Try tackling an IT project that involves liaising with up to a dozen bureaucrats covering state and federal governments right across Australia.
That's the challenge facing Salvation Army IT services manager (southern territory) Larry Reed who is rolling out a new information and client management system to around 1000 users over the next 12 months.
The application, which has been developed in-house to provide social workers with a common tool to manage client records, will provide a more efficient means to report to various government agencies.
This is important because the church and welfare organization relies on government funding in addition to donations.
It will replace a host of disparate applications in various states.
Reed said the main challenge is dealing with different government departments in each state and territory as well as the federal government to try and develop its internal reporting guidelines.
Each department or agency may have different reporting guidelines that the Salvation Army must comply with from the housing department in Victoria to drug and alcohol services in Western Australia.
The Salvation Army provides assistance to more than 1.35 million people in need covering a diverse range of services from food vouchers to accommodation for the homeless.
Reed said the J2EE-based application will be accessed via a Web browser. WebLogic from BEA has been selected as the platform. WebLogic provides the Web interface and front-end functionality, he said, while maintaining back-end stability.
"The information system will keep a record of services provided to clients and form a central knowledge base and data warehouse so we can produce statistics and identify trends," he said.
"Currently, staff fill in forms manually and often - with handwritten documents - information is lost, so we have an inaccurate picture of client history and trends. Also, staff are forced to compile information twice, once for our records and again to meet government requirements." Reed said the other challenge is end-user training and getting social workers interested in an IT system that seems so remote from their primary role.
"I'm trying to sell the system by letting them know that there will be less administration work and the system will help them make better decisions for their clients, which is their main concern," he said.
Menu-based screens will make for easy navigation and Reed said that, because the data is of a sensitive nature, the organization will comply with privacy legislation by ensuring centralized information is non-identifiable.
Also with a centralized repository, Reed said data mining tools can be used to extract relevant and timely information.
"By building a knowledge bank of services, decisions can be made on where to direct resources and the trends identified can be used to make a compelling case for future funding," he said.
Every week the Salvation Army provides 170,000 meals, 18,000 food vouchers and 3000 beds for the homeless.