MITCON Drives MMI Beyond Chemistry
The Midland Information Technology Consortium
(MIDLAND, Mich.) - Talk about community impact. Ten years ago, you could walk through the offices of pretty much any health and human services nonprofit in Midland, and – in information technology terms – this would be the scene: An eight-year-old PC running Windows 3.1 here, maybe a seven-year-old Mac running who-knows-what there, and five people sharing them. An internet connection? Maybe – maybe – a dial-up account that all ten people in the office would share, one-by-one, taking turns (but more than likely no internet connectivity at all). Inter-office networking? No. File sharing that didn’t involve walking a floppy from one station to the other? No. Shared resources like printers? No. Reliable, regular data backups? No. Software developed in the previous half-decade? No.
This is not hyperbole; it’s all too believable to those who have served in the nonprofit world. And who can blame them for forsaking IT in the face of fulfilling their organizational missions to help people? Given a choice between upgrading your server or giving a family shelter for the night, it’s completely understandable and even expected that IT would take a back seat. But it doesn’t change the fact that ten years ago, Midland’s nonprofit technology needed a game-changer of unprecedented proportions, and it needed it ASAP. The agent of that sweeping change was the Midland Information Technology Consortium. And now, a decade down the road, for these organizations, it’s a whole new world.
In 1996, Michigan Molecular Institute’s IT department – rechristened MITCON shortly after – began the process of updating its system, which at the time was a disjointed mess that didn’t allow for sharing information and resources across the organization’s departments. Solving that problem was MITCON’s first challenge, and upon completion of the project, MMI decided it would be prudent to share its knowledge from the experience with neighboring nonprofits by assisting them with their technology needs.
Working with these neighbors revealed that even though each nonprofit had a specialized purpose and objective, they all combated technology issues quite similar to MMI’s, they all utilized similar tools and resources and they all had the same obstacles when it came to implementing and maintaining modern, reliable IT systems. The deeper MITCON dug into the IT plight of local nonprofits, the clearer it became that there were dozens of NPOs in the community with the exact same IT challenges, and no realistic relief in sight.
MITCON approached the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation with a straightforward-yet-daunting initiative: To help area nonprofits drive down the cost of operating and supporting IT systems, pooling resources, knowledge and experience to create a true community-leveraged IT alliance. Funding was approved and MITCON set forth to help NPOs reduce costs by sharing a common technology infrastructure and support environment so that all organizations could benefit from resources that would otherwise be out of their reach due to expense or lack of technical expertise.
That was then. Today, MITCON supports 37 NPOs – the bulk of which are United Way agencies – and more than 570 networked computers. MITCON members benefit from a managed and shared network infrastructure built across fiber, wireless and VPN connected nodes; shared network servers and services; and day-to-day operational support. Specific services provided include network design and implementation; an Exchange server farm; internet hosting servers (e.g. DNS, Web, FTP, VPN, etc.); distributed Microsoft Windows Domain infrastructure; high speed internet connectivity; firewall protection; end-to-end network infrastructure support; desktop OS and applications support; antivirus and antimalware delivery and support; and physical installation of desktop, printer and server hardware. All this is coordinated through MITCON’s help desk and network operations center.
In an age when everybody and everything claims to be extraordinary, MITCON is truly unique. While there are other programs that support the technology needs of nonprofits, none offers MITCON’s breadth and depth of leading-edge services combined with the affordability NPOs require. MITCON’s participants share resources and leverage buying power, helping all member organizations lower the total cost of IT ownership while the MITCON staff solves day-to-day issues, always mindful of helping these organizations keep pace with IT advances. This consortium is special; no other organization has bound multiple nonprofits together via the common bond of information technology, supporting the entire environment top-to-bottom, end-to-end through a single wide area network. In short, MITCON provides a corporate-level network experience to all its members regardless of size or function. (And it’s well worth mentioning that MITCON’s nonprofit beginnings firmly established the need to run a lean-but-efficient operation, evidenced by one’s ability to count the number of MITCON staff on one hand for most of its existence.)
Ten years in, it’s a fact that MITCON has grown in leaps well beyond predictability and brought its nonprofit partners into the 21st Century. It’s a fact that the days of disconnected machines, information islands and non-existent disaster recovery plans are gone. It’s a fact that through hard work and leveraging grants, gifts and low-cost programs like Tech Soup, MITCON has been able to standardize many facets of its environment and deliver a complete technology solution to its members.
In the world of information technology, the only constant is change. For the thousands of people it serves directly or indirectly, MITCON has been able to harness change and mold it into a powerful tool where one rarely existed previously. Between its new mission to provide end user standardization and its now-cemented status as Midland’s nonprofit IT problem-solver, MITCON now stands ready to make its greatest community impact yet.