Webinar Recap: The ERP mind shift for NGOs
“We are leading with our success, defined by making smart decisions about investing in innovation and intervention.” – Erik Arnold
As PATH’s Chief Information Officer since 2009, Erik Arnold has led PATH through massive changes. One such change was the effort to implement new enterprise resource planning software (ERP) for the finance department, which became a comprehensive operations overhaul. Constant shifts in funding sources, volatility in the economy, and ever-changing compliance codes meant that traditional ERP implementation approaches to a single division would not work. PATH had to shift their thinking and make the ERP about program impact and organizational transformation.
PATH describes their work as driving innovation to save lives. They accomplish this by using proven, market-based approaches to transform global health initiatives across five different platforms: vaccine development, drug development, diagnostics tooling, medical device development, and system and services innovations. At any one time PATH will have over 200 products and technologies in its development pipeline, and employ over 1,600 people worldwide in 48 different offices. PATH’s work is done in partnership with public and private organizations such as ministries of health, pharmaceutical companies, universities, nonprofits, manufacturing companies, logistics organizations, etc. Their goal is to introduce durable solutions in the places of greatest need.
Arnold explained that when he came to PATH in 2009, technology was used as a set of tactical tools, not as strategic tool to support organizational direction. The organization had 47 disparate legacy systems in place that had not scaled well as the organization had grown into a global entity with hundreds of employees. Strategic data analysis and reporting that could affect decision-making did not yet exist and that meant a heavy reliance on manual processes and people to run those processes. As the organization grew, back office staff size increased proportionally. It was clear this model wouldn’t scale. His work was cut out for him.
“IT can’t carry the water alone”
Implementation of an ERP meant making changes that had to appeal not only to the business metrics of the organization, but also to program staff across the globe. Arnold recalled that his first assessment before implementation —rationalize systems, standardize all processes, define the roles and responsibilities in the organization, define and prioritize efficiencies, determine metrics and reporting, define what success means and how to measure it, and make sure that it all works globally—quickly revealed the organization’s weaknesses. Arnold surmised that he would need much greater buy-in from the organization as a whole to make the required changes.
When discussing the many benefits of the new ERP with staff and select donors, Arnold emphasized that it would have significant program impact, and would transform the organization. He explained that the ERP would help PATH explore and discover new product innovation opportunities, and adjust more quickly to market opportunities with new programs. What resonated most with program staff was the ability to collect data across the organization, determine program efficacy, and better tell the story of PATH’s work around the world.
Arnold and his staff reached out to PATH offices in 17 countries and asked for input to determine what effective organizational change would look like. Their efforts produced a leadership base of change agents: program staff who are internal subject matter experts from every sector of the organization.
Change agents are integral to the process of ERP implementation. Involved from the very beginning of the planning stages, they represent every segment of the organization in every country where PATH has a presence. PATH allocated funds to support the involvement of the change agents, and the organization has made sure to include in-person meetings for them as an important part of the process. They are the first line of support for their colleagues as the new system launches, and as a continuing source of support after the go-live date.
Arnold closed his presentation with five high-level lessons that he has learned from leading this process of organizational change. First, define success by beginning at the end by focusing on program value, understanding that organizational value will follow. Second, take the holistic approach to needed external change by starting internally. Third, choose an ERP that works best for the organization. PATH found an ERP at UNIT4 that was ideal for their project-centric model. Fourth, embrace the trend toward cloud technology and cloud-based solutions. Finally, place the implementation of ERP technology into the broader context of organizational transformation as it will ensure buy-in from organizational leaders and donors.
To access the presentation, collateral material, and listen to, The ERP mind shift for NGOs webinar recording that includes an extensive Q&A session not covered in this recap, visit the webinar landing page.