With the anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan having just passed and the outbreak of the Ebola virus currently rampant in West Africa, Plan International, a children’s development non-governmental organization (NGO), has had a busy year sending appropriately skilled aid workers to deliver urgent help where it is needed most. The NGO, which began in 1937 as a charity to support impoverished or displaced children, depends on grants and donations to fulfill its mission. Plan created the concept of child sponsorship that connected children in the developing world with sponsors and historically relied on this individual form of giving; at one time 95% of the organization’s revenue came from long-term sponsorship of children. Today, that number is closer to 50% as more corporations, trusts, and governments are donating (often very large sums of money), and Plan’s focus has expanded well beyond child sponsorship. Now, Plan has diversified its interests to include disaster recovery across its work in over 50 developing countries and is concentrating on helping children affected by a wide variety of catastrophes such as wars, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters and developing events.
The most prevalent developing event today is the Ebola epidemic. With no cure for the virus and no vaccine to prevent it from killing about 70% of those it infects, the disease has made headlines globally, and the general public is concerned, confused, and looking for answers — and help. Plan has been heavily engaged in coordinating a response in the countries that have been hit the hardest, such as in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, educating people on how the disease spreads and the measures they can take to protect themselves, and working hard to help children cope with the destruction brought about by the deadly virus.
In emergency situations, children are the most vulnerable and need immediate help meeting their basic needs, like access to clean water and shelter, and a return to normalcy by getting back to school as their communities are rebuilt. When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in November 2013, it caused catastrophic damage and rendered more than 800,000 people homeless — including countless children who were orphaned or lost their entire families. Plan immediately sent specialists who were on the scene within 72 hours offering support and assistance to those in need.
In addition to coordinating emergency response efforts, Plan runs public health information campaigns — distributing its messages via printed materials and over radio waves — and trains health and aid workers in effective control procedures. Plan has also recently made great efforts to tackle gender discrimination and abuse of girls with a campaign to stop child marriage, even going as far as to create a fake blog and video of a Norwegian child bride to bring the attention of the public to the 14 million young girls across the globe who are married each year. And its efforts succeeded, as the resulting protest reached more than 3.5 million people via Facebook and Twitter.
How is this NGO able to tackle such big issues, mount emergency responses, and manage and deploy appropriately skilled teams so quickly to offer help exactly where and when it is most needed?
Instant Data, Instant Help: The Power of the Right Information
A key challenge for Plan in emergency situations is to find and recruit the best resources when they are most urgently required. To locate the appropriate resources, a disaster relief team at Plan’s head office in London, England needs to sift through the data on more than 10,000 aid workers spread across 70 countries — including 9,700 employees and freelancers in the field and 1,000 office workers — all with different skills and responsibilities ranging from medical aid, child protection, education, and shelter management. When recruiting people to help, it’s important to assemble a group with a variety of skills, and it’s crucial to include front-line workers who have intimate knowledge of the area and know the local language. With real-time visibility into its workers’ data and skills, Plan can put the right individuals in place to react to disasters in a fast and organized fashion.
The organization is able to manage this huge amount of information, access pertinent data instantly, and maintain sufficient oversight of its aid workers thanks in large part to an overhaul of its human resources (HR) systems. As a result, Plan can respond immediately to emergencies wherever they happen.
“Being able to quantify and qualify our staff against skills that they’ve been trained in allows Plan to choose the right people to respond,” says Mark Banbury, Global CIO of Plan International. “Now, we can track not just the skills that people bring in when they are hired, but additional training they have received to date for disaster response, emergencies in hostile environments, and so on.”
Another massively complex process Plan must undertake is managing the grants and donations it receives in any one of its 20 global organizations, an operation which involves many individuals and extensive coordination with local community groups. When a donation comes in, it first goes to the headquarters in London and is then allocated from there. “Say we receive a $50 million grant from the US government to use in Uganda. We needed different people to manage that grant within Plan, and we needed to be able to look around the organization globally to find those people,” says Banbury.
