Charity begins with broadband

6 Feb 2006

Current business thinking has it that ICT managers are under pressure to do more with less and to realise cost savings from investment in technology, but corporates don’t have the monopoly on this pressure: the very same considerations are in play for organisations in the charity or community sector.

MS Ireland is a case in point. It is involved in advocacy, case work, community work, fundraising and short-term respite care for those living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), helping thousands of people across the country who are affected by MS.

The organisation is geographically spread, with 13 regional offices around the country as well as 40 voluntary branches. A large part of its role involves keeping staff informed of developments and for this, MS Ireland has turned to Eircom to provide it with a range of communications options.

Efficiency is the watchword, according to Dáire Guiney, ICT manager for MS Ireland, who explains that the group is making the most of cost savings gained in one area to reinvest in another.

Over the course of the past year the charity has upgraded the internet connections in its offices from dial-up ISDN to broadband.

“We can focus money saved from dial-up to spend on new PCs, printers and so on,” Guiney says. The savings come in other ways: the organisation is making use of technologies such as teleconferencing, which is a more cost-effective option than gathering staff together at a hotel room, Guiney remarks.

Fiona Winders, Eircom business account manager for the community sector, says MS Ireland is not slow to see the benefits of ICT. “MS Ireland is pretty quick to take on new technologies we would have to offer,” she says.

Another benefit to using broadband is the opportunity to centralise management of ICT resources. So far, all email servers have been relocated to the group’s headquarters on Dublin’s Northumberland Road, so that messages are redirected to employees around the country over broadband instead of having to be processed at each site.

Guiney points out that this structure has reduced the cost of email security software and made technical support an easier prospect.

The next phase of MS Ireland’s upgrade will be to create a wide area network linking all of the regional offices together. This could carry voice calls between any of the sites on the network at a much lower price than over traditional phone lines.

Guiney is also planning to run all of MS Ireland’s IT applications centrally, as this is more reliable and efficient. The applications lined up for this change include the charity’s databases for membership, fundraising and its care centre.

Because the ‘intelligence’ for these applications will remain in the centre rather than at each regional office, Guiney can also redesign the applications with this in mind.

MS Ireland has also engaged Eircom Total ICT Solutions as its outsourced technical support partner. Each of the charity’s regional offices has a number to call for any ICT issues and Eircom engineers can remotely diagnose any technical problems that may arise – another benefit of broadband, Guiney acknowledges. “We couldn’t do that across dial-up,” he notes.

Winders points out that MS Ireland’s case is not untypical of the community sector. “Charities tend to have a number of sites in remote areas or towns around the country and a lot of them are relying on the main site or trying to follow their lead,” she says.

“What Dáire has done, by centralising everything, will show the benefits to others of going for broadband and how it can save money in the end.”

By Gordon Smith

Pictured: Dáire Guiney, ICT manager for MS Ireland, and Eircom business account manager for the community sector