Choosing the right technology path to mitigate organizational risk
The rewards of recognizing risk, planning ahead and being prepared have never been more evident than in the wake of the past 12 months. A critical, pre-pandemic investment in our organization’s digital infrastructure has paid off in ways that were unimaginable years ago. While the words “digital transformation” may be daunting for many nonprofits, the time is now for decision-makers to embrace and accelerate this key strategic initiative.
Looking back at the entire process, it is clear that having digital foresight, identifying the right technology partner and securing buy-in from the entire team are key when embarking on this type of digital journey.
Digital upgrade – or transformation?
In 2015, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) made the decision to move from an aging legacy software system to a modern, cloud-based ERP (Enterprise resource planning) system. Our former infrastructure had evolved over time into a tangle of outdated components that lacked overall consistency and stability.
DUC is a complex conservation organization with a range of reporting responsibilities to our partners, donors, and government agencies. One of our biggest hurdles was our inability to easily pull a single integrated, accurate accounting of our financial records. Our previous system simply would not allow it. On top of this, we had an incomplete disaster recovery plan should any part of the old system collapse.
This was an organizational risk that could not be ignored. We were vulnerable and ill-prepared for the unexpected. Little did we know, the digital transformation journey we were on was also preparing us with the right tools to navigate the largest pandemic in modern times.
Careful decisions and our search for a partner
Once we realized the risks our systems and infrastructure posed, and decided to upgrade our financial systems, it made sense to explore a complete digital transformation.
After much research and deliberation, we selected Microsoft® Dynamics 365, a cloud-based business platform that includes a complete ERP system, and business tools such as Outlook and Teams, which help us communicate and collaborate more effectively.
I think everyone can appreciate that deployments of this scale can be complex. Because we could not, as an organization, afford any mistakes or downtime, we carefully selected a technology partner with extensive expertise in the systems we selected. This turned out to be a pivotal move.
Our partner, Avanade, has deep expertise in these kinds of implementations. Over the course of our work together, their team became an extension of our Ducks Unlimited Canada family. From initiation to project completion, their experts worked closely with our team to ensure a smooth transition to the new technology. Having the right tech partner is vital to ensure a user-friendly experience and a tangible ROI.
With our new system in place:
- Our reporting to donors was immediately more timely, transparent, and easily accessible to the entire organization. We were better able to communicate with partners and provide reports detailing where their grants and funds were spent, tying contributions directly to our specific conservation initiatives and programs.
- Our board of directors had more timely access to reports and budgets, and audits now take substantially less time.
- The measurement and analysis available for each of our programs is far more advanced and provides new levels of transparency to our partners.
- Due to timely and accurate reporting, we can make real-time decisions, allowing our organization to be much more agile.
That would have been enough, but it turned out to be just the start.
When disaster strikes
Looking back, one of the wisest decisions we made was to purposely design our systems to allow remote work capabilities in the event of a disaster, using a combination of private and public cloud. That one decision, coupled with our renewed disaster recovery plan, set us up for success, allowing us to run our organization productively and efficiently throughout the pandemic.
The transition to working from home was seamless. With Microsoft Outlook, Teams, document management and secure remote access to our work systems, all 400 employees were trained and fully capable of working remotely. We didn’t miss a beat, shifting from working in the office to working from home overnight.
One size does not fit all
A digital transformation of this scope can be intimidating and overwhelming to organizations. That is especially true for charities and nonprofits, where we must put our donors’ contributions to the best use and thoughtfully stretch each dollar as far as it can go.
Not every organization has the resources to consider a project of this size. But, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s digital transformation experience has demonstrated to me that looking for ways to optimize and disaster-proof our business systems makes financial and operational sense for all of us, regardless of the scale.
If our experience could offer a roadmap for others, I suggest taking a fresh look at your operating systems:
- Are they reliable? Do you have a disaster recovery plan if they fail?
- What staff, program and fundraising efficiencies could you leverage to achieve your mission with additional collaboration capabilities and data insights?
- Does it make sense to consult with a reliable technology partner that can help identify what improvements to make that will align with your budget and resources? In my experience, a reputable partner can identify opportunities for ROI that an organization might not consider alone.
We all hope to never confront another catastrophe like COVID-19. There are no lessons to be learned that are worth the suffering it has caused for our communities and the causes we serve. I do hope, however, that our digital journey spurs the pursuit of digital preparedness and disaster planning to help us navigate whatever lies ahead, even if we don’t know what that will be.
Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.
Marcy Sullivan is the Chief Financial Officer for Ducks Unlimited Canada, a registered charity dedicated to conservation of wetlands that are critical to waterfowl, wildlife and the environment. Being part of an organization that gives back to the environment is not only personally motivating for Marcy, but has also introduced her 3 daughters to the many rewarding aspects of charitable work. Marcy is a CPA with a designation in both the US and Canada. With experience in the for-profit and not-for-profit arenas internationally, Marcy has been instrumental in leading measured and strategic change within the organization and most recently through the Business Systems Transformation project. Marcy enjoys spending time outdoors with her friends and family hiking and enjoying Canada’s many wonderful lakes.