Gymnastics group vaults into IT revamp

With already more than a year on the job, Kevin Keith knows that fulfilling Gymnastics Ontario’s two-year long IT wish list is going to take some financial nimbleness.

Keith took over as CEO at the not-for-profit organization 18 months ago. Gymnastics Ontario (GO) is the sport’s governing body in the province, servicing 200 clubs and an estimated 65,000 members, each taking part in hundreds of different competitions, including the Olympics.

Although communication with each member is crucial in order for GO to be effective, Keith said because the IT infrastructure was in serious disrepair when he came on board, that was not possible. To remedy the situation he submitted a proposal to The Ontario Trillium Foundation, which hands out grant money received from the province’s chain of publicly run casinos, in a bid to modernize and expand his agency’s technology profile.

Trillium quickly approved the plan. Now, by summer 2005, Keith hopes to have GO ISO 9001-certified. That will ensure that all business processes within the agency are based on common policy standards. The two also hope to be running a new, revamped Web site with online registration features; running new office IT equipment based on a policy system that will determine who has access to what; a new licensing and service level arrangements with several Tier 1 vendors; and a new e-learning systems to help streamline the education of Ontario’s gymnastics coaches.

One funding was secure, GO hired IT consultant Richard Catahan to turn the proposed project into reality.

With experience in the not-for-profit sector, Catahan said he’s accustomed to working with tight budgets. He’s also encountered common challenges that he says he can help GO overcome.

First Catahan is putting GO’s internal house in order for its 12 full-time staff, and including adopting ISO-style standards across the agency’s environment. For instance, “all PCs will be based on job descriptions,” he said.

Getting users to buy-in to change is always a challenge, but that tying IT needs together with HR policies is the best solution. “And it’s important to put everything down on paper…(Allow) an individual to request to be reviewed. There has to be an HR strategy.”

Training them properly will also help make the transition run much more smoothly, he added.

All of GO’s equipment will be wirelessly enabled, allowing staff to upload data from data ports located anywhere in the world.

He said non-profit driven agencies often have outdated licenses, poor security practices and outdated equipment, and GO was no different. So he’s made that his first priority.

That and his future plans rest on forging new agreements with the agency’s vendors. He said cash-strapped organizations usually go about this the wrong way. “They eliminate Tier 1 vendors,” Catahan said, “and make a decision to use cheaper providers. That’s the biggest mistake. Bigger vendors have more flexibility.”

Instead he’s focusing his efforts on ROI. “It’s no longer ‘buy this because it’s the cheapest.'” He’s already worked on deals with Microsoft and Dell.

Next, he’ll expand his current relationship with his reports software vendor for online registration, to help reduce the number of times coaches and athletes have to interface with the site and enter the same information – which can be as high as seven times a year.

“And while we’re working toward an online environment, (we’ll) start looking at e-learning activities too,” Catahan added.

Meanwhile, Catahan and Keith will be working toward making GO ISO 9000 certifiable in six months.