Sometimes, when most of the work is driven by volunteers, there may be a less than business-like attitude towards things like information technology. Evidently, that’s not the case at Scouts Canada.

“”For every $1 invested in technology we want to see $3 of return,”” says Tom Obright, the hard-driving

director of information management. “”We try to squeeze productivity out of every cent.””

Case in point: Scouts Canada has over the last 10 years embarked on a massive infrastructure upgrade aimed at improving all its IT operations.

The challenge: How do you operate IT at a national level when your organization is extremely decentralized?

Scouts Canada has 23 councils that operate mostly as independent business units, reporting as required to the national level.

The problem was that while strategic decisions were made at the national level, each of the regions reported its data inconsisently and in a variety of formats — sometimes long after the information was needed.

If membership was down at sign-up in September, head office would not know that until January — far too late to launch a campaign to attract new recruits.

“”All the different databases used to record membership data were becoming a nightmare to maintain,”” says Obright.

Now using CRM software from Siebel and business intelligence tools from Data Beacon, Scouts management is able to do real-time analysis, get reports on membership data on a daily basis, and perhaps most importantly of all, enable all users to look at all the same data at the same time.

As simple as this objective sounds, it was far from a trivial task. Only recently has the technology become mature enough to enable Obright to deliver this kind of functionality.

For example, Obright wanted the system to be Web-based. Many of the earlier database platforms work only a standalone, local configuration, and reporting on a national basis was a pipe dream.

And that made it difficult to perform even the most simple of tasks, such as preparing a list at the national office so it could send invitations to an event.

But now the needs are becoming more sophisticated. Obright wants to build reports that would help him and Scout leaders spot relationships and correlations between membership and a community’s language and diversity. He would also like to be able to take this data and compare it with outside sources of information, for example, identifying schools from which kids are under-represented in local scout troops.

In other words, Obright is hopes to offer to Scouts Canada and its 23,000 end-users (including adminstrators and scouts leaders) all the “”what-iffing and playing with the data”” that business users have come to expect.

If it sounds like Obright knows the business, it’s not hard to understand why. He’s been associated with Scounts Canada for 35 years, including 15 years as a scout leader and 20 years on staff. He took on the IT role in 1993.

The challenge: Obright has an IT staff of three supporting 8,000 scout groups from Nanaimo, B.C., to St. John’s.

“”I’m basically being asked to deliver enterprise computing on a PC budget,”” he says. It’s a good thing he comes prepared.

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