by Divina Paredes

What it’s like to be CIO for a not-for-profit

Jun 14, 2015
Business ContinuityCareersCloud Computing

Richard Parry of Stand Children’s Services at a CIO roundtable discussion in Wellington

Richard Parry, CIO of Wellington-based Stand Children’s Services Tu Maia Whanau, shares the nuances of leading ICT in a not-for-profit.

“We are very much hampered by cost, we always have to bring down overheads,” he says.

“You have always got to be looking for the next thing, what is coming down the pipeline that will benefit the organisation, and how I can get it, and to move to it as soon as it becomes mature.

“We probably will take more risk if we see the benefit while others may be happy to sit where they are. We are more likely to move because of our cost drivers,” he adds.

The charity provides specialist home and school social services including therapeutic care and education to children aged 5 to 12. It also provides respite services for caregivers, including grandparents and foster parents.

The organisation is mainly funded by government.

“We do not have extra money so we are always looking for ways we can enable the money that we do have to go towards our mission, not to overhead,” Parry says.

Parry, who rose from position of national IT manager, runs a very lean IT team – he only has one other staff member.

He says the organisation has been working with Microsoft on some software upgrades. But when he heard that Microsoft is piloting the Office 365 program for not-for-profits, he talked to his industry contacts and Microsoft about his interest in signing up for the program once it is implemented in New Zealand.

That was how Stand Children’s Services became one of the the first not-for-profit in New Zealand to avail of the program. The scheme waived $60,000 per year in Office 365 licence fees, so the charity was able to upgrade to the latest platform and software.

“Annually, we support hundreds of organisations,” says Belinda Gorman, community affairs manager, Microsoft New Zealand.

“But a couple of years ago, with the advent of cloud technology, we saw many new opportunities to help the not for profit sector.”

She says Stand Children’s Services reached out to Microsoft and provided it more insight into the critical work the charity is doing.

“Stand Children’s Services has a really significant reputation for the work they do,” she says. “Immediately it became obvious to us the organisation was very astutely managed.”

Today, around 360 staff across the country are using the cloud based system, says Parry, which includes access to OneDrive, Yammer and Lync.

Every dollar that gets spent on ICT – or any overhead – is a dollar that can’t go towards helping vulnerable children and their families. Richard Parry, Stand Children’s Services Tu Maia Whanau

‘Every dollar makes a difference’

Stand Children’s Services also got additional access to software upgrades from TechSoup at reduced cost, and a donation of $750,000 worth of software and infrastructure tools from Microsoft.

The impact to each user was minimal, he states. The staff spent a couple of minutes recreating their mail profile.

For the IT team, however, there were huge benefits, says Parry.

“We now know we have a very highly resilient communications platform available to all of our staff.”

He says the main driver for the move was cost. Before, they were spending up to $3000 a year for back-ups and around $5000 for anti-spam. There were also additional costs for licensing, disk and server space.

While these are not high costs for corporates, he says, for the charity, “Every dollar that gets spent on ICT – or any overhead – is a dollar that can’t go towards helping vulnerable children and their families… Every dollar makes a difference.”

He says the organisation also gained “extra capability by through repurposing the mail server into a virtual host”.

Moreover, staff are able to use systems that are at par with their enterprise counterparts.

Email was the first step to its move to the cloud, he says, “that was dipping our toes in it”.

They have since moved the Intranet to the cloud, and all their file shares are also replicated to the system.

He is now looking to Azure Active Directory, as it could mean the necessity to maintain internal domain services is going to start disappearing.

“I would see our data centre dropping down to maybe a server over the next few years,” says Parry. “We have servers all over the country. I see the need to maintain those just disappearing.”

As to organisations contemplating on using cloud services, he says, “my general feeling is you are better off to argue, ‘why wouldn’t you use cloud services?’

“On a cost and risk management point of view I would find it very hard to argue against cloud,” he states.

Especially, he says, when you take into account all the other ancillary things around the overhead of maintaining an internal IT infrastructure.

“You would need a large internal IT team to get the kind of service and resilience you get with our current [cloud-based] system.”

With the advent of cloud technology, we saw many new opportunities to help the not for profit sector. Belinda Gorman, Microsoft

Related: IT director lends a helping hand

The 2011 Christchurch earthquakes highlighted another risk – business continuity.

Stand’s Christchurch server was down for nearly four weeks following the quakes. The staff could also not get into the building, and retrieve the phones or laptops, says Parry.

The staff asked, what if the earthquake was in their head office in Wellington?

“That really brought home the risk we were carrying having this single mail server running out of Wellington,” says Parry. “We need to have resilience around our own infrastructure.”

So what are some insights he can share for other CIOs taking on similar migrations?

“Don’t let the fear of change, the reaction to change, stop you from doing what you know to be right,” says Parry.

For instance, when moving the email over to the new system, some staff were asking what was happening, and if their email is going to disappear during the transition.

“But I know it would be fine,” he says.

“People don’t like change and they will make a fuss about change, but they will adapt to change a lot faster than you think.”

Related:Keeping the faith: An interview with Mark Bennett of Salvation Army

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