Organisations whose beneficiary activities and charitable undertakings differ widely can have a great deal in common below the surface, or ‘in the back office’. And while it’s important that NFPs develop distinctive income-earning or recruitment strategies, taking the same approach to cross-cutting backroom functions and information management systems is arguably a less smart use of the R&D budget.
For Westwood Forster and some of our early partners, this knowledge was hard won. In an emerging, undeveloped NFP software market, customer calls for flexibility and user-adaptability in all areas of system performance seemed entirely reasonable. Until – as we describe elsewhere – a new rule seemed to be at work:
total adaptability + personnel turnover x time => … a bit of a mess.
When running repairs to customers’ setups - some of which nobody remembered designing - began to occupy most of our time, we chose a new priority fix: to draw on our learning, and the collective experience of an expanding group of partners, to put Best Practice at the heart of the software, rather than continue building locally to a standard that risked being compromised by users’ attachment to largely arbitrary, customary ways of doing things.
Best Practice isn’t a prescriptive term– it can describe any transparent, replicable method that gives high-quality results.
We focused on the underlying activities and business rules common to our clients and represented them as Business Process Flows (BPF).
Whenever the system is implemented in a new setting, alms.NET BPFs automatically flag local process variations: part of fitting Best Practice is the realignment of variant elements not necessitated by unique factors, using the relevant BPF sections as templates.
Detailed alms.NET implementation arrangements vary depending on an organisation’s size and structure, and particularly on the client’s business mix: the range of operating viewpoints that determine the set of processes in scope. The model is scaleable, and centrally entails a multi-stranded implementation plan, overseen by one or more joint project teams, and made to happen by champions drawn from the client organisation’s staff - we call them Process Champions.
With support from Westwood Forster when they need it, Process Champions coach colleagues through core alms.NET concepts and processes, and in setting up and using the system to perform specific roles - cascading the learning and skills acquired from a tailored Process Champion training programme.
Process Champion training itself often happens off site – when possible, we bring together champions in training from more than one organisation. A typical session takes a single BPF as its structure, and while being trained in how to use the system, champions are encouraged to challenge and test the Best Practice assumptions inherent in the process template; this key aspect of the implementation procedure can be enhanced when several organisations contribute.
Process documentation and blueprint BPFs are available online at our dedicated Help and Resource website, which is also a user forum and a channel for conversation with Westwood Forster.
The Westwood Forster support team helpdesk ‘phoneline is staffed from 9.00 am – 5.00 pm during weekdays. Support requests can be logged at any time by email, or via a web portal, where users can also view the status of outstanding issues - including those logged by other clients - and provide additional information for the team.