As my project budget at work shrinks I have been trying to think of ways to keep myself and my staff busy. I have come up with a number of items that I think can be done a) easily and b) for free (or nearly free).
I am not surprised that many of the items I have been thinking of relate to providing new and better training to our staff. People can always improve themselves by learning new things. We have already invested in the trainers and the know how, time to spend the effort to teach some of our employees some new tricks. In my opinion one of the best ways to weather a down turn is to increase the knowledge and leverage of your existing knowledge worker pool.
Here are five things I think IT people can do right now with little or no money to make a difference in their organizations. These are not in any particular order.
1) Setup a Wiki and use it for knowledge sharing.
Whether you want to do a better job of capturing IT knowledge, or you want to let knowledge workers throughout your organization, a wiki can help people to write down there thoughts and put some of the tacit information in the firm to good use.
A wiki can be setup pretty quickly on a web server, or even a spare desktop computer. Using Mediawiki and XAMPP you can quickly setup the same type of wiki that Wikipedia uses.
2) Teach people to monitor information using Google Alerts and RSS(or email)
Google Alerts is free. Google Reader is free. Super easy way to monitor a brand, your clients, your industry. IT can quickly document this up, and teach people how to feed this information to their inbox or even to a shiny new Google Reader account (or other RSS reader). Creating an alert is as easy as visiting a the web site and typing in your query.
3) Make existing technology better with scripts and macros.
Talk to everyone in your organization and find out what bugs them. Bring two or three programmers or scripters together and figure out what you can do about each issue that is brought up. If something can be done, spend a little bit of time to write up some code to make the change. Give the code to the person(s) that asked for it and let them play with it. Make some additional changes as needed and publish the script out for anyone to use. If you set up a wiki in idea #1 above, perhaps it would be a good place to host links to the scripts and some documentation on how to use/install them.
4) Teach people to be better browser users.
Internet power users get a lot out of their browsers. Teaching people in your organization to become better with the browser can make a huge difference in how people get things done, and also how they share their online experience with others. Pick a couple of useful bookmarklets and show people how to use them. Offer a training session on how to register for a website, or how to shop safely online. You don’t have to limit what you teach to only professional subjects. I have talked to plenty of people who credit Amazon for teaching them to use the Internet. Heck, offer a class on how to use Amazon and show people the Universal Bookmarklet, tagging, and commenting. Get people thinking about the Internet in new ways, help them use it as a resource.
Use this bookmarklet to add a product from anywhere online to an Amazon wishlist.
5) Teach people to collaborate via web conference.
If your organization is like mine, people create phone conferences all the time, but they rarely bother to setup a web conference as well. The web conferencing software is often sold as part of a larger conferencing package so it is possible that your organization already has a system available to use.
With travel budgets being slashed at the same time IT budgets are, there is no better time to teach people how to share documents, collaborate on products and documents, and generally enhance their telephone based meetings with a live display of a computer.
When I show people that they can actually display a document and work through the document with the client they are typically impressed. Find those people in your organization, and teach them how to do it. Then let them teach their peers.
If you use a tool like Office Live Meeting server you can even show people how to integrate conferences inside the firewall using the Office Communicator software (Office Live Meeting Server and related software are not free).
Links to conference/remote access services
I am sure there are other things that can be done easily and cheaply that can provide some real value to your organization. Don’t let the lack of budget resources be a deterrent. Now is a great time for IT staff members to get out there and help the people we serve become better computer users.