So You Want Some ICT support?
Tuesday, 16th September 2014 at 10:06 am
Finding and contracting a ICT support can be a daunting prospect for many Not for Profit organisations, but it isn’t insurmountable writes Infoxchange technical writer Jane Rawson.
Many small-to-medium community organisations struggle with getting adequate support for their information and communication technology (ICT). Finding and contracting a support organisation can be a daunting prospect, but it isn’t insurmountable.
Without reliable technology support, it’s impossible to guarantee provision of client services. If you lose your server, internet connection or even a printer it can really damage your ability to do your job, so you want to know you can get things fixed quickly.
Below are some suggestions about how to find and recruit the right support, how to read a support contract, and some alternative ways to make sure you have someone to call on in times of trouble.
Finding and recruiting support
Before you start looking for a support organisation, you need to figure out what you have that needs supporting. Make a list of all the hardware you have and all the software that’s running on it. It’s not a difficult job, but it does take a long time: if you have volunteers this may be a good task for them.
Decide how much you want covered in your support agreement. If a lot of your computers are old (and likely to fail or not under warranty), you probably want them covered in your support agreement: newer computers may not need it. If you’re using a lot of specialist software, getting support through the company providing the software may be a better option. If many of your staff work outside the office, you’ll need support for their devices too. And if you have a server in-house that will definitely need support: losing a server can be catastrophic for your organisation.
Document what you have, what you want covered, and how quickly you will need a service provider to respond. Once that’s done, you’re ready to start looking for a support service.
Start by asking community groups whose needs are similar to yours. Anyone they recommend will probably be a good choice. You could also try Connecting Up’s Suppliers Directory (http://www.connectingup.org/directory/suppliers). When you have a shortlist, ask each provider in for an interview.
You want to know this is someone you’ll be comfortable working with, and that you understand one another. Then ask the ones you like to send you a proposal based on the requirements you’ve produced.
There’s more on finding a support organisation in our ImproveIT guide, here [http://www.improveit.org/understandit/management/finding-and-working-it-support-organisation]
Going through the contract
Each supplier should send you a draft contract with their proposal. Even if you know which supplier you want to go with, you should carefully review the contract.
A contract should cover all of the following:
- how long the contract lasts
- how to keep the contract running
- what you’ll pay and what you’ll get
- what hardware and software are covered
- any limits on types of support
- how quickly support will be provided
- procedures for requesting support
- what isn't covered
- key contacts
- what happens in a disagreement
- how confidentiality will be maintained.
Once you’ve established all these items are covered, you also need to make sure you’re comfortable with the way they’re covered. If anything doesn’t work for you, ask if it’s possible to have it changed. You should also have the contract reviewed by your lawyer, and it may be useful to get an independent ICT professional to look it over: they’ll know if anything important is missing.
There is more detail about every area of the contract in this ImproveIT guide [http://www.improveit.org/understandit/management/what-look-ict-support-contract]
Is there a cheaper way?
A common question is ‘how can we improve our ICT support when we can’t afford to pay?’ Unfortunately there is no magic solution. However, there are some low cost-options you can consider:
Ask your existing volunteers whether anyone has (or wants to learn) the ICT skills your organisation lacks.
Ask your staff, volunteers and members whether they know of anyone with the ICT skills you require who might be willing to donate time to help your organisation.
Advertise on volunteering sites.
Employ a student from a university or TAFE, or through established internship programs.
Some IT projects can be taken on by volunteers very successfully, including:
training on a specific issue (such as using the internet)
simple IT installations (such as memory upgrade, setting up standalone PCs or peripherals)
advising or mentoring project managers on major IT developments.
Other IT projects should be approached with a great deal of caution, including:
ongoing technical support
websites and databases – development and support.
To learn more about how volunteers can be part of your ICT support package, see our ImproveIT guide, ‘Using volunteers for ICT support’
About the Author: Jane Rawson is a technical writer at Infoxchange. Infoxchange is a Not for Profit community organisation that delivers technology for social justice.