Member Spotlight | Jonathan Mergy

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Jonathan Mergy, Tides

An Interview with Jonathan Mergy, Director of IT, Tides, and a TAG member since 2018.

Might you describe your role for our readers?

I’m responsible for all on-premise and cloud technology infrastructure for Tides. We’ve done a lot of changes over the last few years around solidifying the technology we want to keep onsite, what we want to migrate to locally or to the cloud, and what we want to shut down. We’ve done a lot of investment in providing robust staff mobility as well. I’ve led most all of that with cross functional teams. We have a lot more to keep doing around tech, but it’s been a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

In your organization, how is technology playing a more strategic role? What shifts are you seeing? What matters most now?

Technology is absolutely playing a more strategic role for Tides internally and with our clients on everything we do. As with all organizations that have been around for decades, we have to negotiate legacy data, move off manual processes, mitigate and migrate off exception-based past decisions, and adapt to our partners evolving needs and expectations. Technology around core applications and effective process redesign have been paramount to get us more towards a pace where we can collaborate and work off accessible points of truth 24x7. Don’t get me wrong, ultimately, the mission is about everyone we work with, connect, and support to drive social change, but the data and technology behind it has to be reliable and available to really be able to do this. We have diverse connections across the individual and family donor sector, social ventures, corporate partnerships, and other foundations and they all have seemingly varying asks on how we report and handle the work. Great people go a long way and have been the buffer here for Tides for many years as the systems just were not capable of keeping up with demands, but we’re at a point now where applications and data must scale.

Rethinking legacy processes, eliminating tasks and efforts that don’t make sense anymore, and leveraging fewer, but more robust cloud ecosystems like NetSuite and Salesforce have been vital to getting us positioned to get traction on all of this. We’re seeing clients that need their data. A lot of the recent tech and application investments have been to get a new extensible core of application functions and data along with process fixes but moving forward what matters most for us is cleaning things up to be able to be consistently client-centric on service delivery. You have to put the backend pieces in properly to scale, and that is tough to take on, but then you need to refine and continuously improve. Making systems better all the time for clients and an ecosystem that is making the world better really is what matters to us.

How have these shifts altered the skillset you look to build for yourself and/or your team?

The needs today and moving forward is much different than what I looked for previously in this sort of environment. Being in the Bay Area, it’s also not easy to hire and compete with the typical tech staff. The people I’ve brought into the organization have to understand and connect to our mission of driving social change. They have to understand whatever we do around tech and application investments needs to directly support what we do every day with donors, grantees, social ventures, and tenants. Gone are the days of an aloof IT department building servers, constantly messing with networks, crazy one-off database solutions, etc. Our staff needs to understand and live in the application space. Of course, there are needs for what is historically core IT needs around equipment and onboarding, but we leverage a managed service provider to augment Tides around core infrastructure, equipment, network monitoring, and baseline tech.

We have a small tech staff that really don’t think of themselves as IT. They are collaborators, solution-makers, and are genuinely curious how they can fit in and help the other areas of Tides. Tech is no silo here. Our team is in strategy, in method, in partnership with the rest of the organization as we take on new challenges. So, I tend to favor people that like people, like problems, can work through ambiguity, have empathy, and have technology skillsets but also want to keep learning and growing.

What are you energized about this year?

Tides just came off a couple of major projects around a core financials implementation and grants management implementation in 2017. We are still working through optimizations and making continuous improvements on these. Prior to that, we re-implemented our Salesforce instance to build the data model to really handle the client complexity we need for the future. The systems and process redesign work will always be there but we have some solid pillars now to build off, so I’m excited about navigating next phases on all of that along with adding layers to integrations between them. I’m also really excited about pushing integrations out to key clients. We have a diverse mix of partners out there, so our larger clients have their own systems we can integrate with now and we need to keep evolving to get their information to them where they want it.

Other major projects we’re leading and tracking are:

  • Office 365 migration
  • Move to the new Lightning interface in Salesforce
  • Doing more to our electronic payments integration with our bank
  • Continuing to invest time and effort into the community portal and knowledgebase.

But, there are so many more items we have in the mix here.

What are you reading right now that you'd recommend to others?

I’ve been big on audiobooks over the last few years ever since I had a long commute and when we do road trips. I also appreciate audiobooks with the voice of author reading their content. Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley was a recent read/listen. It’s not for the faint of heart and even for a San Francisco native like me, it was surprising (and shocking) to get a glimpse into the origins and the ongoing environment around the collision of tech, gender, and startup culture.

You've recently joined TAG. Why is this work together important to you?

We joined TAG because TAG is different. TAG aligns with our mindset of looking at the bigger challenges around the space with a technology lens. It’s not tech first. As I was working through the various systems work for Tides over the last few years, I would talk to folks helping us build and they would keep telling me that we needed to join TAG. I heard nothing but positive feedback around the depth of thought and purpose along with solutions with technology. TAG has members that are curious thinkers and solvers that want to get out ahead of where we are today but are leaders and doers in the space now. This kind of view that makes sense for us to invest our time in with others that keep pushing things forward.

The Technology Association of Grantmakers (TAG) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit membership organization that promotes the power of technology to advance the goals of the philanthropic sector.