Preparing to construct a database or a CAD model for an excavation or any other archaeology project seems to involve a relatively confined set of issues surrounding the nature of the data, the computers available, data entry processes, and the like. However, that level of preparation omits planning for the overall use of computers in the project. That is, though it may be relatively straight-forward to apply computers to specific needs of a project, there are some very important issues about computing generally that should be taken up at the very beginning, before any computer applications are considered.
The first of those issues is the most obvious but may be the most easily overlooked. Someone on any project must be responsible for the computer work. There must be a head geek - not necessarily a technophile (though, if not, someone who knows where to get technical assistance). The head geek (Director of Information Technology in a business setting) must be responsible for the care and feeding of the computers generally, just as the registrar has overall responsibility for making sure that the objects find their way to safety. In both cases there is substantial individual work, but, at least as important, there is specific responsibility for that particular job.
The head geek may be the project director, if the director is so inclined, and on small projects the director probably should take that position. However, the larger the project, the more nearly impossible it is for the director to be in direct control of everything and, consequently, the more necessary it is for another member of the project to take on other responsibilities, such as computers and computing.
Whether project director or not, the head geek should be the person who decides on the level of computer sophistication required for the site, the allocation of resources for computing, the personnel needs impacted by computing, and so on. Perhaps a comparison to site architect would be apt. On a large project, the site architect decides a great many things - in concert with the director, to be sure, but it is the architect who has the expertise about survey methodology, drawing media, and so on. The director may or may not, for instance, provide all the assistance requested by the site architect, but it is up to the architect to make the request - and to make the case - for personnel to help with his/her work. That same level of oversight is required concerning computers. Where will computers be used? Why? What equipment will be owned or leased? Why? What personnel will be required?
The first job of the head geek is to assess the needs of the project generally. There are many parts of the work that benefit from computer help. From bookkeeping to databases, to CAD models, to GIS analyses, to word processing for articles or transcribing field notes, many needs for computer power exist. Which ones are more urgent, more valuable, pay for themselves sooner, require the least disruption of other processes? There are many such questions to be asked, but a systematic approach is required for the entire project, and a single person should be the one asking the questions and trying to make plans in the best long-term interests of the project.
The financial and personnel impacts of the plans must be carefully considered, and, here again, a long-term, project-wide view is necessary. For instance, a database that looks expensive may save a good deal of time and expense if the site catalog can be prepared directly from the database without any form of re-transcribing. Similarly, using CAD may seem overkill until one considers the time required to make drawings for publications. The head geek should be able to make those kinds of assessments of technologies that may be suggested for use on the project.
The head geek should also be the person responsible for specifying computer equipment, selecting and upgrading software, organizing data entry processes, establishing data verification procedures, scheduling the back-up work, developing archiving procedures, and so on. These are all important matters, and it is crucial that someone adopt them as his/her responsibilities. Most crucial, though, is that the head geek have a good general overview of the work of the project so that he/she can evaluate all the computing needs, all the personnel affected, all the financial repercussions, and so on. Thus, the person in charge of the computers and computing must be a key member of the team, with a good overview of the project as a whole, with good access to the director, and without specific axes to grind.
-- Harrison Eiteljorg, II
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