By: Dann Anthony Maurno
Partners In Health is a non-profit that provides high quality health care to some of the poorest and most remote places in the world. This work is as complex as any multinational operation, but it operates “minus all the resources,” says Jarid Siegel, the organization’s Director of Financial Systems and Operations. “By resources I mean money to buy supplies, power, and internet,” he clarifies.
Indeed, this $150 million Boston-based non-profit, which helps to operate health systems serving some of world’s poorest populations, cannot count on an internet connection or even power in its work locales – primarily rural Haiti and rural Africa. In addition, the organization has a complex supply chain where over 6,000 pharmaceutical and medical supply SKUs are sourced centrally and then need to be shipped, warehoused, and tracked in these remote regions. And with a footprint across 10 countries, the organization faces multicurrency challenges similar to those of any global operation.
Partners In Health has run on Serenic Navigator, a Microsoft Dynamics NAV-based solution, for eight years and recently renewed their investment in the product. Navigator extends Dynamics NAV specifically for non-profits and NGOs. It builds on Dynamics NAV’s capabilities for financial management and operations, including international capabilities like multi-currency, and offers these organizations added functionality aimed at five areas: fund management, full cycle grant management, workflow-based budget controls, approvals, and advanced cost allocations.
“We did an RFP about a year ago and landed back on Navigator as a really good solution for us. We discovered that certain functionality offered by Serenic Navigator-Field Connect (an online/offline general ledger tool that works when Internet is spotty), the ability to have a hybrid on-premise-cloud implementation, and AwardVision (grant management module)-is unmatched in the ERP world today,” says Siegel.
As Siegel describes it, reporting on consolidated financials across all local transactions was also key in order to keep donors informed and make management decisions.
“We are headquartered in Boston, where we do a lot of our fundraising, and that is where our central database lives,” running in Azure, Siegel explained. This consolidated database also serves as Partners In Health’s global reporting hub for Boston and its site companies. These site companies represent Partners In Health’s operations in a given country and are on-premise deployments in places like Haiti, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. The ability to deploy on-premise is necessary given the intermittent power and Internet connectivity. “So a big pain point for us was just finding a solution that could do the combination of on-premise and cloud-based deployments, which Navigator and NAV can do,” says Siegel. “Ideally we’d have everybody pointed at our cloud deployment,” but many of the site locations lack sufficient Internet service or consistent power.
“Another major pain point for us was multicurrency, since we’re working in countries that operate in currencies other than the U.S. dollar. We needed a system that could operate in many currencies and translate between them all so in Boston we could have a global view of all of our financials in one currency, USD.”
Still another requirement was the efficiency and ease of access that comes with normalizing on a single system, worldwide, and across functions. As Siegel describes it, Partners In Health is in the process of normalizing their systems. They currently operate on disparate systems for supply chain, fundraising, and HR, but are working towards normalization with Navigator and NAV.
Disparate systems that don’t talk to each other can divert resources from Partners In Health’s primary mission. “As a nonprofit we’re strapped for resources,” says Siegel, “so it’s hard to buy and manage a whole bunch of different systems; and in general it just makes sense if all these systems are speaking the same language. So, if we can figure out how to get more out of the same system we’re getting some economies of scale as an organization.”
The Economics of Azure and of NFPs
Partners In Health made the decision to run their system in Microsoft Azure for both financial and organizational reasons.
“From an economics perspective it made sense for us to go to Azure where possible,” says Siegel. “Just being a non-profit we don’t want to take on maintaining our own hardware. And our IT department could definitely use more resources so this is a way to outsource many of those costs.”
In other words, a non-profit or not-for-profit is much like a lean manufacturer. “We try to get a lot out of the tools we have and oftentimes instead of going out and buying a new system and figuring out how to integrate current systems, we like to get more out of our current systems and be creative about the processes.”
Managing a Complex Supply Chain
Partners In Health has a complex and fast-moving supply chain that, says Siegel, is “mainly buying medicines, drugs, and medical equipment and getting those supplies to our sites. It might sound simple at the high level but it gets trickier when you figure in grant requirements, customs, and lack of internet. And it’s really all over the world; we buy supplies globally-wherever the stuff that we need can be found for the best price.”
Until recently, Partners In Health used Serenic Navigator mainly for finance functions. But says Siegel, “one thing that speaks to its value is that right now we’re in the midst of rolling out the supply chain functionality” of Dynamics NAV. “People see that it is working and are now willing to invest in this one platform to do more than just finance.”
Microsoft Cloud Enables Collaboration, Communication
Partners In Health has more than 18,000 employees and associates worldwide, and it oftentimes must scramble to deploy those people – to earthquake-stricken Haiti, for example, or to Sierra Leone and Liberia to serve areas impacted by the Ebola outbreak.
Microsoft recently published a case study describing how Partners In Health was handicapped by incompatible email services which made it difficult to communicate, share documents securely or mobilize people in response to a health crisis.
The organization worked with Microsoft at its Cambridge, Mass.-based Microsoft Technology Center, and arrived at a global deployment of Office 365 cloud-based services plus an identity management solution hosted in Azure. On top of that, the Partners In Health staff now uses Skype for Business Online for instant messaging, SharePoint Online for document management and workflow, and OneDrive for Business for cloud-based document storage and ready access.
Altogether, this cloud-based infrastructure has enabled Partners In Health to avoid about $250,000 in capital costs, and to “get out of the server business,” as CIO Dave Mayo described.