Heart and Stroke Foundation pumps up BI reports

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario is hoping its initial deployment of business intelligence software can be expanded to offices across the country as the charitable organization becomes more transparent and accountable to its donors.

So far the implementation of Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains) reporting tools has been limited to 30 users at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario’s Toronto office, along with links to 30 field offices across the provinces. Kyla Lougheed, the foundation’s manager of IT services, said pilot projects with other provinces will likely happen over the next couple of months.

“Some of them are big enough for a full implementation of GP,” she said. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario installed Dynamics GP just over a year ago, after frustrations with manually creating reports with a legacy system was creating a burden on staff, according to Lougheed. “It wasn’t even Windows-based,” she said of the older software. “We were using an Excel plug-in that only a few people knew how to use. That caused challenges when we had turnover, because we weren’t able to keep up.”

It was the IT department, in fact, which had responsibility for creating the reports, and Lougheed said staff time was often taking up with support calls in relation to them. “I’m talking hours and hours a month,” she said. “Now that job is sitting with the financial analysis team.”

Microsoft recently extended its premier support service to Dynamics, including 24-hour technical support and on-site visits, but the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario opted to work with a Canadian Microsoft partner, Toronto-based TGO Consulting, to handle the implementation.

Nancy Teixeira, group manager for the Dynamics product line at Microsoft Canada, said the software has found a strong foothold in Canada’s not-for-profit sector.

“They have very strict accountability to their supporters to make sure they really deliver accurate and timely reporting on where that funding is going,” she said.

Lougheed said the biggest steps involved revamping the organization’s chart of accounts (the list of all accounts tracked by a single accounting system) and changing various business processes.

“We took advantage of a lot of things that were built in,” she said, adding that the organization looked at other deployment case studies. “Major corporations are using it, and we’re not that different from a major corporation.”

Lougheed said she and her team had to overcome the usual hurdle of communicating with line of business users, in particular getting them to be more involved in the project outcome.

“People heard us say that we were replacing the system and they would say, ‘That’s an IT system, I don’t have to worry about that.’ Really, the business owners need to own that, too,” she said.

Dynamics GP has often been aimed directly at executives within enterprise finance departments, but Microsoft’s continued march into BI and other business applications is changing that, Teixeira said.

“With the integration with the rest of the Microsoft stack, the IT audience is becoming more and more relevant,” she said.

Microsoft has committed to releasing a new version of Dynamics GP every two years, and recently said Dynamics GP 11 will be built on the next release of its Office suite, called Office 14, scheduled for release in 2009. Lougheed said she is particularly interested in self-service features and how Dynamics GP will fit in with Microsoft’s Sharepoint portal product and recently-launched PerformancePoint server, as the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s board is interested in more metrics to evaluate the charity’s activities.

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