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How (and why) to pursue nonprofit digital transformation – even in a crisis Featured

How (and why) to pursue nonprofit digital transformation – even in a crisis Jurica Koletić

I recently had the pleasure of asking two very different nonprofit organizations about ERP implementation projects they’ve completed since the pandemic. Farah Abbas, Director of Technology and Information Management at Oxfam, an international organization working to end the injustice of poverty; and Jennifer Noronha, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO).

Why were you looking for a new ERP system?

“Oxfam wanted to reduce corporate silos and get better access to critical operational data. We had a plethora of fragmented solutions that didn’t talk to each other, some manual processes and pockets of Excel”, explained Abbas.

“We wanted an integrated solution in which the modules would talk to each other. So we worked with our entire corporation, not just HR and finance, but the programs team, public engagement, and fundraising, to look at it holistically, understand our pain points and address them.”

NWMO is a public entity, so accountability and transparency are very important to them. “We wanted better line accountability and collaboration between departments,” said Noronha. “We held several process workshops and found to our surprise that functional leads sometimes didn’t know how their own processes worked, never mind how the whole corporate process worked from start to finish.”

What worked well and what would you do differently next time?

NWMO has a very good procurement process and the project went well. “Next time I would spend more time with the executive team and functional leads to whiteboard any inefficient processes before engaging a vendor,” Noronha reflected. “I would try to leverage the experience of previous implementations among our own people and Unit4’s, especially around building the data control architecture.”

“We wanted to get up and running quickly,” said Abbas from Oxfam, “so we got 70 people in a room and did rapid-fire workshops to understand what works and what doesn’t and then create user stories. Then we actually got the vendor to demonstrate how those user stories would look in their ERP. This worked really well and helped us make decisions faster.”

How did you manage user expectations and involve stakeholders?

Oxfam called their project TOPS, which stands for Transformation of Processes and Systems to show it was about changing how they work. They involved cross-functional teams in system design: the employee lifecycle was the work not just of HR, but managers, staff, unions and finance so that all departments understood each other’s processes and knew what to expect. Abbas explained, “We have a saying, ‘We’re not a special snowflake’. There are lots of nonprofits out there who’ve done what we’re doing. I wanted to minimize customization and use the best practices the vendor could bring.”

This cross-pollination was important at NWMO as well. “To get people to let go of what they have, you have to show them what the new thing is and why it would be better,” Noronha advised. “I spent 30% of my time on communication. We used a variety of strategies to manage user expectations: town hall meetings, demos, training, and brainstorming workshops with different functional groups – some of whom had never been in the same room with each other before.”

What do you want from technology in the future?

“We don’t want to spend a lot of our time on the system,” Noronha pointed out. “We want the people in our vendor to help us keep up to par with cloud apps that make us more efficient, accountable, transparent and collaborative.”

Abbas would like, “A smartphone experience from ERP. Mobile apps so we can do our work anywhere. And Smart ERP that analyzes the processes as they’re being used and recommends how to make them more efficient.”


Chris Brewer, Global Sales Lead, Nonprofit, Unit4

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