Ateljee
Onze Klanten / Ateljee

Ateljee and Direct, IT support tailored to the needs of the association

Ateljee is best known for De Kringwinkels in the broad Ghent region but has other projects such as the social restaurants, the bicycle project for companies and individuals trans-fair, the public computer rooms Digipunten … “These projects are mainly a means to ensure that people who do not have a chance on the labor market still get a job. It is about the short-skilled, the long-term unemployed and people with psychosocial problems,” says IT coordinator Christoph Maes. “We see work as one of the structural levers to lift and keep people out of poverty. We want to make people stronger. That’s our DNA.”

Today, more than 450 people are employed at Ateljee, spread over 18 branches. All with their own computers, phones, POS systems, .. Christoph – a chemist who has taught himself how to program – and his three-person team provide the central IT support. “We take care of the first support and the first troubleshooting. What we can solve ourselves, we solve ourselves. For more complex questions, we can count on Direct.”

'Technology can help empower people'

Non-profit organisations have a special, somewhat hesitant relationship with technology and IT, says Christoph.

“Technology has long been considered a bit of a necessary evil. As a non-profit organisation, we want to strengthen people. The reasoning was always: every dollar that goes to IT can’t go to people. But gradually the realization has grown that technology can just help us to strengthen people.”

Christoph Maes, IT coordinator

“Even non-profit organisations can no longer use digital technology. Only when something goes wrong, we notice how deeply digitization has penetrated into our organization. We fell victim to a cryptolocker not so long ago. The first reflex was: ‘annoying, but fortunately we don’t need computers to repair bicycles, for example’. Until we noticed that all the information – name and address of the customers, what should be done with the bicycle,… – was all stored in the computer.”

“When it comes to IT, many non-profit organisations only wake up when there are problems. IT is not a priority until operational operations suffer. Just because IT has an increasing impact, I’m trying to change that. Not waiting for problems to arise, but proactively looking for innovative solutions. Tailored to our organization.”

Growing complexity requires external IT partner

According to Christoph, non-profit organisations today find it difficult to do without an external IT partner. “At Ateljee, we have decided not to outsource everything to a third party and to keep our own IT team. This is also part of our training programme. What we can do ourselves, we do ourselves. But there is so much involved in IT that it is impossible to master all that yourself.”

“The complexity and technicality is enormous and will only increase further in the coming years. Whether you do 20 percent, 50 percent or 80 percent yourself, that is a choice that every organization has to make for itself, depending on the available budget and the available expertise. But I am absolutely convinced that an external IT partner provides added value.”

Christoph Maes, IT coordinator

Condition number one: enthusiasm

After a market exploration, Ateljee decided to work with Direct. Christoph has clear expectations of his external IT partner. “Of course, we need operational support, fast and flexible support when IT issues compromise our operational operations. But we were also looking for a partner who acts proactively. Specialists who help us anticipate evolutions and challenges in the digital world. In addition to our daily tasks, we cannot possibly keep up with all of that. We need experts who can keep up with the digital express train.”

“If we need new tools or infrastructure, we need to be able to count on objective advice. Many IT partners are tied to certain technologies and certain suppliers. We have limited budgets, every investment has to be hit. No unnecessary features that we don’t use anyway, but solutions that do what they are supposed to do. No more, no less. We really need independent and unbiased advice. Our IT partner must be able to empathize with our needs as a non-profit organization. He must speak our language. Accessible, not too complex.”

“But the most important thing is: enthusiasm. That is a word that we use a lot and that everyone at Ateljee is aware of. At Direct, we noticed that enthusiasm during the first conversation. With people who are passionate about IT.”

Pressure grows confidence

The collaboration between Ateljee and Direct immediately started with a solid test, Christoph looks back. “We were going to install a completely new IT infrastructure. We have chosen not to systematically give the old infrastructure small updates, but to renew everything and really arm ourselves for the future. Employees, customers, suppliers,… also go along with that, provided that you keep the interim period in which they experience nuisance as short as possible. You can expect a clear end date, and you absolutely have to meet that deadline!”

“That project was also looked at internally with a magnifying glass. Non-profit organizations are quick to find that you should not repair what is not broken. IT is not a priority, so why should they replace something that still works? In order to increase support for investments in IT, it was therefore incredibly important that the deadline was met. There was a lot of pressure on the boiler. But the deadline has been met, and the collaboration has immediately kicked off in an excellent way.”