Collaboration technology and unified communications for the NGO

Non Government Organisations (NGOs) are set up by ordinary citizens, and are committed to tackling pressing social, political and environmental issues. They support our government, but are not-for-profit, which gives them the freedom to focus on long-term issues, such as alleviating poverty, stamping out endemic diseases or campaigning against environmentally destructive activities such as whaling.

However, non-profit often goes hand-in-hand with tight budgets. They simply don’t have the disposable income to waste on expensive or inefficient solutions especially in an increasing digital environment that requires advanced communications. NGOs can’t afford the sort of expenditure that commercial enterprises take on; therefore, expense control and ensuring maximum value become a key part of their operational philosophy.

This often means a focus on cutting costs in areas where it seems like the return on investment (ROI) cannot be justified. One area of infrastructure that is commonly targeted is communication systems, as they need to be as efficient as possible to maximise budgets.

One way that collaboration costs can be kept under control is through unified communications (UC). The integration of real-time, enterprise communication services can ensure that NGOs can effectively manage their employees’ collaboration and save both money and time, as even a small phone system can lead to massive costs when mismanaged.

So what should NGOs consider when choosing their UC solution? Here are a few questions to bear in mind:

Does it integrate with the existing collaboration platform?

Many NGOs, especially the larger, global organisations, are already working with a other communications platforms such as, for example, IBM Notes or Skype for Business. It is essential that communication devices integrate with this, facilitated by UC. Telephony integration with the messaging and application environment of the organisation can improve the way it does business, including giving staff the ability to work anywhere, and stay connected to the office, when travelling or out in the field.

Is it flexible across devices?

NGOs are likely to have quickly changing business circumstances and cash flows, so it is helpful to have a system that can be scaled up or out to accommodate this. It is also important to consider whether the platform works equally well across multiple devices, allowing employees to use whichever device they feel most comfortable with. This will encourage collaboration and help the organisation communicate more effectively.

Does it support remote working?

NGOs often have employees working in different locations, and all of them need to be linked up to ensure seamless communication. It may be worth investing in ‘soft phone’ capabilities, allowing them to have all the functionality of an office phone on their laptop computers – a boon to staff who frequently need to work away from the organisations’ head offices. This will ensure that equipment is used wherever it is needed, both in the office and out of it.

What are the upfront costs?

For NGOs, who often have to deal with varying cash flows, massive upfront equipment costs can be a detractor from investing in communications. However, more and more solutions are now being offered as a subscription-style offering, so there is no need for huge initial expenditure. Instead, the service can be paid for on a month-by-month basis. It can also flex up and flex down as necessary in response to the needs of the organisation, so money can be saved.

As the job of NGOs becomes increasingly important, it is no wonder that organisations are looking very seriously at UC technology as a way to maximise resources as far as possible. Although they are not profit-driven, they should be performance-driven and by following the tips above, NGOs can apply communication technology best practice and tight financial management that the public and even the private sector could take lessons from.

Adrian Hipkiss, VP & MD EMEA, ShoreTel