One of my volunteer activities is serving on the board of directors of California Arts Advocates (CAA), a statewide nonprofit organization that provides political advocacy services for arts organizations and individuals. CAA's stakeholders include a vast array of sizes and activities, from very large organizations such as the San Francisco Opera to individual poets, writers and visual artists. One of CAA's main missions is to shape and influence public policy as it relates to museums, orchestras, theaters, musical groups, performing artists, visual artists, arts education, etc. Because we deal with public policy, we also deal with public funding. Due to California's massive $25 to $35 billion (yes, billion with a B) budget deficit, arts funding is at risk of being severely limited or eliminated entirely in the coming state budgets.
As the "outside" director on the board, the only director who is not managing an arts institution or organization, I am relied on to bring an independent business management perspective to our efforts. As such, I clearly see the challenge to effectively communicate the very real value of the arts in our education system, in our society and in our quality of life. To the "internal" board members, it is self evident that arts participation leads to higher test scores and less crime with young people; it is readily apparent that arts events draw as many or more attendees annually than major sporting events; it is easy to see the economic benefit of between $11 and $17 returned to the local community for every dollar invested in local arts programs; and it is clear that the arts are separate and distinct from Hollywood. To "outsiders" such as myself, those messages and truths are not always clear, nor well understood.
A few months ago we were discussing the potential outcomes if the worst-case arts funding scenarios came to pass. I told the board how during the great depression, my grandparents stored food in an underground cellar or bunker. They stocked the bunkers with vegetables and meats and other provisions whenever there times of plenty or available money. During the winters and in times of want, this provided their primary source of food and other goods. I suggested that we should think about what arts programs we should put "into the bunker" so that when things improved in few years, we could have a foundation to build an arts future.
As I've participated in CAA board meetings over the last few months, I've noticed an eerie similarity between the draconian arts funding cuts we face and some corporate management meetings I've attended regarding funding business intelligence (BI) projects. In both cases, one group inherently "knows" the value of their efforts, while an outside audience may not only be unaware of the value, but may be in active competition for the assets required for survival and success.
I have been in meetings where BI management teams assumed that everyone in the organization knew of the value of analytics, the power of information distribution and access, and understood the links between investment in business intelligence and resulting improvements in efficiency, quality and competitive advantage. In truth, however, from the business perspective, these concepts were at best vague possibilities and at worst viewed as the hype of yet another IT project team.
Too often, BI, like the arts, is viewed as a "nice-to-have," optional element that is okay if you can afford it, but not required for the down-and-dirty, day-to-day functioning of the organization. Too often, just as the arts is assumed to be one and the same as Hollywood, BI is assumed to be a normal, integral part of the vast, rich kingdom of IT. When things get challenging financially, programs and departments that are viewed as optional or as integral with an overfed cousin are at high risk for cuts or elimination.
Some of you may be facing situations now or in the near future where your resources and funding may be severely limited or cut entirely. You, too, should be thinking about what to put into the bunker so that when things get better in the future, there will be something to build on.
You must work to save and preserve your needs analysis, especially as it relates to business processes. You must also stock the bunker with your documentation of data sources and third-party data feeds. Be sure to preserve all technical documentation related to systems that are currently running and any technical architecture plans for systems in planning and development stages. Lastly, document the names, roles and contact information for everyone involved in the project. You will probably all be dispersed to other projects and departments, and whoever is tasked with reassembling the pieces of the program will be in need of whatever expertise they can draw from the current team.
In the depths of the depression, there were thousands of people milling around the Jasper County courthouse every day, looking for work. Meanwhile, my grandparents lived off of what they stocked in their bunker and had the essentials they needed to rebuild their lives when the economy improved. Eventually, funding and resources will be restored for your BI project or program. Be sure to stock the bunker well so that whoever is responsible for restoring the program will have the resources they need to be successful.
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