President of Web Fire Communications, Inc., Chairman of the Board of Texoma Community Credit Union, Board of WF Chamber of Commerce.
Although it is easy to say technology changes quickly, it is not easy to understand how it will impact our organizations. With tightening budgets and increasing dependence on the internet and a mobile workforce, organizations, especially nonprofits, must leverage technology for its efficiency benefits. However, technology is costly, and any efficiencies will likely be lost if not implemented and maintained properly. Most nonprofits do not have the luxury of having a full-time IT staff to stay on top of their needs, and leadership often outsources those requirements to consulting firms. Even if we have an IT staff, often they must rely on expertise from outside consultants.
With the convergence of computer networking, telecommunications, the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity and so on, along with the ever-increasing threat landscape of cybercrime and identity theft, our technology requirements have continued to escalate. Over the past decade or so, these ever-changing and increasing demands have forced technology consultants to undergo a major shift in the way providers deliver their products and services. In this article, we will review some of the changes and how we in the nonprofit sector can realign our thinking and leadership decision-making to ensure we leverage technology to our organization’s benefit — not its demise.
Let us look at a real-world scenario to illustrate the shift in mindset.
Let’s say our hypothetical nonprofit organization has received a grant to replace its old, failing computer network. Our director solicits bids from various computer consulting firms and selects the company that gives the best overall proposal based on its support abilities and total cost of the project. We write the check. The consulting firm installs everything perfectly, gives us some required training, and tells us to have a nice day and to call them if we need anything. Sound familiar?
All is grand. Our staff rejoices at the speed of their new PCs and how much more efficient they can work — for a few months. One day, a longtime, beloved volunteer clicks on a malicious link in an email while using one of the center’s PCs. The volunteer accidentally but successfully installs a time-loaded crypto virus (ransomware). Three months later, our entire system is held hostage as the criminals demand we pay a high-cost ransom to get our data back. The director quickly calls our computer consultant, who sends a technician right over to help. However, the virus also corrupted our backups. Now, our organization is essentially dead in the water, and we must rebuild our systems. No matter how we approach it, this problem will be extremely costly — we might not even survive.
This traditional way of buying technology is dubbed “break/fix.” In this example, something broke, so we called our tech support, and they responded to fix the problem. This methodology served the industry well for many years, but with the tech changes that have occurred at breakneck speeds, more staff working remotely and the criminal element becoming more sophisticated, we have learned that taking the break/fix approach to technology no longer works. Furthermore, this model creates tension between our consultants and us because the consultant makes a profit while we are offline. How do we plan a budget for extended computer outages? What does it cost when our staff is not functioning?
To eliminate those questions, consider hiring a managed service provider (MSP). An MSP proactively monitors, maintains and manages an organization’s technology, constantly assessing the environment for threats. Often, clients can choose from a plethora of options and services that can be custom-tailored around specific needs. The managed services model aligns the consultant’s best interest with the client’s to ensure systems never go down. Unlike the traditional break/fix scenario, instead of making money when our network is down, the MSP loses money every minute we are offline. Hiring an MSP is like having your own in-house staff at a fraction of the cost.
As nonprofit leaders, we are constantly thinking of innovative ways to push our mission forward. Some understand the importance of technical prowess among staff, and this requires a substantial amount of ongoing training. Fortunately, plenty of online resources offer inexpensive or even free technical training that can assist at any level. Sites like Alison, edX, Microsoft Learn, Harvard Online Learning, MIT OpenCourseWare and others offer comprehensive training materials ranging from the most basic computer courses to highly complex development of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions. With these powerful tools at our fingertips, we can equip our staff to become as highly skilled as their ambitions will take them. The key to successfully using these resources for staff development is to create a syllabus of courses custom-designed around our organizations’ relevant needs and a testing method for accountability.
In addition to online training resources for staff development, there have been substantial strides in network management and monitoring solutions. Companies like NinjaRMM, Datto, Kaseya, Continuum and others offer software platforms that make network management more efficient and less daunting. For nonprofits with their own IT departments, these solutions can assist those employees by streamlining and automating some of their responsibilities and helping thwart cybercrime. As leaders, we must listen to our IT staff when they request to add these expenses to their budgets.
Whether developing staff, giving tools to experts or outsourcing to consultants, it is extremely important for nonprofit leaders to understand the fast-paced world of technology requires methodical and strategic thinking. We must learn to think of and use technology as an effective tool that helps us achieve our missions instead of just an expense line on our balance sheets.
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