Culture in the Cloud: The Case of Danbury Youth Services

  • Danbury, CT
  • 18 Staff

Designated by the city as its official youth services bureau, Danbury Youth Services is also a licensed psychiatric clinic with a mission of strengthening youth and families by giving them the skills they need to live positive and productive livesa mission it meets through leadership and mentor programs, afterschool events, and a clinical program for youths age six through 18.

Official or not, a few years ago, the organization realized its technology infrastructure was in trouble. With no IT on staff, and existing systems on life support, the organization was limping through each day.

It was becoming too costly for us to Band-Aid problems with our software and hardware, said Executive Director Julie Schmitter. Computers were going down, we were rebuilding computers, if something happened we might be without a computer for a couple days or a week. It was ridiculous, and costing us too much money.

How bad were things? The bookkeeper kept a second computer on a filing cabinet that acted as an informal server, Julie said. We stored everything on it. Thats where everything was being stored. I came in myself and installed a backup for my own computer because I was so worried.

When anything broke, or when new software was required, theyd pay an outside firm for the work. We didnt have a contract with them, so theyd fix something and then bill us for a couple thousand dollars, and then it would crash again, and wed have to call them again a few months later.

To remedy the situation, it launched a three-year technology plan to replace all the hardware and software, and as part of that process, began looking at better alternatives for its current setup. Julie also put a priority on finding solutions that allowed staff to check email and access files remotely.

I work from home sometimes, and its nice that I can save something from home and access it from there, she said.

DYS found the answer in the Cloud. The organization signed on as a client with Technology Solutions for NonProfits, or TS4NP, another nonprofit that provides a standardized platform of Cloud-based applications accessed through a thin client virtual desktop. The platform includes Microsoft Office and the Microsoft Outlook mail client, QuickBooks for accounting, and GiftWorks for donor management, and costs a flat fee of $250 per month.

TS4NPs platform changed the way staff thinks about technology, which it now sees as a tool to be more effective rather than a hurdle for productivity.

Its definitely made us more efficient, Julie said. We needed to provide a safe environment for our documents, because were a client-based organization and we have a lot of client information. We wanted something where our info was going to be stored and safe. If anything was to happen, that information would no longer be lost.

Its made her staff more productive, in turn having the same effect on her own time.

It absolutely frees up my time, because I dont need people walking into my office every few hours and telling me their computers have crashed, she said. Now when theres a problem, everyone has some place to call. It frees up my time to put my time into the other things Im supposed to be doing.

One tangible benefit of keeping data in the Cloud is that it makes it easier to transition between part-time staff members. Historically, with data being saved to the desktop of computers of questionable health, files were misplaced or lost, passwords forgotten, and generally, there was no good data plan. Now, everything is kept in folders on the remote data storage through TS4NP, making it easier and more efficient to access.

When youre not an IT person, its frustrating when you have so many IT problems and youre responsible, Julie said. You have people looking at you like, my PC doesnt work, and you just want to scream because you know youre losing productivity in the office and nothings getting done. I wasnt hired to be the IT specialist, so we wanted something that was going to be more efficient, where we werent losing hours of staff time or productivity to stupid hardware problems.

Now, its just become a lot more efficient and sophisticated, she said. Our organization is growing and it was a perfect time. The tech issues were really having a significant impact on staff moralewho wants to come in to the office when its a problem just to get online or get email? Its a stress-reliever for everyone.

Which is not to say there havent been hiccups in migrating to the Cloud.

Getting staff used to something different? Its a process, she said. Even just learning that, instead of saving to desktop, you need to save to this place, thats where it needs to be savedthat takes time. Even for me, thats something its hard to get used to.

Ironically, there is one element of the traditional installed software that she misses.

When something breaks in the office, I like to see someone actually in the office fixing it, she said. Now when something breaks, they can just log in from wherever and tell me whats wrong, or fix it. Thats an advantage over having a contractor come into the office, but its been hard to get used to because in the past I could see someone working and know it was getting fixed.

There are glitches here and there, but theyre simple things, like being able to print to our printer, she said. That took a few days to set up. That shows how the Cloud has changed things for us. Its changed our expectationsnow we want something fixed in just a short time, whereas we used to wait days and weeks.

Chris Bernard