints that are necessary for the good of the whole. We all need to look out not merely for our own interests, but also for the interests of others. Where have I read that before…?

I can’t tell you whether to get that new pastoral candidate his Mac. I can recommend that you recognize the very real and enduring, but often hidden, costs of adding variables to your IT environment. You can’t weigh those costs against their benefits and make a good decision without acknowledging the true costs and the true benefits.

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