Governance helps charitable outfit get with the Plan

Plan International is a 75-year-old organization that works throughout the world to improve the plight of the poor and disaffected. Formerly known in Canada as Foster Parents Plan, the outfit focuses its efforts on child-centered community development and works in areas of health and education, and improving livelihoods and building relationships to help break the cycle of poverty.

Through the efforts of their workers spread throughout the globe, and the donations of members, Plan is helping countless children and communities become more sustainable and enjoy a higher standard of living.

Underlying these efforts is a complex communications and IT infrastructure which features touch points in both the richest and poorest parts of the world, says Kelvin Cantafio, IT Director and CIO at Plan International.

“We are working in 17 countries where we do our fundraising, in countries like Japan, the U.S., Australia, Canada and the Scandinavian countries, which have the best connectivity in the world, and also simultaneously in the almost 50 offices where we do the work, some of which are in the poorest and worst-connected in the world. We have to build systems that work in any of those conditions.”

Certainly a tall challenge, and one that the outfit is meeting thanks to a solid alignment between its IT arm and its business leaders. When he joined Plan in 2001, Cantafio and other leaders prioritized the business’s requirements, with IT-Business alignment one of the top items on that list. To help the synching process, Plan put in place a two-tier governance structure. First, for each project the organization was working on, an IT project manager and a business leader worked in partnership. “A lot of people looked at it and said, ‘Shouldn’t one be the other’s boss?’ and we said, ‘We’re going to do things a little bit differently,’” Cantafio says.

Above them, Plan put in place a project board, which had directors who were the stakeholders from the area with which the project was concerned. This could include a regional director, a finance director or a national director, as well as Cantafio himself, on the various boards. “They were responsible for the budget, the approval, the scope and closing down projects.”

To complete the governance structure, Plan installed a steering committee with which the project manager worked. “It was very cross-organizational, with IT representation, people from the field and those from headquarters.”

Aligning IT with leaders from other areas of the organization meant bottlenecks were eliminated and the path to consensus was shortened. Cantafio points to the use of e-mail as an example. Originally, Plan used the now-obsolete cc:Mail system.

“We had 60 mailboxes. Any one of those could change that and change someone else’s ID somewhere else. It was a constant struggle to know who was who.”

Plan then standardized on Microsoft software running over a Cisco Systems backbone. It now has a fully functional active directory for 6,000-plus employees. “So if I bring my laptop to one Plan office, I can use their printers. I don’t have to think about this stuff. I can go to an Internet caf

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