Food for the Hungry Canada has been through a transformation typical of so many organisations, switching from a swathe of disparate software applications to an integrated suite. The firm chose NetSuite for its modern package and was at SuiteWorld 2017 in Las Vegas to explain the benefits it has reaped from the project – but also shed light on the rather lengthy rollout process that began 12 years ago.
Food for the Hungry works with communities around the world, to help provide basic needs like food, clean water and education. It typically works with a community for 10 years, after which time they go from being stuck in poverty to self-sustaining, solving problems on their own, taking care of their children and responding to emergencies without outside help.
The Canada branch’s main responsibility is to fundraise to support those projects. As part of its investigations into how to get donations in and supplies out to the needy more quickly and efficiently, it realised that the use of disparate software applications including Goldmine, MS Great Plains and a proprietary inventory management system was hindering its operations. Basically Food for the Hungry was a slave to silos, with every department used to working in their section of the office in their own software, doing their own thing.
The organisation opted for NetSuite as it covered all of its needs – accounting, inventory management, CRM and e-commerce – in one place, as Mark Petzold – Food for the Hungry Canada director of communications and technology explained:
Before NetSuite, it was a bit of a mess. We’ve been using NetSuite for over 12 years now, but even back then I think our story was pretty typical. We had our separate CRM software, a different financial package, we’d custom-built an inventory management system, and our web site wasn’t connected to any of the stuff.
What that meant was, financial reporting was accurate once a month, our remote staff had no connections to internal systems because we had nothing in the cloud at that time, and trying to rally staff around a common cause or any kind of corporate goal was really difficult as the information was scattered all over the place.
More time and resources
The shift away from siloed applications to an integrated system has enabled Petzold to transition away from doing the IT grind to being customer-focused, driving revenue and priority projects, and freed up to take on a broader role.
When we first started using NetSuite, I was only responsible for IT, and then there was somebody else working in IT as well, so there were two of us doing IT. That meant applying tax updates to the financial server, doing daily backups, doing all the day to day IT stuff. Now we’re at the point where I’m the only IT person and it’s only 20 percent of my job.
It’s completely revolutionised how we’ve done everything. When we first transitioned to NetSuite, it was a little embarrassing at the beginning as we found out very quickly how many of our customer relationships had been falling through the cracks.
The firm was able to identify all the different segments of customers it had in its database: people who preferred to give monthly, those who donated large amounts, and those who shopped from its gift guide, as well as business partners and other relationships. Petzold added:
One of our core values is relationship-first and using NetSuite has really helped us to deliver on that core value.”
We have a child sponsorship programme – it sounds a little crass but we’re effectively leasing children over the internet – so there’s that as one business process; our gift guide has goats and chickens and cows, we’re selling things like a normal e-commerce platform; and we also accept regular donations. We really had to customise NetSuite to be able to do all of those three different things. If we were able to make it work, it really should work for any scenario.
Food for the Hungry has a major campaign upcoming this summer that it is relying on NetSuite to help make a success. The campaign is aimed at raising money for clean water, and will involve a mail campaign with promo codes, sending out multiple e-blasts, Google Adwords, Facebook and social media. Petzold said:
All those different channels will work on the same campaign into NetSuite, and all those different customer segments get messaged in different ways for the same campaign. All that comes to the one spot. So there’s nobody in the organisation who doesn’t know how exactly the campaign is doing at any particular time.
We’ve got sales reps attached to each major donor, so if a major donor contributes to one of those campaigns, that sales rep is going to know about it immediately and can respond appropriately.
Not a quick fix
Although Food for the Hungry embarked on the project over a decade ago, success has been more recent, Petzold admits:
For us it took time. Years. The implementation took a few months, switching from one IT system to another is complicated but that’s really just the beginning of the process.
After implementation, that’s when the hard work starts. It took us probably two years before every staff person was fully up and running with NetSuite and using it in the way they were supposed to use it and doing everything they were supposed to do, until it became part of our corporate culture.
The main reason behind the lengthy rollout was user adoption. As with any organisation, people take time to change and it can be a challenge moving away from a culture that is so used to working in isolated silos. Petzold explained:
Breaking down those barriers took us a couple of years. For individual users, training them how to do their job, getting that data in there, putting in notes – that all took time.
Once that was done and that data was going to NetSuite, there’s a second level to user adoption and that is the organisational adoption of NetSuite. So when we start seeing stats going up on the dashboard, then the whole organisation can take advantage of that and build into team building so we’re all looking at the same numbers and taking advantage of it.
In the last few years, the organisation has been holding an all-staff meeting every Tuesday, where the profit and loss statement is put up on screen and they all have to predict beforehand what the next week will look like and then review it.
Every single staff person has at least one line on that P&L they’re responsible for. The bottom line is how much cash is in the bank, and everyone has some stake in the organisation and where we’re at. That’s been the most exciting part of it. For a number of years, we had the 360-degree view of the customer and that was fantastic for customer relationship management; but there’s also a 360 view of the organisation, which from a management perspective can be really exciting to engage staff in what we’re doing.
The system is now so embedded as part of the business, that NetSuite has become a verb in the office, Petzold said:
A sales rep would be on the phone with somebody and they’d hang up and say, just a second, I’ve had this call, I’ve gotta go NetSuite that.
Petzold advised other organisations still struggling with siloed applications, that while a move to an integrated system might be a lengthy one, it’s certainly worth it.
Invest in that customer relationship end of things and corporate dashboards, so that all of your staff are on the same page and know what’s going on. There’s nothing like having everyone rally around a particular goal or cause. Put in the time and effort it takes to get there. It took us a long time and you might be able to do it faster. But it’s worth it in the long run.
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Disclosure - NetSuite is a diginomica premier partner at time of writing.