If your foundation, or other organization, has less than about 30 staff, you probably don’t have a full-time IT manager. Usually, another staff member, such as an operations manager, includes IT as one of their duties. A local IT service provider supplements this work with IT support such as help desk and on-premises maintenance.
This arrangement can work very well, if it meets a few requirements. Most important, the foundation representative has to know enough about IT support to decide what the service provider should do. Then the service provider must know enough about the foundation to know what needs to be improved.
The Moment of Truth
The moment when these requirements are tested happens as the foundation needs significant, but unspecified, change to its IT support. For example, everybody’s security requirements have been increasing in the last few years. It turned out that that firewalls and anti-virus software weren’t enough. The foundation community has been very concerned about this. Several of their own, such as the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, have been hit by advanced persistent threats. Some small, local IT providers, however, have been slow to improve the security services they provide. Meanwhile, foundation personnel haven’t known what to ask for.
Another example is adopting new applications. If the organization is trying to decide which collaboration product to adopt, the local provider may not be familiar with many. Perhaps the organization is trying to make its file system easier to use. That may require designing file folder taxonomies and metadata. Then it may need to be put in the cloud in something like SharePoint Online. The local IT manager may lack both the information science knowledge and the SharePoint skills to help.
In some cases, the IT provider may have the skills, but the relationship with the foundation has not included strategic issues. The two organizations may not have the necessary rapport to work out a plan.
What to Do?
CGNET has gotten involved in several of these situations because we do strategic IT planning. Once an organization has a plan, it’s a lot easier to spell out what is needed. If the IT provider can fill the need, well and good. Otherwise, the foundation can be clear that it needs to start shopping for some additional help.
But what if you don’t want to do an IT strategic plan? If you are the internal person with the IT responsibility, you need to decide whether your organization has the processes to decide on new applications and services. Perhaps you could appoint a committee to consider different products, view demonstrations and perhaps do pilot projects prior to an implementation. You would want to have a detailed discussion with your IT provider about where they could be of help in this process.
Personally, you also need to decide whether you have the skills to manage both the technology and the organization. Some IT managers we know started out as “accidental” part-time IT managers and then went back to college to pick up the needed technical skills. Some have found other training. This, of course, takes time. It’s better not to wait until the gap between you and your local IT service provider shows up.
Above all, communicate. If you have an excellent relationship with your local provider, and both of you are good at your jobs, you may be able to find creative solutions.