It was late 2012 when Plan began looking for software to get a better view of its growing global workforce. The company decided to invest in a cloud-based HR solution from SuccessFactors, an SAP company, as well as an on-premise rapid-deployment solution from SAP.
“SAP came to the table with consulting and also preferred pricing, which was important to an international NGO like Plan,” explains Banbury. “Because we had an existing relationship with SAP and use its software to run our finance, grantings, and project systems, it was a logical choice.”
Before the implementation, Plan had been keeping track of its employees with a patchwork of 30 disparate HR systems, spreadsheets, and documents. These decentralized systems were replaced with the integrated suite of cloud-based talent management solutions from SuccessFactors, including Recruiting, Performance & Goals, Succession & Development, Learning, and Compensation. Plan also implemented the analytics solution SuccessFactors Workforce Planning as well as an on-premise rapid-deployment solution, SAP Personnel Administration and Organization Management.
“SuccessFactors offers a simple interface for employees to update their personal details, while the rapid-deployment solution offers legal compliance across a wide range of countries, which is necessary for our geographic scope,” says Banbury.
The rollout of the software began in May 2013, and within one year, 56 countries had gone live. According to Banbury, it was essential for Plan to keep customization to a minimum, and the project team was determined to make the software work out of the box as strictly as possible. “We had the mantra that we would configure and not customize,” he says. The team worked with SAP to deal with any integration challenges that came up between the on-premise and cloud systems, and currently the majority of the organization’s HR processes are working seamlessly on the system.
Gone is the decentralized system in which it was difficult to find data on how many people work for Plan, what skills they possess, and where they are located. With the help of the SuccessFactors and SAP software, relief workers can now be identified and dispatched to disaster areas within hours. Previously, it could take weeks to locate people with the right medical training, language skills, and disaster experience. The new software has given Plan a bird’s-eye view of its entire workforce for the first time.
“We now know exactly how many people we have on staff today, the skills they have, the jobs they are performing, and the career path they are on,” Banbury said. “For example, the system can tell us in real time that we have 20 people in IT who are willing to be deployed and have received emergency training.”
This was not always the case. Back in 2010, when coordinating a response to the earthquake in Haiti, Plan used email to locate people who were available to help, had the appropriate skills, and could speak French. The process was a painstaking one.
Being able to react faster by deploying people in 24 to 48 hours is saving more lives.
Mark Banbury, Global CIO, Plan International
“The fact that we can get people on the ground so quickly — and have cut response time from weeks down to days — has had a huge impact,” says Banbury. “Being able to react faster by deploying people in 24 to 48 hours is saving more lives, and we can rotate people out more easily so they don’t burn out.”
The organization runs more efficiently in other ways as well. “We have restructured our central HR team, and people are spending less time chasing information,” he says. “For example, it used to take up to six months to collate and analyze data from employees’ annual performance reviews, and now it can be done at the push of a button.”
In addition to cutting IT costs by eliminating licensing fees associated with third-party software and servers the organization was previously paying for, the implementation has freed up resources to redirect their attention to disaster relief or other value-added work. The project has also helped Plan secure new sources of funding, according to Banbury. He says that Plan’s improved response time gives the organization more credibility with governments, corporations, and other sources of grants and donations.
Often, these donors are subject to regulations and reporting and want to know exactly how their contribution was spent and what the results were. With a concise view of its data, Plan can now harmonize reporting and establish best practices to deliver that information. “The idea is to make fundraising more efficient,” he says. “It is important that we can report outcomes and get that data back to donors.”
The Plan for Plan
Now that Plan has the basis for a centralized data infrastructure, the next logical step, according to Banbury, is to migrate the on-premise solution to SAP’s cloud-based alternative, Employee Central.
Another project in the pipeline is to integrate Plan’s ERP and HR systems. “This will provide a data-driven view of expenses, and will save a lot of time chasing paper around,” he says. “Also, centralizing procurement data could lead to further savings of between 3% and 5%, which is quite a significant sum.”
Whatever other projects come to bear, Plan is better positioned than ever to continue its work to offer help when disaster strikes and provide children support and hope for a brighter future.