Many field-based international development projects struggle with frequent power outages and low bandwidth, making coordination with the home office a challenge. How can the development community better support field offices?
Have you ever asked yourself “did the person who built this software system ever even remotely talk to anyone that has to use it?” I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you (like me) have. Digital transformation efforts are littered with cautionary tales of designing tone-deaf systems that don’t meet the needs of the company. Over the years at Chemonics, we have developed many disparate, siloed information management and accounting systems, which in recent years have been showing normal signs of aging. They don’t “talk” to each other and they require a lot of computer code patches and manual work-arounds to maintain. Static data is usually emailed back and forth across the 76 countries we work in. Like a lot of companies, we use Excel more often than we’d like to.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
The world has vastly changed in the 10+ years since we launched our simple accounting software in our field offices abroad. Overseas communications have dramatically improved, regulations have become increasingly complex, and access to information no longer depends on where you are. Today the world is connected, online, and rapidly changing. Global development organizations must be able to adapt to this new environment.
In response to these challenges, we began our digital transformation journey in 2016. Our new Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP) system will be built by customizing Microsoft Dynamics 365 software to meet our requirements. This initiative has two phases:
- Phase 1 (complete): We shifted all staff onto a single, cloud-based work environment for email, file storage, and Microsoft applications. We also converted our 4,380-person global workforce onto Office 365, which means home- and field-office staff are finally using a mutual document management library, eliminating delays in information sharing and allowing for more streamlined collaboration.
- Phase 2 (current stage): We are transforming and automating our key business processes to replace legacy business systems, streamline project management, and make innovation easier through an open enterprise IT platform.
The digital transformation initiative is creating a more unified and inclusive workforce by bringing Chemonics staff onto a single cloud-based, digital platform. Staff in all project field offices will be able to take more ownership of their program, as they will have real-time access to their own employee data, financial reports, and project management tools for the first time. Most importantly, by globalizing and streamlining our financial and business systems, we are empowering our global workforce to simplify moves and seamlessly transition between roles in field offices and the home office.