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Remote Work Case

I wanted to share a related story that we found interesting here at TechRiver. One of our clients, an average sized nonprofit, ran all of their functions off a homemade database built in Filemaker pro by a self-taught internal IT person. It worked very well for their specific purposes, in large part because it had been built custom for them.

They ran into several challenges just as Covid hit:

  1. They wanted to integrate the database with several of their other systems; accounting, website, and email functions specifically. This meant they wanted to have the systems automatically pull and provide information to the database.
  2. They had the database running on a five year old server in a closet in their office. Now the closet had a separate thermostat, but backups were on-site and there were other potential challenges with the setup.
  3. Finally, in order to allow any of their team members to work at home, they had a very convoluted VPN setup that had to be installed on each individual machine, and zero access via mobile devices.

Their CEO also wanted to take the organization remote before the pandemic. His plan had been to lease out their condo and use it as a revenue source instead of an office for their team. Most of their team worked remotely anyways, and the office was actually a converted home. So they asked us to look over their system and see what we could do within their budget.

Our process always involves a meeting with the key people in the organization who are or will be using the system we create. We also like to keep regular communications with them during the project to ensure that there are no surprises. This isn’t unique to us, but we take it very seriously here. We found that there were actually a number of additional issues with the database that simply weren’t being talked about because of the concern of offending the internal IT person. So, as we developed a new solution, we also coopted him into supporting our work, and being open to changes along the way.

We ended up building a new database hosted at AWS with browser capable access, better security, off-site backups, and integration capabilities for them. This isn’t rocket science, but what did take a while was to really take some time to understand how they were using their data now, and how they wanted to be able to use their data in the future. We also offered them a number of ideas on some best practices we have been experiencing with other clients and in our general research. This was all in place just as the quarantines came into effect. The good news was that their IT provider was also working to be able to support them remotely. Combined with the work we had done on the database, their website, and their email systems, they were able to function remotely with little challenge. The unfortunate news was that they really needed to rework some of their operational processes to allow for on-line collaboration, video conferencing, and team management practices. Ensuring that team members were working at concurrent times, and that tasks were being accomplished in a timely manner required adding in some new measure of accountability. Our CEO contact talked with us extensively about means to create self-discipline and structure to the remote office environment that he could employ with his team.

All in all, this was a great experience for us. We were blessed with the good fortune of working on a challenge before it became necessary and rushed. We also had the opportunity to provide multiple good options for this client, and work on a wide range of technologies to help them with their business. Finally, we provided them a means of working together based on how we run our organization that assisted them in designing some new work processes. As a result their transition to remote work was much smoother than it might have been.