NDVH Internal Tech Assessment

In 2012, under the supervision of Dr. Jemel Aguilar, our internal technology assessment team conducted a tech audit for the National Council on Family Violence, the former parent organization of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The goal of the process was to identify and solve systemic organizational technology shortcomings.

The Process

  • 👥

    Staff Survey

    We sent an individual survey to all staff, assessing need, skill sets, and most importantly current “work-arounds” that staff members were using.

  • Staff Interviews

    A sampling of staff was selected from each department, including a representative sample of current IT contractors. Questions covered comfort level and core-competencies, systems and software utilized, and trouble areas that impacted job duties.

  • Work Flow Review

    We shadowed advocates working in call center operations, specifically chat and digital services, in order to make recommendations on how to improve efficiency.

  • Systems Inventory

    In order to begin building a comprehensive technology plan, we took a comprehensive inventory of all systems. This portion of the assessment focused not only on desktop computers, but also on peripherals, displays, and access to enterprise systems. The ultimate goal was to capture a current picture of the infrastructure and insight into the everyday staff user experience.

Major Themes That Emerged

No clarity on the point person for Helpdesk Tickets or the overall management of IT

The current understanding of how to address technology issues at NFCV had been to file a Helpdesk Ticket that was located on the internal website. The ticket was designed to handle (1) Computer Support (2) Hotline/Caller App Bugs (3) TCFV Phone Issues/Requests and (4) TCFV.org and NDVH.org Website Maintenance. When staff were asked how this system works and who responds to these requests, many people stated that they assumed this was managed by several people but were not clear about who was ultimately responsible for actually addressing the issues. Survey respondents also indicated several different procedures when asked how they handle requests for new technology – ranging from “talk to supervisor”, “ask the CFO”, “submit Helpdesk Tickets” and “I don’t know.”

Lack of inventory oversight and lifecycle management

Support for new technology, equipment and software was not clear. As a result, staff were unaware of how to resolve problems that arose with new equipment. All departments had varied technologies that could not be categorized into any of the working definitions found under the Helpdesk Ticket system. Furthermore, as agency technologies became increasingly critical in carrying out day-to-day work, no current system existed to assess who should manage and support these technologies throughout their lifetime within a given department. An example of this was the Hotline Scoreboard, a television used to display incoming calls. This tool is crucial to the Hotline floor so they can stay on top of the incoming call volume. When the monitor stopped working, the Hotline Operations Director as well as Management (who were present during its installation) could not identify who to approach to fix the problem and instead filed Helpdesk Tickets under “Computer Support” that remain unanswered for an extended period of time. When asked if there was a warranty or paperwork about the product that could be used to check on how to get it fixed, none could be produced. The monitor has not been fixed and sits unused, which is impacting the floor’s ability to evaluate inbound calls and advocate availability. The Hotline’s current solution is to seek a donation of a new monitor, which may or may not work with the system.

Remote work and offsite access to information

Working remotely through Virtual Private Network (VPN) was another necessity that needed to be addressed since many staff members travel for work or participate in off-site conferences and activities. 63 of the 88 surveyed responded that they needed to access agency resources from off-site locations. This indicated a strong need for policies, processes and technology that would support these staff members. Interviews indicated that staff were not aware of the process to obtain VPN access or how to utilize it, and also were unsure if they qualified for this type of access. Staff also reported not having reliable equipment and software to allow them to work off site. One such example was found with the TCFV Public Policy team, who spends up to 90% their work-week away from the office when the Texas Legislature is in session. These staff members reported difficulty accessing the file server, as well as limited ability to produce documents, reports or information that is vital to their efforts with law-makers. One staff member stated that she would email herself as many files as possible before leaving the office in order to be able to read them on her phone or open them on another computer where she was going. If she required other files she would have to either do without them or hope to have someone in the office access her desktop and forward her the information. The Public Policy Team also stated that it was very difficult to craft an email or communicate professionally with their personal mobile phones while working with lawmakers and their staff. The problems accessing the network remotely also raised the issue of staff being expected (out of necessity) to use their personal cell phones to accomplish their work without additional compensation.

