The Secret of Solving IT Challenges for Not-for-Profit Enterprises
Passionate advocates for their causes, decision makers in not-for-profit enterprises must know which are the right doors to open to meet their emergency and ongoing needs. Otherwise, their list of philanthropic projects is full of non-starters or ideas that stall later because of lack of capital and other resources.
When it comes to IT equipment, they are typically behind the curve, having to make things last as long as they can. Usually depending on funding from charitable grants and contributions, the menace of how to reduce operating expenses without compromising the quality of services threatens these enterprises more than other organizations.
"Money is very tight," states Janet Kramer, president of the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. But it was only one component of a seemingly impossible dilemma she faced in early 2002 when informed by the National MS Society that the local chapter would be required to migrate to a software product being developed by the national headquarters and integrate with the database and system of the National MS Society.
The Ohio chapter's IS staff consisted solely of a database administrator. "We didn't have the internal expertise to upgrade our computers in the way that we needed to," recalls Kramer.
They had been informed of the type of platform they would need to run on, and they knew they needed better system communication among the chapter's four locations (Cleveland, Columbus, Akron and Youngstown). But they didn't know what PCs to buy or how they needed to "hook up with the various offices." Moreover, the chapter's executive team is mobile and would need access to the system and files while they travel among their four Ohio locations. "We didn't have the internal knowledge to get from Point A to Point B and certainly didn't know the very best way to do it," the chapter's president remembers.
How to "Do It Right"
Kramer says they were fortunate to have a technology-savvy board member, who knew the dynamics of the project would require outside resources.
Antares Management Solutions' Greg Blatnik, manager, Distributive Processing Services, recalls the project's beginning. "They asked us to look at their computing environment and provide strategic direction for something that would be stable for three to five years. A number of things were unstable in their environment. We identified all the items that needed to be corrected and created a whole-picture plan that would encompass improvements."
Among other solutions considered, Kramer says the board decided to outsource the migration project to Antares because "what they presented us, at the price they presented it, made the most sense to us. The board wanted to do it right, and this solution looked to be the best way to do it."
They needed a smooth transition to the National MS Society's database in New York by early 2003; improved systems stability, reliability and performance; and easier administration. They also had to bring the chapter in line with the National MS Society's corporate standards for desktop and server operating systems. The magnitude of the project was overwhelming.
Blatnik, account manager for this relationship, says the project was "a very complex effort. We basically did 12 things - any one of which would have been a significant project alone. And we did it all in one weekend!"
Discussing the dozen major projects, he explains, "We first looked at the way they accessed things via their network. They had a frame relay setup with two locations, costing them several hundred dollars a month. We put in DSL lines at less than a hundred dollars a month; now they access shared directories and file servers via DSL and a VPN extranet to their remote sites."
In addition to installing the more cost-effective network, Antares designed and implemented an Active Directory domain structure with Windows 2000 (migrating from an NT 4.0 domain structure) and moved the MS chapter from costly licensing to terminal services. The provider also implemented more reliable backup and recovery solutions. Existing server hardware (often stressed, causing downtime) was replaced; all desktops were migrated to Windows 2000; and the desktop productivity tool was upgraded to Office 2000. High-security firewall solutions were implemented at the chapter's headquarters and remote sites. Antares also provided training and documentation for the chapter's users.
Blue-Ribbon Cutover Weekend
The outsourcer's resources and expertise achieved the monumental project without a hitch.
"At cutover weekend, we were in a fairly major data-entry period," explains Kramer, "so we couldn't have the system down for long." There was a backup plan (reconnecting to the old system), but they didn't need to go to Plan B. They stopped using the old system around noon on Friday, Antares did the implementation, and everything was running flawlessly Monday morning.
Blatnik says the two enterprises worked side by side for two months to work out the logistics in order to "get it done in one weekend without having to revisit it. We worked to accommodate their request for minimal downtime and loss of business hours for them."
The cost-effectiveness of a business solution depends a great deal on a quick implementation and no business interruptions. Blatnik estimates a company (even with more resources than the MS chapter) attempting this same complex project of 12 major transactions would have needed at least six months to achieve the implementation and would have incurred lost productivity during that period.
Since the implementation, Antares has also been asked to implement a solution for a new employee, who will be accessing the system from home.
Blatnik comments that they've been unable to find another MS Society chapter in the U.S. that has Exchange 2000, Active Directory and Windows 2000. So it's a first! He adds that Antares is now providing the National MS Society with the documentation for this impressive project so that it can be included in the society's IT standards.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal
- When the buyer is a not-for-profit enterprise with critical revenue concerns, credibility and trust in the service provider is a crucial issue.
- The total cost of ownership for an IT solution can rise drastically if the implementation takes longer than anticipated or the company incurs lost productivity during that time. Outsourcing implementation to a provider with expertise to ensure the project stays on track is crucial to a bottom line.