ActionAid improves transparency for donors by moving financial systems to the cloud with Infor

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez April 22, 2020
ActionAid is an international charity for women and girls living in poverty. It has been rolling out Infor’s SunSystems financial management in the cloud.

Image of a woman and a girl part of an ActionAid campaign
(Image sourced via ActionAid website)

ActionAid is a global charity based in 46 countries around the world, with a primary focus on changing the world for women and girls facing poverty and injustice. By deploying Infor’s SunSystems financial management system in the cloud, ActionAid is able to better serve its donors and the projects it serves by boosting transparency on how money is being used. 

Key to this has been unifying the underlying data model for financial management, which has also given finance teams more confidence in steering the organisation’s strategic decisions. 

ActionAid was speaking at Infor Inspire, the vendor’s virtual European event this week. The charity has 170 core finance users across 46 countries and has already achieved 54% coverage of the roll-out, in terms of overall income to the organisation. 

It is implementing the core SunSystems module, as well as document management, reporting and Infor’s collaboration software Ming.le. 

ActionAid began with a pilot back in 2017, which helped to define the charity’s overarching requirements, including reducing the number of tools in use, being user friendly and shifting paper-based systems to the cloud. 

John Brophy, head of finance transformation at ActionAid, said that the charity faced a ‘technological lag’ compared to some of its peers and wanted to catch up in moving processes and systems to the cloud. Key to the drivers was the need for standardised, but highly configurable, systems (to cater for individual countries’ needs), but also standardised training and data. He said: 

We’ve had quite high staff turnover in the finance function in some countries, so we saw the need to standardise operating procedures and standardised training around that. So a finance person moving out of the organisation is not resulting in an interruption in business or a degraded service from that finance department. 

The pilot phase set the stage for that, with the standardised operating procedures and the harmonised data model. What worked really well for us was engaging with a number of countries in the same region, bringing them in with meetings, setting expectations, and building the relationship between the heads of finance across multiple countries.

Benefits from the roll-out

As noted above, ActionAid has already achieved 54% of its global roll-out in terms of overall income to the organisation and is already starting to see the benefits. 

Firstly, the harmonised data model, which was agreed during the pilot in 2017, was established by a wide group of stakeholders in the initial phases. Brophy explained why this has been so beneficial to the success of ActionAid’s projects: 

One of the key examples of best practice that turned out to be a game changer for us was the funding source code - a unique identifying code which captures each stream of funding and the donor restrictions around that. 

That allows us to link income raised around that source to the related expenditure across the federation. If the country is on the GFS [Global Financial System] we are able to report back on that fund to donors as to how that money has been deployed. It’s bringing efficiency, it’s avoiding manual rework and it’s bringing greater transparency and accountability. 

The trustees for ActionAid UK can look to the funds raised from DFID [Department for International Development] , for example, and can demonstrate how those funds have been deployed across the federation.

In addition to this, by moving to Infor’s SunSystem and making use of the procurement module, ActionAid has been able to shift its processes to become digitally enabled, reducing risk for the organisation. Brophy added” 

Traditionally in ActionAid most of our countries have been working on a paper-based system, which is not only inefficient but has significant risks and control issues. We really need to catch up in this area, which is why we’ve targeted the procurement module. 

We need to engage budget holders in the initiation of their purchasing needs, follow that requisition right through to the payment of the supplier. We need to drive that through an automated workflow that captures the supporting documents, allows us to raise the PO to the supplier, to match that PO with the goods received and the supplier invoice, to deal with any variations, and to then process those supplier invoices to payment. 

This is a real game changer for us. We have started small, we have got some success in Kenya, which we are now looking to replicate in some early adopter countries. It just means a critical process for us will be highly automated.

Confidence and consistency

In addition to the two points above, Brophy explained that because financial teams have better control and clarity into the information that they’re using, they are becoming better aids to the strategic decision making across the organisation. He said: 

Reporting capability was a key goal for us in the business case, to generate more timely, more accurate, more relevant management information that would support better decisions. The harmonised data model is clearly a foundation for that. We will have a real step change in the reporting capabilities that ActionAid members can draw on - not just for standard reports, but for ad hoc queries. 

In order of magnitude, we have seen a reduction of about 60% of the time needed to generate management accounts. This means that teams are becoming more confident and better equipped to play a business partnering role with their non-finance colleagues across the organisation. They now have the information at the level of detail.