Seeking salvation in software

case study Most IT managers complain about budget constrains but Mauro Del Principe is happy just to have one.As the technology manager for The Salvation Army in Australia, he is constantly faced with the challenge of juggling the charitable organisation's internal IT systems, with minimal resources, against the greater needs of the organisation (and the less fortunate).

Mauro Del Principe, Salvation Army Australia
case study Most IT managers complain about budget constrains but Mauro Del Principe is happy just to have one.

As the technology manager for The Salvation Army in Australia, he is constantly faced with the challenge of juggling the charitable organisation's internal IT systems, with minimal resources, against the greater needs of the organisation (and the less fortunate).

In Australia, the organisation is divided into two territories: Eastern Territory (New South Wales, ACT and Queensland) with headquarters in Sydney, and the Southern Territory (Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, and Northern Territory) with its base in Melbourne.

The Salvation Army is one of the largest social service providers in the country, requiring an estimated $350 million to assist more than a million people each year. It offers a range of services from crisis support and shelter, to care for the elderly and financial aid during emergencies and natural disasters.

Technology is viewed as an enabler to day-to-day tasks but The Salvation Army felt it had to push the envelope. The were two main issues Del Principe had to solve: balance the needs of clients with limited funding, facilities and internal resources, and provide detailed financial and operational reports to government agencies for funding.

So last year, after an assessment of its technology infrastructure, Del Principe identified the bottlenecks which were essentially delaying the distribution of aid to the needy. There was too much reliance on manual processes, he said, recalling the two-pronged, tedious approach caseworkers and staff relied on.

They would fax their reports from remote sites to headquarters. Then, another staff member would manually enter the information into the system, he added.

It was also difficult for caseworkers to get accurate and timely information on clients walking into the charity's crisis- and longer-term accommodation centres. And, it was almost impossible to determine the type of counselling or services a client had received due to inadequate archival mechanisms. "We couldn't even predict the number of beds available at any one time," he said.

After evaluating solutions from a myriad of vendors, including eLerter from eStrategies, the organisation opted for BMC Software's Windows-based Patrol monitoring software on SAMIS (service and mission information system), a database for operational and statistical information. Sydney-based enterprise management solutions provider Kinetica heading the implementation process.

"There was the option to run SAMIS in an outsourced hosted environment but it would've cost $100,000 per year ... that sort of money was too much to even consider," Del Principe said. Instead, with Kinetica and BMC, The Salvation Army spent a grand total well under $30,000. "It made more financial sense for Kinetica to implement and configure Patrol, then train our people."

Management, he said, has come to appreciate Patrol's graphical reporting features which makes reports much easier to understand. "The result is that we're able to demonstrate the effect user demand has on system performance and thereby justify the funds required to build specifically configured systems for the SAMIS environment," he added.

"If a server's performance or resource falls below a predetermined level, Patrol 'sends out' an SMS (short message service) message so I can take immediate action before there's negative impact on system service delivery," he said.

Patrol has also given Del Principe the ability to be more mobile. "We don't have to be sitting down at a dedicated terminal because regardless of where we are, access to a Web browser is all we need to obtain an almost immediate report on the performance of any monitored server. It's really about being able to find out essential system information anywhere and anytime."

Del Principe said Patrol has helped The Salvation Army deliver on three key areas:

  • Justify funding for additional IT assets based on the effect of user demand on system performance.
  • Link system performance to the organisation's quality of service.
  • Offer Web-based reporting to managers and caseworkers with round-the-clock information on available beds, the number of clients serviced and the cost of each service.

    With reporting tools and a decent database in place, Del Principe plans to roll out Active Directory and a new human resources system some time this year but at the moment, he's sleeping a lot easier these days.

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