Internet Usage

Policies around the use of the internet were not clearly explained, understood or followed.  Internet usage policy and enforcement varied from department to department. In one interview with a TCFV staff person, they reported that they were not allowed to stream audio or video over the internet (even for legitimate work purposes, such as a webinar) because of “loveisrespect and the effect that it would have on their work providing online chat”. When asked if they could explain where this policy/rule could be found the staff member reported that it was “word of mouth”. This viewpoint also collided with observations made of loveisrespect and Hotline staff who were streaming video and audio during advocate downtime. When asked why advocates were allowed to watch streaming video from sites such as ABC or Hulu it was stated that this was “used for their wellness”. Both of these interactions highlighted the lack of clarity and oversight by the organization around the use of the internet. Several times during this evaluation we also noticed emails sent out to the entire agency requesting that all members limit their internet usage due to various projects that required uninterrupted bandwidth.

Personal Hardware Utilization

Another interesting discovery was the prevalence of staff members utilizing their personal devices to help accomplish their jobs. Technologies included a wide variety of devices such as laptops, mobile devices (tablets and phones), adaptors and connectors (for projectors and monitors), thumb drives, and even WIFI routers. Almost 40% of staff members reported using non-agency programs such as Google Docs/Drive, DropBox, Evernote and PDF XChange to name a few. Helpline advocates reported bringing in their personal laptops as a way to research information and resources faster and more efficiently in addition to their workstations because agency technology was too slow and caused them to waste time instead of responding to callers/chatters/texters. Some staff members were also using their own technology when working off site for presentations as it was more reliable for the tasks they had to accomplish. Many of these staff members reported that it was easier to use their personal technology because if something did go wrong with checked out equipment from the agency, there was no support after a certain time in the work day. Staff also commented that they had no way of locking up equipment after hours and did not want to be responsible for having to hide or take home the equipment.

Staff

While several deficiencies were identified, it was also important to point out that there is tremendous knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm in all departments around different forms of technology and technological programs. When surveyed, almost 80% of the staff reported being in a range of competent to comfortable with technology. As indicated in the interviews, staff have gone to great lengths to make the most out of the equipment that they use, employed creative workarounds and researched programs and applications to make their job easier. There is an overall willingness to take on new technology and there are several people  in every department that are capable of helping or assisting their peers with technology issues as they arise.

Recommendations

  • Adoption of an agency standard for minimum requirements for hardware and a predetermined life-cycle
  • Development of comprehensive workstation inventory, accounting for all pieces assigned to the workstation, track warranty of hardware/software and all staff assigned to this station during its lifetime
  • Establishment of work-plan items for annual cross-team trainings covering procedures, technology, agency websites, and other resources
  • Creation of a Technology Response team to run these trainings and communicate back to leadership about challenges teams are facing. This response team should encompass members from all departments at the organization, including support staff
  • Adoption of an agency-wide Strategic Technology Plan to guide purchasing, staffing and enterprise bidding
  • Modification of an existing staff position to focus exclusively on strategic technology decisions. Using the Strategic Technology Plan as a guide, this position is responsible for building an annual technology budget, facilitating agency technology trainings and supervising tier-one support staff or consultants
  • Selection of one or two staff members from every team as Technology Leads to serve on the Technology Response Team
  • Adoption of an agency policy on social media use for staff
  • Review of the possibility for opt-in personal computing stipends to cut down on agency capital costs. This recommendation is supported by almost 75% of survey respondents who answered yes to using their personal laptop in place of an agency provided computer with a stipend. Adopt an agency policy that allows the use laptops, storage, etc but places the burden of support on the individual staff

System Replacement

Additional larger recommendations included replacing the current phone system, negotiating new telecom connections and contracts and replacing the custom call centers intake application. As of March 2014, all of these major projects had either been completed or were well under way.

The overall assessment of the NCFV technology audit provided insights into several areas of need – not just in the actual technology but more importantly, in the practice and policies surrounding it. The audit and its accompanying appendices have served as a roadmap to improved practices and are being utilized as a model to train other organizations around the country on similar efforts.