IT Applications Empower Nonprofit Firm

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Better user interfaces, global communication and increased efficiency in new app development enable NPower to deliver great service on a shoestring.

By John Nevin

Few people realize just how central IT applications can be to nonprofits.  But it can be crucial to simply be able to do push notifications to people’s mobile phones when there’s a need to organize volunteers quickly.

NPower has built its business by helping those who help others.  Our nonprofit, based in Brooklyn, N.Y., provides IT support services to charities and social benefit organizations, as well as technical training to underserved young adults.  Through The Community Corps, NPower’s IT assistance program, dozens of other nonprofits are able to better focus on their core missions and constituencies.

We have a diverse client base—with users ranging from technology novices to sophisticated consumers—so NPower looks for ways to provide powerful, intuitive interfaces in its applications, as economically as possible.

We started using iRise's collaborative visualization software because it provides an effective way of showing our students new features, programs and user experiences.  It’s critical to us that students have an intuitive, interactive experience when using our training software.

Providing satisfying user experiences got a lot faster, easier and cheaper once we started visualizing applications with iRise.  The visualization platform creates ultra-realistic prototypes that look and act like final coded applications, so that users can try them very early in the development process, before code is written. 

This empowers teams to have conversations about usability at the beginning of the development cycle, when changes are easy and inexpensive to make.

Our director of user experience, Rachell Bordoy, noted the difference that iRise made in our organization: “When all of you can be in the same meeting—looking at the same screen, even though we’re physically spread out—and can get feedback in real time, that’s a completely different meeting from the ones we used to have.”

That difference is particularly striking when it comes to mobile apps, where the interface is everything.  The way that iRise has implemented mobile simulation means that we can just hand a student or developer an iPhone and show him or her what we need.

Being able to hand off a working simulation—a visual, interactive prototype, rather than a text-based requirements document—has made a big improvement in both efficiency and in the quality of the final app.  We used to put requirements into JIRA, and then we’d have to translate them and send them to our global teams.  Often, a lot was lost in translation.  Now we don’t have that problem.

Without a doubt, iRise is making our offshore partners more productive, and we’re getting more bang for the buck this way.  If we weren’t using this system, we’d need at least one more full-time person, and that’s a lot for a very lean-running organization.

Between the acceleration in defining and communicating requirements, and the near-elimination of rework, the savings have been striking.  We've already experienced an order of magnitude improvement in speed and efficiency using iRise—from months to a few weeks. 

I had no trouble picking up the tool and quickly learning to use it.  And now that application development moves along much faster, I have more time to handle the other important aspects of my work.

John Nevin is the technical architect for The Community Corps program at NPower, a nonprofit based in Brooklyn, N.Y., that provides IT support services to charities and social benefit organizations, as well as technical training to underserved young adults.

This article was originally published on 2012-12-12
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