For most IT departments getting their fair share of the budget is a constant uphill battle. But in organisations that exist to serve humanity (that is, don't focus on the profit line), grabbing even the smallest sliver of the pie is exhausting.
Suresh Rao, group IT manager for The Smith Family, said this was how it was until about three years ago when there was a change of mindset about how IT could benefit the charity.
"Technology was at quite a low base in the Smith Family a couple of years ago due to the mentality that money should not be spent on IT, but on services for clients.
"But about three years ago, it became clear to management that technology was important and was an enabler and that the organisation needed to embrace technology."
Rao said since then it has actually been easier to sell an IT concept, with the right business case, to senior management than to staff.
"Staff are not used to using computers; this is still a challenge."
To deal with this situation, the pace was slowed of a customer relationship management (CRM) implementation, which would give staff a single contact management system of all clients assisted through Community Programs.
Rao said the strategy for the project, codenamed Encore (enterprise client operations and reporting), was first developed about two years ago, but due to training and cultural issues could not be implemented at that time.
As an interim measure and to pave the way towards the CRM deployment, a number of databases using Microsoft Access and in-house, Web-based solutions were employed.
About 40 networked databases across as many locations were created. However, this system did not give the 250 staff and volunteer users a complete view of any client.
"Before Encore, clients and their families may have been [on] several programs, but each program is maintained separately. The CRM system will allow for an integrated view of a client."
Rao said there was also a more fundamental reason why the project was necessary. "The organisation has grown quite rapidly in past years and forecast growth is quite high."
Implementation of the StayinFront and SMS Management & Technology joint solution, based on Visual Elk 9 and Web Works, started on October 15 2001 and is expected to go live in April.
Rao declined to comment on the cost of the project, but said that, according to the business case and just on the basis of productivity increases, a ROI is expected within two years.
"The project will also mean that we will be able to integrate services which previously we couldn't. It means we will be able to re-engineer our business processes to make us more efficient.
"We have also tried to keep the implementation open. So, in theory when we add new programs these can just be built into the system."
To ensure success of the program, training and promotion has been important, Rao said.
"The project was quite planned out and we tried to formalise the process and engage a cross-section of staff. We have involved a team of business users at various levels [from different locations] who attended a workshop. They will go back to their offices and train other staff."
Once this project is put to bed Rao said there were plenty of other things in the pipeline. "Demand for IT is quite high within the organisation."
He said one of the next projects on the agenda is trying to develop an interface with external agencies like Centrelink, and using the CRM solution to its full extent.
On the infrastructure front, Rao said the charity is looking at upgrading its WAN and LAN through its partnership with Cisco. This is scheduled for completion by the end of the year.
Also on the schedule for the IT team of seven, is a voice over Internet Protocol project linking the national office at the inner Sydney suburb of Camperdown and the Villawood manufacturing plant in Sydney's South West.