How Meals on Wheels America delivers a lot more than food – a Sage Intacct micro-verticals story

SUMMARY:

Meals on Wheels America is known for bringing food to the needy. But as CFO Don Miller told us at Sage Intacct Advantage 2017, their mission is changing – and data visibility from cloud financials is playing a central role.

meals-on-wheelsIt’s a mistake to talk of cloud ERP in generic terms. When we look back on which vendors achieved success, and which ones fell by the wayside, I expect platforms and micro-verticals to be big factors.

For Sage Intacct, one emerging vertical is non-profits. Micro-verticals within the non-profit sector are also picking up steam for Sage Intacct.

At this year’s Sage Intacct Advantage user conference, a group of pesky inquisitive analysts took a use case session with Don Miller, CFO of Meals on Wheels America. It was a classic case of Quickbooks overload and Excel despair, but with a twist: driving a non-profit mission with cloud financials.

Miller, whose official job title is Chief Financial and Administrative Officer at Meals On Wheels America, did not go home empty-handed. Meals on Wheels America was amongst the Sage Intacct 2017 customer award winners. But these results would not have been possible without confronting organizational change.

The health stakes are high

As Miller told us, Meals on Wheels is driven by mission: helping seniors across the country to live “nourished lives.” But nourish means far more than food:

It’s not just the meal, it’s also a friendly visit to combat isolation which so many home bound seniors really struggle with. But, it’s also safety checks. It’s eyes and ears in the home to see if there’s anything that could send that senior to the hospital. We want to make sure that we’re addressing the whole person.

Most Meals on Wheels recipients are over 60 and also low income (Medicaid eligible). They are coping with chronic conditions:

Often the person that’s coming and knocking on the door is the only person that that senior will see all day.

The stakes are high. Meals on Wheels volunteers are frequently the first to discover that someone has fallen, or has been lying on floor for two days:

The volunteer actually gets 911 there, gets the person to the hospital and that person could have or would have died if not for the fact that someone was coming to their door every day… There’s so much at stake in the simple act of delivering a meal on a daily basis.

Transformation needs data visibility – the challenge ahead

But Meals on Wheels has changed with the times. In 2013, a new CEO came on board with the goal of transforming the organization:

Historically, the organization it under-invested in brand and people and systems infrastructure and we really needed to make the needed investments.

But it wasn’t just modernization. The needs of Meals on Wheels’ constituents are expanding; funding is harder to come by. Healthcare too is changing. There’s a shift from treating people in institutional settings to a greater emphasis on community care. A big opportunity looms:

Being in the homes of a very vulnerable population every day, we had an opportunity to really assert ourselves as a really valuable player in the healthcare continuum.

And yes, enterprise readers, data is at the heart of it:

We have an opportunity when we’re in the home to give an insurance company, a hospital, a healthcare provider access to information that they would never have access to. We can monitor changes in condition over time and report back data real time to insurance companies or other health providers. They’re able to take actions that keep people out of the hospital, out of nursing homes and they’re actually treating the person where they want to be treated.

Better care also has a financial payoff:

Of course, on top of that, the health systems are saving money, so there really is a way to not only get the health outcomes we want, but also get a financial incentive for the healthcare partners that we’re working with.

don-miller-sage-intacct
Miller presenting

But to serve up that data, you need a modern back end. And that’s where Meals on Wheels felt the pain. In their case, from the dual predicament of outgrowing Quickbooks and spreadsheets run amok:

We have a variety of funding sources both unrestricted and restricted funds. I walked in to a labyrinth of spreadsheets and tracking the sources and uses of those funds, because we only had one dimension we could use in QuickBooks. We were really managing millions of donor dollars in Excel and tracking summary data in QuickBooks and to me, it was a big waste of time for my team. A waste of bandwidth.

It’s the classic dual dilemma: low-value work was bogging down employees; lack of visibility into the data was hampering growth. Miller told us his job as CFO is to build credibility with his board that the numbers are rock solid – with the added pressure that most of Meals on Wheels’ numbers are served up publicly.

Using Sage Intacct to “Kill Stupid Work”

Miller’s team launched an evaluation into new financial systems. They kicked tires on fourteen options, selecting Sage Intacct in 2014. When asked about Intacct’s benefits, Miller hit on two categories:

  • Get rid of stupid work – We talk about KSW, “Kill Stupid Work.” Get rid of as many non-value-adding processes in the organization as possible. We don’t spend the time we used to spend in spreadsheets trying to build reports and try to get an answer to a question the CEO has.
  • Enable new models – Enabling us to do things that we could never do before. Being able to track restricted funds, projects and being able to slice and dice a report on any of those dimensions. I can run P&Ls for a variety of combinations of dimensions.

That moves the team from being bean counters and disseminators of financial reporting to really being business partners: “We really want to spend our time in more strategic thinking and more analytical thinking.”

How does a finance team become a business partner?

We’ve heard plenty about IT as partner to the business. But how does the CFO do that? Miller:

That was my vision for my team: I want you to be aligned with certain departments and I want you to know their business inside and out. And I want you to know what their operating goals are, and I want you to know how the budget ties to those goals, and I want you to be able to support them with the business insights they need to be able to achieve them.

Makes sense – but how does the data visibility from Sage Intacct help make this a reality?

Through the implementation of Intacct, we can budget at the department level. Each of the department heads own their budget, they have a P&L they have to manage. The finance team isn’t just sitting in a room making projections.

You can’t push transformation without results along the way. Miller shared a few:

  • Shortened month-end close time by one-third
  • Estimated 3X-4X improvement in forecasting process time and accuracy
  • 60% reduction in field work for audit preparation
  • Doubled revenue since 2013, with only 25% increase in finance team staffing

Miller sums it up:

We’re understanding a lot more about our business and we’re actually helping the departments get a much better handle on their business.

The wrap – can AI help to monitor well being?

Looking ahead, Miller wants to take collaborative forecasting further with rolling forecasts. They’ve made use of Sage Intacct dashboards, but Miller says they can do more to make data visible to stakeholders.

One issue: measuring the well-being of those they serve is a lot harder than tracking meals delivered. Miller says this kind of measurement is still in early stages. Traditionally, it takes a big investment in randomized control trials to get insight. The goal? Develop a “logic model” which will say, “If this happens, then this is the action that needs to be taken.”

To get further down that road, Miller’s team has started deploying mobile apps to monitor health conditions. They’ve been developing dashboards that notify either the primary care physician, case manager or caregiver – whoever’s job it is to intervene.

That sparks Miller’s interest in some of the AI announcements Sage Intacct made at the conference. Example: can machines surface behavior patters, and crawl data sets to surface urgent actions? That all fits in well with Miller’s mission:

If I can get AI to point us in the right direction more quickly, we can spend the time thinking about what are we going to do with that information then actually digging for it.

At a time when social services are coping with cost-cutting and making do with less, it’s always good to hear a forward-thinking use case like this one. I’m sure it’s a lot harder than it sounds to push ahead with these goals. If you’re interested in volunteering, here’s the sign up form.

Image credit - Meals on Wheels delivery photo from Wikimedia Commons, thumbnail photo of Miller by Jon Reed.

Disclosure - Sage Intacct paid the bulk of my travel expenses to attend Sage Intacct Advantage 2017.

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