Most charities operate significantly differently now than they did a decade ago. But the processes and systems they use often struggle to keep pace with the rate of change. Increasingly, charities are turning to ERP (enterprise resource planning) as a way to integrate functions such as finance, HR, procurement and fundraising across all staff in real time. But how do organisations wanting to modernise choose the right technology for their needs – and implement it quickly with a minimum of disruption?
These issues were high on the agenda at Unit4's recent Experience4U global virtual event, which looked at how organisations can embrace their potential and navigate the accelerated digital transformation we have seen during the pandemic. Speakers included Farah Abbas, director of technology and information management at Oxfam America, which recently introduced a new ERP solution. She shared her tips alongside Chris Fibbe, managing partner at ITK Solutions, a consultancy that advises not-for-profits on the subject. Here are some of their key insights:
Choose a solution that's right for the whole organisation
Oxfam America wanted to implement a cloud-based system that could be shared by staff at head office and around the world. Abbas says: “One of the things we did up front was to have clear business outcomes: efficiency, breaking silos, more transparency, more data access. Keeping teams focused on those outcomes really helped us in keeping the team moving forward, because they were committed to those outcomes.”
Don't get bogged down in technical detail
One of Fibbe's mantras is “process first, technology second”. In other words, think about where you want to take the business, and then let your technology partner enable it. In the case of Oxfam America, Abbas says this meant deciding what to keep, and what to change. “We focused on what are the gaps, what are the pain points and what do we love about our current system.” Find a partner that buys into your vision, rather than one that pitches to you about how amazing their systems are.
Involve everyone, from the start
Don't leave it to management to choose a technology solution then disseminate information. Adopt a collaborative approach that involves all staff at the outset. Fibbe says this approach is more democratic and achieves greater buy-in because “when decisions are made, they are made across the board” and it cuts out the chance of key steps being taken during informal water-cooler chats. One of Oxfam America's goals was to break down working silos, and involving everyone helped to achieve this in the implementation process.
Realise remote can help
The switch to online meetings during the pandemic actually helped Oxfam America, because it led to more remote meetings of staff from headquarters and country offices. Abbas says: “That really helped, because sometimes we would be deep into a design of something, and somebody in a country office would raise a question such as 'what about our currency?' or 'what about how we do this differently?' and that would help us step back and think about how we design this system. When you have in-person voices and remote voices, you tend to focus on the in-person voices and the remote voices get drowned out. Having everybody remote really helped in that way. We could actually track all the voices and issues and make sure they were addressed.”
Find a partner that understands the not-for-profit sector
Many companies provide ERP solutions, but not all understand the voluntary sector. Find one that does. As Abbas notes, one of the advantages for them of working with ITK Solutions and Unit4 was their wealth of not-for-profit experience. “They understood our lingo. We didn't have to explain to them from scratch when we talked about funds or grants or restricted funding.”
To find out more about how Unit4 can support charities and non-profits, visit unit4.com