The participants in the Special Olympics embody the Olympic spirit like no other. The joy of participation and camaraderie of these physically and mentally challenged athletes are boundless.
The Special Olympics of Texas (SOTX), headquartered in Austin, Texas, is the largest chapter in the world with 19 offices statewide. SOTX stages three state events a year and over 200 events at the local level with athletes ages eight to 88. The Internet provides an excellent medium for communicating and coordinating these events involving 27,000 participants.
When SOTX went online in 1999, effective operation was a challenge. Multiple locations with a hodge-podge of hardware in different configurations limited performance and hindered compatibility. Support was a particularly critical area.
With offices only open during business hours, the thousands of volunteers, participants, and events required around the clock communications. Kathy Banks, vice president of human resources, elaborates. "All of our IT was in house. We discovered that we could not provide 24/7 service." User expectations almost mandated an outsourcing solution.
The sheer number of offices was another impetus to outsource. While most offices had between four and six people, some had only one, like the Laredo office. "Our people specialize in clients with retardation and sports. They just want to sit down at that computer and get the work done," she says.
Also, SOTX didn't want to bear the expense of creating and maintaining a state of the art system or the salary expense of hiring the staff to manage it.
Going For the Gold
To accomplish its IT objectives, SOTX selected outsourcing supplier Everdream of Fremont, California, in August 2001. On a 24/7 basis, Everdream provides automated daily online backup, automated virus protection, remote control capabilities, Web-based email, hardware/software procurement, updating, immediate 24/7 technical support either online or through a toll-free phone number, training and support on a range of issues.
Everdream implemented a rapid but efficient game plan. First came a Web-based email service that operated on the same system for all 18 area offices. Then, Everdream activated the other functions incrementally to insure a seamless transition. According to Russell Rive, CTO and founder of Everdream, "We are a virtual IT department." If a problem arises that the help desk can't solve, Everdream can dispatch a technician on short notice to any site thanks to its national relationships.
Banks says SOTX has to communicate with thousands of volunteers. It posts every fund raising or sporting event on its Web site. Volunteers check the Web site for news, updates or changes. Everdream helps the organization create the appropriate email distribution lists. "They can just hit one button and communicate with the right people. We are no longer standing in front of the fax machine to do this," she reports.
Supplier Fixes Problems "In a Nanosecond"
The SOTX is pleased with Everdream's personalized customer service. "Everdream has the business and management skills beyond just knowing computers to deliver the service they promise," notes Banks. She says the supplier seeks feedback on every call it receives. Her volunteers tell her, "They fixed my problem, often in a nano second. That is what you need because people need to know that somebody is truly taking care of them."
Banks says speeding up communications helped SOTX deliver its services faster. In 2001, the organization grew from 24,000 to over 27,000 athletes. She attributes much of this growth to the increased ease in communications.
"Everdream has never failed us while delivering the service at the same or with less expense than doing it in house," says Banks.
SOTX President Margaret Larsen reports, "It is a difference between day and night. Now we can address our focus and mission without worrying. Everything is more efficient. We are 24/7." </p.
There's an emotional payback, too. Competitors may journey hundreds of miles for an event. Before the IT outsourcing, anxious families could wait for possibly days to find out results. Larsen beams, "Now they can get on the Web and find out the results of their child's effort as fast as we know them. This includes pictures so the families can actually see their athletes."<?p>
When the competitors arrive home, they can see the results with pictures to relive their moments in Olympic pageantry. Their joy becomes magnified to radiate greater warmth for thousands with the help of outsourcing.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing enables 24/7 IT services. This is a blessing for Special Olympics families because they can retrieve results immediately and enjoy them for days since they are posted on the Web site.
- Buyers can deploy leading edge technology with top-notch expertise without up front expenditures and IT staffing. This is an important consideration for both corporate entities and volunteer organizations like SOTX.
- Outsourcing allows the enterprise to focus its efforts and resources on its primary mission. This extra time has allowed SOTX to grow, since it was able to concentrate solely on its athletes and sporting events.