There is a lot of pressure on nonprofits to be operationally efficient.
They typically work on smaller budgets than for-profit organizations due to the need to keep administrative costs low. A non-profit organization with 50 workplaces should probably do more with fewer resources than a profit-making organization of the same size.
This means that, in IT support (as in other industries), it is essential that nonprofit organizations carefully choose their solutions.
To this end, we will examine two common forms of IT support for nonprofits to assess the advantages and disadvantages of each: onsite support and remote help desk support.
A better service for nonprofit organizations?
So this analysis.
Benefits of onsite IT support for nonprofits
First, let’s define our terms: on-site IT support refers to technical assistance offered in the physical space of an organization by engineers, consultants or other IT staff.
Importantly, for the purposes of this article, we are looking at support on outsourcing sites as a solution. Internal site support has its many advantages and disadvantages, but this analysis aims to help nonprofit organizations select the appropriate third party services.
With that definition in mind, the benefits of onsite IT support include:
On-site support offers a relationship service.
On-site IT support is significantly more friendly than helpdesk support, as it involves face-to-face communication.
While this may seem like a soft and intangible benefit, relationship service can play a role in effective IT support: it establishes trust and intimacy, which leads to pro-communication active. It can reduce major problems before they can cause damage or create greater efficiency that otherwise would not have been achieved.
For example: if end users are having an affair with an IT technician and see that person on site, they may raise a problem they are dealing with (say, asking for help with a non-system improved, they have always worked). These types of problems may not go unnoticed to a help desk, but solving them can improve efficiency.
When relationships aren’t in place, things are more likely to go unnoticed until things become embarrassing – by which time the damage has already been done.
On-site support offers a more strategic service.
Second, onsite IT support is more likely to be strategic than remote help desk support.
This is partly due to the friendliness and closeness: since the sponsors on the spot know the users and their needs, they can better advise strategic plans.
In addition, many of the strategic elements of system design are best understood on site – there are often physical considerations (construction and hardware) that need to be considered.
And on-site support is also less responsive, which allows it to be more strategic. A technician can be on site even if there are no immediate problems, which allows them to engage in proactive monitoring, planning and updating so as not to allow remote helpdesk support.
Onsite support can address hardware issues.
Finally, perhaps the most tangible benefit of onsite IT support is its role in solving hardware issues. Remote support is great for software or operating system issues, but when a server or laptop needs attention, somebody has to be there in person.
The Drawbacks of Onsite IT Support for Nonprofits
While onsite IT support offers several advantages, it also comes with two drawbacks:
Onsite support is more expensive.
This is fairly straightforward: outsourced onsite IT support requires paying for somebody to be there in person, which, taking into account travel time, costs more than accessing a helpdesk remotely.
Onsite support is less available.
Additionally, outsourced onsite support personnel tend to be less available. They’re not always onsite – they only come at scheduled times. Even when they are onsite, they’re limited in how much they can tackle at once. If three users have issues simultaneously, an onsite tech will only be able to get to them one at a time.
Additionally, when there is a travel disruption or the support personnel takes a vacation, the onsite support may not have a backup team fully versed in the client’s issues.
The Benefits of Remote Helpdesk Support for Nonprofits
Next, let’s take a look at remote helpdesk support. Again, we’ll start by defining our term: remote helpdesk support refers to technical assistance that’s provided by offsite personnel over a remote communication channel – chat, video call, phone, portal interface, etc. Here, too, we’re analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of an outsourced solution (as opposed to an internal helpdesk).
With that in mind, the benefits of remote helpdesk support include:
Helpdesk support is lower cost.
It’s simply less expensive to access a helpdesk than it is to pay for someone onsite. Travel costs, time expenditure, and related factors make onsite more costly; helpdesk support services simply tend to be more cost-efficient.
Helpdesk support offers greater availability.
Additionally, helpdesk support offers greater availability than onsite support. While onsite personnel likely aren’t available every day and at all hours, helpdesk services often are. And helpdesk services also allow multiple users to call in simultaneously; if three users need support, each can talk to a helpdesk technician right away.
The Drawbacks of Remote Helpdesk Support for Nonprofits
Of course, helpdesk support also has its drawbacks:
Helpdesk support is less relational.
Whereas onsite support personnel are able to develop relationships with end users, helpdesk personnel are less present – they aren’t onsite, so they aren’t delivering support face-to-face, and they’re less likely to be consistently dedicated to an organization, meaning that users are less likely to speak to the same helpdesk personnel each time they call.
Consequently, this mode of support is less suited to uncovering inefficiencies and hidden problems.
Helpdesk support is less strategic.
Cultural knowledge and physical premise familiarity tend to inform IT strategy, and helpdesks are poorly suited to building both.
The reality is that helpdesks aren’t meant to be strategic. As a mode of support, helpdesk services are meant to be reactive – the desk is available when users call. Strategy, of course, requires a proactive approach.
Helpdesk support isn’t able to address physical hardware issues.
Again, the most tangible drawback to this mode of support is that when issues are physical, more than a helpdesk is needed.
The Bottom Line: Nonprofits Should Choose A Hybrid of Onsite and Helpdesk Support.
So, with all of these things considered, which mode of support should nonprofits choose?
Here are some guidelines:
Helpdesk support can be effective for small nonprofits that require less IT strategy and simply need reliable and available contact for minor IT problems.
Helpdesk support can also be effective for large non-profit organizations that already have an internal team on site: the availability of a helpdesk can free internal staff from the constant flurry of smaller tickets.
On-site support should be chosen when strategic expertise is needed; a guideline is that if your organization has over 20 employees, it’s probably time to get IT staff on site.
In reality, though, choosing between helpdesk and onsite tech support shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. The two modes of support are complementary to each other, and accordingly the best IT solutions offer both. Most managed service providers offer a helpdesk for employees to call into and regular onsite support where appropriate (either on-demand or via scheduled check-ins).
And rarely is onsite support delivered as a standalone service without access to a helpdesk – so, if you choose to outsource onsite support, you’ll likely have the ability to access remote support, as well.
Are you looking for an IT solution for your not-for-profit organization? Contact us. At Community IT Innovators, we have served a non-profit for over 25 years.
Our tandem help desk and onsite support method will create a solution that allows you to accomplish your mission.