Implementing technology projects in newsrooms or media organizations that traditionally don’t have tech support can be quite a challenge.
Here are five suggestions for those starting such a tech endeavor, based on my work with technologists and media organizations in Latin America.
1. Choose the right tech partner(s)
First, it is important to note that technology needs can vary a great deal and that it is better to identify the kind of profile that your technology partner needs. Assess if there is a specific technology capacity that needs to be covered in the project. In some cases, those capacities could be linked to data scraping, data analysis, content management systems, multimedia production or web design.
If the project must address various technology needs, it is always best to work with a partner organization that has specialists on each topic. If you work with different partners, they should be working in synergy and under a common product definition and work plan.
And, if you will be working with existing software, you should involve your partner in the coding or practice community related to that technology. Being involved with a tech community can increase your access to technical and practical knowledge. If you are developing new technology, just make sure that your partner has previous experience working on similar solutions.
2. Define a realistic scope and start small
Technology projects need to have a clear product design and project scope. If what is going to be built is not clear and detailed, there is high risk of spending additional resources (which become more costly as a project increases its scope) and suffering tensions within the project team. A common product definition document and a work plan should be the project’s guiding compass.
Many features can be built over core technology functionalities. Nonetheless, the product definition should address the core user needs and the teams should work on that first. It is very common to see simple projects turn into long, tense and expensive “technology Frankensteins” as many of the decision-makers suggest additional features.
Once you have your core technology deployed and you’re starting to receive user feedback, it is advisable to correct any user-experience burning needs and once that is deployed, work on new features.
3. Assess impact on everyday work
Technology projects may bring additional work to the team. It is very important to assess how everyday work activities will be changing once the project is running. Sometimes new tasks and even job postings will be needed to address the technology, the data wrangling and the content production activities.
Quite often a new team is needed to run the project, especially in its deployment phase and when it reaches its full operational status. Such a team should be contemplated in the project’s business plans and institutional layout.
Make sure that your tech partner and/or internal team considers the project deployment support and technology management needs as part of their activities.
4. Tech needs maintenance
ICT solutions are not cement bridges. All digital technology needs maintenance both to address internal issues that may come up and to keep its functionalities and links with other information sources and technologies.
Also, no technology deployment is perfect. Especially after going live, the technology team needs to know what issues users are having and solve them to reach the best performance.
With in-house tech teams, outsourced services or platform built-in services, there should be Terms of Service, which lay out a clear understanding of what the maintenance team is expected to solve, maintain and upgrade. If there are user-generated issues, new functionalities needed or if the original technological solution goes obsolete after some years, it is very likely that additional charges will apply.
5. Be prepared for success
If everything goes right, complexity will increase as you reach lots of visits to your website. Be prepared by ensuring that the technology you use can have performance upgrades and can quickly implement security protocols.
Most hosting providers include predefined or dynamic traffic services that can have an optimal performance and price depending on the site’s user demand.
Also, as user visits increase, their feedback and expectations can overwhelm the project’s core team so it is really important to set protocols to identify and assess feedback that can be channeled to the tech team to avoid issues and update features that increase the user’s experience.
And sometimes success might bring security challenges. Protocols and protection services against denial of service and other attacks on the site should be anticipated in order to avoid crashing sites and information loss or corruption.
Juan Manuel Casanueva (@jm_casanueva) is a Knight International Journalism Fellow who enables ICT for Social Change projects in Latin America. He is developing Civic Engagement Labs in Mexico and Central America to support data-driven media projects, as well as building networks to improve collaboration between technologists, journalists and civil society organizations in Latin America. Casanueva is the CEO and co-founder of SocialTIC, a non-profit that empowers change-makers though the strategic use of ICTs, open data and digital narratives.
This post originally appeared on the International Journalists’ Network. IJNet delivers the latest on global media innovation, news apps and tools, training opportunities and expert advice for professional and citizen journalists worldwide. Produced by the International Center for Journalists, IJNet follows the shifting journalism scene from a global perspective in seven languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Follow along on Twitter, Facebook or with IJNet’s free weekly newsletter.