Suite helps Goodwill widen circle of outreach

Intranet-based application suite serves as an information clearinghouse

What does it take to run one of the nation's oldest and largest social services agencies? Ask the IT team at Goodwill Industries-Suncoast in Florida, U.S., and they'll proudly tell you about Support 2020. The name alone suggests a clear vision of the road ahead.

But peer back a few years and you'd see that divisional operations weren't so well-defined. "We had lots of small data kingdoms housing data of many different shapes and flavors," recalls IT Director Charlie R. Chisholm. Disparate applications had ceased to play well together and efficiency had taken a turn for the worse. So Chisholm and his team of three technologists labored for years and produced Support 2020, an intranet-based suite of applications that now serves as the clearinghouse for all information throughout the Gulf Coast agency. "It became our obsession -- to bridge all the different data," from budgeting and accounting, to client and sales tracking, to employee management and training, Chisholm says.

Chalk one up for obsession. The data warehousing and integration project was so successful in linking up their operations with participating partners, such as vocational training groups and drug rehab centers, that the team more recently built it into a subscription service for small businesses and nonprofits nationwide.

Operating a nonprofit has a unique set of business challenges. "Probably our biggest aggravating factor was the dynamic nature of our business," Chisholm says. "We are driven by contracts awarded to us by outside federal, state, and local agencies related to our mission. These contracts are a moving target requiring wide-ranging variations in our operation and reporting needs from contract to contract and year to year." Goodwill-Suncoast tried on several occasions to work with outside developers and in one too many cases spent money that failed to yield desired results.

The solution came by way of an in-house effort to combine several desperate collections of data into one cohesive data warehouse offering cross-application reporting and manipulation. The Microsoft SQL Server 2000 databases and Cold Fusion front end are co-located in Pennsylvania, U.S., offering Goodwill and its subscribers the kind of data integrity and redundancy they may not ordinarily be able to afford.

"It works with existing applications to allow for cross-application data reporting and retrieval," Chisholm says. "It is perfect for small nonprofits that have little or no IT budget. We can work with the agency to integrate their existing data or provide them with the tools to manage their data completely." Eight area agencies currently use Support 2020, and all money received goes to support Goodwill's outreach.

A still greater number subscribe to Support 2020 as an online service. Companies can custom design a robust assortment of features that work best for them. Take training, for example. Managers can log on and create their own training modules when an employee needs more knowledge about a certain aspect of the business. Or they can register for various classroom opportunities.

Ultimately, it's providing opportunities for efficiency at the corporate level and support at the individual level that motivates Chisholm to keep adding improvements. Presently the group is working on a grant-writing module.

"I love the project and the product, and I'm always ready to do a demo for anyone who asks," Chisholm says. "There's not an aspect of this agency's business that's not supported and impacted by it -- every clerk, every contractor. It even tells us when a member of our staff is having a birthday."

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