Since its founding in the early 19th century, Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts has dedicated itself to improving the lives of people with blindness and deafblindness worldwide. This multi-faceted organization is at the forefront in developing programs and technologies to further its mission of educating children and young adults, and helping them achieve their full potential.
In 2015, Perkins’ Chief Information Officer, Dave Nero, engaged Tech Networks of Boston to help them develop a strong digital strategy for the organization’s future. The goal was to facilitate the concept of “One Perkins,” connecting the school and other resources through a seamless and robust infrastructure.
Tech Networks' staff worked onsite with Dave to develop a strategy that spread over three years. They focused on infrastructure initially, particularly on upgrading the wireless network, firewall, and security systems. Working within Perkins’ budget cycles, Tech Networks delivered the third party validation Dave required to prioritize and present a case for IT spending. In addition, Tech Networks provided Help Desk staffing as needed, while Dave built an IT team of 15 members.
As a non-profit, Perkins relies on three sources to fund its operational costs: an endowment, fundraising, and gifts or grants from state and federal entities. Funding is frequently a challenge, and IT must compete with direct service programs as well as facility-related projects. In addition to serving students at the Watertown campus, Perkins provides services, products, and consulting internationally, and advocates on behalf of kids who aren’t able to attend the school.
For Dave and his team, making the case for IT investment meant ensuring that every expense was clearly aligned to Perkins’ overall organizational mission. Replacing a wireless network that was 7+ years old was fundamental to their strategy. They took a proactive approach to rolling out a new network, setting up access points, and building flexibility and scalability into the system through open source software.
Reliable connectivity is an essential element for Perkins’ staff and students. As a K-12 special education school for kids who are blind and visually impaired, Perkins requires a unique diversity of technology. Dave’s team supports the iPads and Smartboards that students rely upon in their classrooms. Additionally, Perkins’ new digital strategy provides mobile device management for the students’ personal laptops, smartphones, and specialized devices used in concert with Braille.
Working with Tech Networks, Dave and the IT team were able to anticipate needs across Perkins’ services and develop a flexible and comprehensive digital strategy. The three-year rollout continues, and, as Dave says, its success lies in its “invisibility.” When the systems are working properly, no one notices.