Most nonprofit leaders have embraced the idea that effective technology is critical to their organization’s success. Everyone wants to have great IT support, but many struggle to get it and it can be hard to know the reasons why. Do we have the right people? Should we work with an outside vendor? Are we working with the right vendor?
Sometimes it can even feel like the classic relationship question, “Is it them, or is it me?”
In my role at RoundTable I’ve worked with, literally, thousands of nonprofits. I’ve hired countless consultants and engaged with (it seems like) every vendor that ever lived. Here's my perspective on this topic: six ways to succeed with IT support.
1. If you want to have a great IT partner, be a great partner
Almost every new client RoundTable has ever worked with said they left their previous IT provider because the vendor didn’t feel like a partner. They weren’t proactive, they didn’t help with strategic technology planning and they didn’t help the organization make smart decisions about technology. On the (fortunately rare) occasions that we lose a client, it’s ALWAYS because we failed at those things.
But sometimes organizations say they want a partner but don’t necessarily act like a partner themselves. We reach out to get feedback or set up meetings to discuss risks or opportunities we see for them and they put us off (or even ignore us completely) until something really goes wrong.
Hey, we get it, there are a lot of other priorities and when your technology is working “OK” you may not want to focus on it. But if you don’t engage your IT provider in technology planning until you have a crisis, then it’s much harder for your IT provider to help you avoid a crisis. When that happens, we both end up spending critical effort and attention dealing with crises instead of making meaningful improvements.
2. It’s all about trust
You have to trust that your IT provider will only recommend solutions and services that make sense for your organization. As your IT provider, we need to operate with integrity at all times and not try to sell you services or products you don’t need.
This isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Sometimes we recommend a low-cost solution for a client, assuming that cost is a critical factor for them, only to have them ask us later why we recommended what they see as “cheap” solution. And sometimes we recommend what we think is the best solution for a client only to have them push back hard on price. Navigating these things can be challenging in the best of circumstances. If you don’t TRUST each other, it goes from challenging to impossible.
3. Know how to ask for help
I’ll get straight to the point: sending in a support ticket that says, “My computer isn’t working!!!!!” with no additional information leaves an awful lot to the imagination.
A much more helpful ticket would look something like this: “I have an important video conference happening in two hours, so this is an URGENT request. My computer speakers are not working. They were working yesterday, but now they are not. I have checked all the cables and volume controls and also restarted my computer. I can be reached via phone at 212.555.1212 x 21.”
Allowing us to see exactly what you are seeing on screen is also very helpful when we are trying to troubleshoot your problem. There are a lot of tools you can use to document your problem for a technician. For example, Microsoft Windows has the snipping tool and Mac OSX has “shift+command+4”.
4. Make your expectations clear
Recently, a client scheduled a meeting with me and her Executive Director to discuss some upcoming technology changes. The client reached out to me to say she wanted to make sure we were prepared for the meeting because her Executive Director had some specific concerns, and it was important those concerns were all addressed in the meeting. We wound up taking several hours over two weeks collaborating on a comprehensive slide deck presentation for the ED. The client kept apologizing for taking up so much of my time prepping for a meeting while I kept thanking her for helping put me and RoundTable in a position to succeed with her ED.
She made her expectation clear AND collaborated with me to meet that expectation. She’s my favorite client. OK, just kidding, you are all my favorites (but seriously, she might be a little more favorite).
5. Fixed costs make for a better relationship than hourly billing.
This is basic psychology. If you have to take out your wallet every time you ask for something, you tend not to ask as much and only ask when things have reached the point of crisis (see #1). When both the IT provider and the client feel like the meter is running while you’re working on a problem, it doesn’t make for the most thorough and collaborative approach to solving problems.
Fixed cost service also align incentives. Even if EVERYONE is operating from a point of great integrity, incentives still matter.
6. Great IT shouldn’t be about fixing broken things. It should be about solving problems for people.
If your IT provider is responsive, friendly, and constantly fixing broken things, you may feel pretty good about them. But those constantly broken things may point to underlying problems that aren’t being addressed. It could be shoddy infrastructure, under-trained staff, poor workflows, wrong technology in place, or any number of other problems but it is worth having the discussion internally and with your IT provider to find out more.
Resources for those who want more:
In spring 2014, NTEN offered a webinar called “Tech Support Confidential - Choosing a Technology Provider”. It was developed and led by the terrific Karen Graham (then with MAP, now Executive Director of Idealware). The slides and needs assessment are free and the webinar recording is free for NTEN members.
- Slide Deck
- Needs Assessment for IT Support (2 pages)
- Recording (60 minutes) - Free for NTEN members
- And RoundTable offered a webinar back in March 2016 titled “Go From ‘Uh-Oh’ to ‘A-ha!’ with a Great IT Helpdesk”. The free recording is available here (60 minutes)
Written by Joshua Peskay, Vice President of Technology Strategy, RoundTable Technology.
You can contact RoundTable Technology here.