BI tools help nonprofit make loans to tsunami victims

A nonprofit organization is deploying new business intelligence tools to help it scale up its IT infrastructure to meet the needs of thousands of tsunami victims in Southeast Asia.

Opportunity International Network, which provides business loans to poor people in developing countries, is rolling out US$250,000 worth of BI tools and services donated by Hyperion Solutions and its partners, Answerthink and Tableau Software, Hyperion said last week

Opportunity International, a 34-year-old nonprofit, specializes in microfinance -- the practice of making small loans that average about $200 -- to allow poor clients to start small businesses such as cooking and sewing services. The Oak Brook, Ill.-based organization has partners in developing countries to help manage the loans.

The donated software will boost the visibility of loan portfolios as the organization prepares to add tens of thousands of new clients in tsunami-ravaged India and Indonesia, as well as in AIDS-stricken Africa, officials said.

The new tools replace a Microsoft Excel-based financial management system. Without them, Opportunity International couldn't take on the significant numbers of additional loans it plans to dole out, said Larry Reed, CEO of the charity.

Opportunity International plans to increase its client base from 675,000 to over 1 million by 2007 and to 2 million by 2010. The aggressive growth plan has put a lot of stress on the organization's IT infrastructure, according to Reed.

Hyperion donated Version 7 of its Essbase database, Analyzer analysis tools and Visual Explorer visualization tools.

Opportunity International intends to use the tools to push information to its 40-plus program managers in 27 countries to help them manage local programs, said Timothy Head, the organization's information services manager. "We need to pull all the data ... to one central database that we can analyze, and we need a way to get that information back out to people in the field," he said.

As part of its effort to aid the tsunami-affected regions, Opportunity International is working with 1,000 clients in fishing villages in India and plans to provide loans to 20,000 people in India during the next two years. In Indonesia, the charity may add 10,000 clients during that time.

"The ability to manage information -- especially to track what is happening with clients there -- is very important for us to ramp up the program there," Reed said.

In Africa, the organization plans to add 11,000 clients in the next three years to help those struggling with the AIDS epidemic.

The Hyperion tools have already made it possible for the charity to shorten the time it takes to close its books each quarter from 45 days to 35 days, according to Head. "When you have a loan for US$200 that is paid back weekly, (and it takes) three months before you find out the loan is late, you are behind the curve," he said.

The software can also help Opportunity International refine a program that measures how the lives of the clients and their children are improved by the loans. Such data can help the organization more easily show donors how their money is being used, Reed said.

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