When I was a Business Administration student (and Organizational Behavior in particular), we were taught about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Some of which might actually be appropriate…I’ll not bore you with the whole thing, but the essence is that people have to have their basic needs (food) met before they can move up to safety (shelter, clothing), belonging, esteem, and then hopefully become “self-actualized:” which can be simplified as deriving meaning from life.
Before you stone me for taking psychological theory and anthropomorphizing my IT shop, bear with me. Any organization or discipline has to crawl before it can walk, and walk before it can run. During my almost 7 years at the Tulsa Area United Way, we have worked hard to mature our technology environment in order to reach that place where we can move from being only order-takers and firemen, and actively contribute to better decision-making through data.
Our biggest areas to fix (and fix again) have been in:
- firewalls and security
- hot-swappable and aggregated Dual WAN connections
- bulletproof Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
- managed VOIP phones
By architecting solutions for us, a small shop of between 29-45 people, we have been better able to take these solutions and evangelize them to our 58 partner nonprofits (via our tech outreach arm, the NTech Collaborative).
I’ve written earlier this year about “The Dyson of Firewalls,” and that has been the biggest impact…an elegant device that actually addresses two of the three bullets above after we struggled with bigger more complex toolsets.
As well, bundling our two WAN broadband pipes has made our SharePoint “file server in the cloud” more robust, and has given us the ability to use Microsoft Azure to replicate our mission-critical servers to the cloud at 15-minute increments.
Our Virtual Desktop Infrastructure has allowed us to escape from the uncertainty of donated PCs — giving everyone a modern, fast, solid-state system that’s always available, with no downtime due to old failing hardware. It’s given us 6 guest Virtual Machines on a couple of servers to isolate users based on their needs or office geography, where OS and application updates can happen remotely with no perceived downtime. About 20% of our partner agencies have joined us — converting to VDI which our NTech Collaborative supports remotely free of charge.
Our Voice Over IP phones have freed us from an ancient and overpriced 4U box that required numerous visits from the technician to rebuild it. Now, our phone service emanates from TechImpact in Philadelphia, and gives us DR capability. What’s more: the NTech Collaborative has helped deploy this technology to a few of our partners as their phone contracts expire.
Which brings us now to the Future: Data Analysis and Visualization.
Concurrent with getting our network infrastructure house in order, we’ve been working on a Data Warehouse project since December of 2016. Called DAAV or DAVE, it was initially envisioned as a way to merge 4-5 siloed web apps for our Community Investments department into a large shared data repository — allowing us to begin to answer questions by querying these multiple datasets. As we moved forward, we realized we could also stuff regular data mining exports from our large campaign database (Andar) into this warehouse. It’s enabled to produce documents for our big donor/campaign companies to look at not only their donation history, but their corporate volunteering on boards and collaborations, sponsorships, and how many of their employees participate in our annual Day of Caring.
It’s heady stuff, and it has allowed us to look with fresh eyes at the data we have and how much we can trust it. Also, it has opened the door to us being able to gather donor and participation data for our Women’s Leadership Council and Emerging Leader’s Society: helping inform companies about their employee’s volunteerism that they may not otherwise know of.
We couldn’t run until we knew how to walk.
Now, we’re cogitating taking the first steps into mass market demographic and psychographic data (within our 5-county area anyway) on the motivation of prospective donors in their market segment groups. Other, larger United Ways have started down this road before us, but not until we had a way to link external data sources with our internal data could we even think of this as a possibility.