MIDLAND — The Midland Information Technology Consortium is partnering with the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation to provide new computer workstations to nearly 600 area health and human service providers.

The grant, worth $357,000, was awarded to MITCON at the end of 2011. MITCON has been the information technology provider to most Midland area non-profits for more than a decade, supplying IT expertise, support and strategy to 37 organizations.

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“With our workstation initiative that is generously funded by this grant from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, we had two objectives,” said Ed Haycock, MITCON program manager. “We wanted to drive down the cost of day-to-day support by standardizing our users on a single platform, and we wanted to get all of our users on the same purchase cycle. Doing that gives us purchasing leverage that drives down costs by about 35 percent.”

Combining maintenance and buying efficiencies will elevate MITCON and its members to a new level of technology service and support, Haycock said, which will have immediate and direct impact on each organization’s core functions, as well as its bottom line.

“It’s going to cost non-profits significantly less to replace outdated hardware,” Haycock said. “That’s going to mean they have more funds to dedicate to their mission in the community — helping people.”

Margaret Ann “Ranny” Riecker, President of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, said MITCON’s track record of helping local non-profits played a big part in the foundation’s decision to fund the project.

“In MITCON, you have a small group of very dedicated information technology professionals handling the workload of a much larger group, and doing so expertly,” Riecker said. “Foundations are constantly seeking smarter, more efficient methods of pooling resources, and MITCON has fit that description for 12 years now. We’re proud to count them as allies in building a better community.”

Haycock said MITCON has been able to hold the line on membership fees to agencies for its entire decade-plus of existence, but the ever-growing diversity of hardware and software presented a challenge that needed solving.

“Imagine you’re an IT professional and responsible for maintaining 580 computers,” he said. “Now imagine that set of workstations is put together 580 different ways. Five-hundred-eighty different makes and models, numerous different operating systems, software packages, proprietary programs, drivers and hardware accessories. Five-hundred-eighty different sets of IT challenges to solve. And it’s not the agencies’ fault; economics often dictate that you spend as little as possible on IT needs. But it’s often a case of applying a bandage when the circumstances really call for surgery. But it didn’t take long to realize how much more effectively and efficiently things would run if all 580 users started with the same base package. In addition to providing brand-new computers for everybody, standardizing these workstations is going to allow us to do our work better and keep costs down for everyone.”

While MITCON — whose staff numbers six full-time employees, plus a couple of co-op students — has tackled big projects in the past, nothing compares to implementing a complete workstation change-out among its 580 end-users.

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“If you’ve never seen that many boxed computers and monitors in a single room, you can’t even appreciate how much physical space it takes to simply house them,” Haycock said. “One of our member agencies, the Michigan Baseball Foundation, graciously offered to share storage space and a loading dock while we prepare the machines for distribution, and we are grateful. And obviously, it’s impossible to overstate the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation’s importance to this project. Without them, there is no project.”

Haycock expects the replacement process to take several months. As part of the grant approval process, participating agencies have agreed to release their old machines to either be sold at a community sale or sent back to Dell as part of its recycling program.

“We’ve determined which machines are worth trying to resell at a very reasonable price to the community, and which are candidates to send back to Dell for recycling,” Haycock said. “Proceeds will be funneled back into the next cycle of workstation procurements in a few years.”

MITCON is a non-profit division of Michigan Molecular Institute dedicated to bringing information technology expertise, support and planning to Midland area non-profit organizations. For more information about MITCON, visit www.mitcon.org, call (989) 832-5555 or email info@mitcon.org.

MITCON started as a project to rebuild the information technology platform at Michigan Molecular Institute. From there, it blossomed into providing IT support to a handful of non-profits in Discovery Square. Then United Way of Midland County and many of its member agencies got involved. And 10 years later, Ed Haycock and his small crew of IT pros found themselves responsible for 580 computer workstations spread out over 37 local non-profits.   Those organizations include everything from United Way to West Midland Family Center, from Shelterhouse to most of the foundations in town.

“It’s been a pretty heady climb from those early days of only working as MMI’s IT department,” said Haycock, MITCON Program Manager. “But once we discovered how many non-profits were in the exact same straits as MMI, it was almost obvious what we had to do. The question was: Could we?”

It turns out they could, once they convinced the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation of the collective value of providing corporate-level IT services to many non-profits.

“The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation has been instrumental in MITCON’s growth, right from the start,” Haycock said. “They recognized how much good we could do technologically for Midland’s many health and human service agencies – certainly much more than most of them were capable of providing to themselves. The foundation laid out the financial support to allow MITCON to help these NPOs in a game-changing kind of way.”

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Today, MITCON supports 37 NPOs — the bulk of which are United Way partner agencies — and about 580 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; 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.