The Fractional CTO Pilot – by Vinod Rajasekaran

A brief update on our recently launched Fractional CTO pilot project with a NGO working in the women and children’s health space, out of Mumbai. As a recap of the last few months, we embarked on the Fractional CTO pilots as part of Tech4Dev 2.0 as we found during Tech4Dev 1.0 that NGOs lacked in-house technical skills and bandwidth to actively monitor, evaluate, iterate, and integrate technology in their programs. We set out to ease this bandwidth constraint and lack of technical skill set by assigning dedicated mid to senior level technology experts as fractional CTOs to our selected cohort of NGO partners. The CTO would work closely with NGO leadership and help create and implement technology strategies both for improvement of internal organizational processes and external program interventions as per the priorities identified by the NGO.

We are a few weeks into our consulting with the pilot NGO and are working through learning the organizational context and challenges they are facing from a technology and data perspective. 

The initial couple of calls with the NGO partner were aimed at understanding their program interventions, organization’s internal processes and constraints, current technology and data infrastructure set up. What we found through the conversations and reading the materials that was shared – 

  • Health survey data was being collected by a few hundred field workers across multiple states and visualized for internal and external use. 
  • The evolution of data strategy over time has resulted in numerous challenges including outgrowing of technology infrastructure, significant manual processes for data and information movement across the organization, actual or perceived high cost of licensed visualization tools leading to reduced use of direct user discovery of visualizations. 
  • Numerous opportunities for directly disseminating data to funders, public health systems etc. are now being done manually due to lack of investment in software technology due to actual or perceived high costs of licensing. Also, at the field worker level, visibility to program level metrics and outcome tracking is limited to periodic manual communications from program coordinators. 

Our first step from here was to go deeper into understanding user needs and their use cases at the executive and leadership level to place the current technology infrastructure and bolt down a strong problem statement to address through the course of this pilot with needs assessment and strategy planning phases. 

Our next step is to not limit ourselves to just the leadership level but to include stakeholders across the whole organization who interact with the data and understand the totality of user needs across the organization to ensure we understand perspectives across the organization and not just at the leadership level.

To address the high cost of visualization tools, we intend to work jointly on a cost benefit analysis to truly determine if it is worthwhile to pursue buying cloud licenses for currently used  visualization products or a migration to open-source/cheaper solutions. We hope at the end of this pilot to help evolve a strategy for the NGO to have a central and organized data hub that could then provide the core for the chosen analytics platform. This should help the organization streamline their current data flows, reduce manual operations and leverage their data for newer opportunities such as real-time program insights for funders, seamless data transfer to public health systems and possible information transfer to served communities. 

One key learning on the data ecosystem for non-profits, from our current endeavor, is to constantly re-visit assumptions and current technology infrastructure/data strategies as programs evolve and expand. This reduces the growth of systems to a significant size that systems migration or update becomes extremely cumbersome. 

Covid-19 has changed the ways we operate in multiple ways and at the digital level, has contributed to a mushrooming of data collection endeavors that has definitely become easier with the wide proliferation of mobile usage. The (re-)structuring of systems, if prioritized by NGOs, to deal with the amount of data now being collected and analyzed will greatly increase the ability of non-profits to use these insights to help better outcomes and project funding opportunities.

Keep tuned for more updates on how we move forward with trying to resolve these data and infrastructure challenges.


One response to “The Fractional CTO Pilot – by Vinod Rajasekaran”

  1. Excellent initiative! Having a technical mentor at hand will definitely make technology more accessible to players in the social sector.

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