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Technology as a Utility: Q & A with Barbara Chang, Executive Director, NPower NY

By Tom Watson on February 13, 2006One Comment
TechnologyTechnology as a Utility: Q & A with Barbara Chang, Executive Director, NPower NY

Can you begin by telling our readers a little bit about NPower NY?  What is your mission and who do you serve?

NPower NY is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help nonprofits leverage the power of technology toward building more efficient and effective organizations serving the NYC community.  Our membership is over 500 strong and our main customers are nonprofits that operate in New York City (although we have gone outside of NY for some services).  We strongly believe in the important work that our clients deliver to their communities and focus on helping them select and use the right technology solutions for their organization.

2.) You have recently added a new service for nonprofits located in New York City – NPower Basic.  Can you explain what NPower Basic is?  What was the impetus for offering this service?  How does it work?

“Technology as a utility” is the concept behind this new service we call NPower Basic (NPB).  It is an affordable package of hardware, software and technical support services that utilizes a “hub and spoke” model to deliver desktop support and remote monitoring. The concept of NPB originated from feedback that we received from numerous small nonprofit clients that wanted to access their technology the way they access their lights – just turn it on and it works. The technical staff managing the service is concentrated at the hub (NPower NY headquarters) and services are therefore delivered more cost effectively for all nonprofit “spokes.”  Available to small nonprofits for a modest monthly fee, this “out of the box” solution combines equipment and software to establish a fully functioning local area network (LAN) and to monitor and troubleshoot its operation remotely from NPower’s offices.

It may sound simple, but NPower has managed to squeeze a lot into that box. All of the most common hardware and software problems experienced in small nonprofits–ranging from virus threats to the faulty configuration of gateways and routers–can be detected, monitored and in many instances, resolved by NPower staff sitting at their desks.  NPower Basic also offers help desk support, basic training in productivity software and Internet use, backup services and assistance with technology planning. It is almost like having an IT professional on staff for a fraction of the annual cost.

3.) Did you face any obstacles in the implementation of this service?  Do you plan on expanding it to other communities?    

Of course.  Any new service will experience bumps in the early going and NPower Basic is no exception.  We were very fortunate to work with a couple of customers who agreed to beta test the service with us and help us iron out the kinks before we went “live” with the service.  But just as an example, some of the greatest obstacles we faced as a nonprofit were resource and time constraints – the heavy front end investment needed to build out a service of this magnitude is huge and we simply did not have the luxury of paying people to create an airtight service before it went live.  But we have since closed many of those gaps, as we have a serious commitment to delivering the highest quality service of commercial grade to our clients who deserve the very best. 

The beauty of this model is that it can indeed be delivered to nonprofits that are located outside of NY, as long as we have a trusted on-the-ground partner to help with installation and emergency on-site visits.  The most natural partners for us in the early stages are our sister NPower affiliates located in eleven other cities across the country.  We are piloting NPower Basic with two of them and plan to roll out the service with our other colleagues in the next year or so.
4.) How will this new service add value to the New York City nonprofit community?

It will first and foremost give them peace of mind when it comes to their technology!  We believe that this service can ultimately transform the community into thinking of technology as a utility.  Why should each nonprofit have their own generator for their lights or a dedicated repair person for their telephone system?  Technology and the skills needed to support it should be managed by skilled experts who can then deliver it in a seamless manner to clients — so nonprofits can focus on their mission.

Once we lay the foundation of NPower Basic in our nonprofits and deliver support and maintenance, we can then start to stack other applications onto the foundation.  Whereas now they will get basic office productivity software with Basic, in the near future we hope to be able to deliver best of breed applications such as those that deliver donor management, financial tracking and client relations management capabilities.

5.)  What do you view as the greatest challenges nonprofits are facing from a technological standpoint?  What do you predict will occur in technological advancements in the next year that will affect the nonprofit sector?    

Until we are able to deliver cost effective, high quality, value-added solutions to nonprofits, we will always be challenged by resource constraints and lack of time and expertise.  Nonprofits have finally realized that technology is here to stay and that a sound technology infrastructure is critical to operations.  Now they need to take the next step of integrating technology into front line, mission critical service delivery, which will be more expensive, more time consuming but ultimately, more transformative.  It is exciting to see more robust applications being built for nonprofits, and we think that evolution will increase the interest in and demand for more front line technology integration.  Some of these applications are being adapted from private sector solutions, while others are being built by a passionate and vibrant open source community dedicated to sharing code and building robust applications for nonprofits.

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