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Getting to grips with deadlines and data

Getting to grips with deadlines and data

Expanding programs at Barnardos meant increased reporting demands

In April this year, Patrick Kerlin, the company secretary and senior manager of administration for the children's charity Barnardos Australia, was called into a meeting with the organisation's chief executive Louise Voigt. He knew what was coming.

In the previous three years Kerlin and his team had undertaken a number of projects, streamlining the organisation's activities and enabling it to nearly double the number of programs it ran, while containing administrative costs.

Over the period, Barnardos' IT team had also produced an electronic version of the UK-based Looking After Children case management system, which is now being used by a number of different child support agencies throughout Australia.

Voigt was keen to build on these successes and well aware that the organisation would need to demonstrate its ability to manage funds if it were to expand the services it could provide - and a decision by the NSW Department of Community Services was about to test their mettle.

After two years of deliberation, DOCS decided to pass on the administration of foster family arrangements. This would result in Barnardos providing foster families with administrative and social support, including the administration of a sizeable proportion of foster parents' out-of-pocket subsidies.

All Kerlin needed to do now was figure out if it would be possible for such a small organisation to in effect double its administrative burden.

"I was sitting there with the CEO and saying I hope we can do that," Kerlin says. "But it took another two weeks talking to our internal people and figuring out how it was actually going to be done before I could come back with a definite yes."

Throughout May, it was all hands on deck, as Kerlin and Barnardos' network administrator Andrea Waight used Accpac's InSight reporting tool to create a system that rapidly processes the contingency payments for foster parents.

Within two months, the system was fully operational and the organisation was able to extend its support for the children in its care. At the same time it was able to provide the state's government with regular, transparent reports into where and how the money was being spent.

"It took me about a fortnight of speaking with Andrea to figure out that InSight would enable us to take our case management to that extra level," Kerlin says. "It was great to go back to DOCS and say yes, we can take on that extra work."

But this was far from the first time Kerlin had dealt with tight deadlines and complex data integration. He'd come into Barnardos in June 1999 with six months to debug the organisation's IT systems in preparation for the year 2000 changeover.

"We had to deal with the year's end and the reporting cycle all at once so it was all done pretty quickly," Kerlin says. "There was a fair bit of work involved, so we used Business Solution Plus (BPS) to assist with the whole process and by November we had the Accpac system in place."

Between 2000 and 2004, there was a rapid expansion in the number of programs Barnardos was able to offer disadvantaged young people, thanks in part to a series of generous bequests. Each new program required close monitoring and a rigorous budget.

"Whether it's government funding, corporate funding or individual donations, we're always dealing with other people's money," Kerlin says.

The budgetary requirements increasingly tied up Kerlin's team in fiddling data back and forth between Excel spreadsheets and the Accpac system. It was entirely by chance that a Barnardos team member came across the InSight reporting tool at an industry conference in 2005.

With the capacity to draw on data from the organisation's payroll and accounting system, the software promised to significantly reduce the amount of time spent on budgets, while the reporting features seemed to offer an increased level of transparency across the organisation's finances.

"There was a fair bit of work involved in the initial development of the budget profiles, but we had a continuing link with BPS, which really helped the development process," Kerlin says.

Working in conjunction with BPS consultant Vicki McInnes, Waight spent two months preparing the InSight report profiles for the new financial year in July 2006.

Then 12 months later they were called upon again to create the profiles for a further expansion of the organisation's activities.

"In order to track the client contingency costs we had amended our accountancy system and import data from the welfare software, and combine this with information from the financial reports," Kerlin says. "Suffice to say, the tricky bit was to extend the tracking across over a hundred clients.

"It's given us back the time we used to spend just on reporting, so we can focus on where we're going as an organisation."

© Fairfax Business Media

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