TORONTO — As the CIO for Plan International, Kelvin Cantafio must develop a global IT strategy that serves 60 different countries — even when some of them don’t have adequate health care or clean water, let alone dial-up access.

Formerly Foster Parents Plan, the child sponsorship agencynow known as Plan cares for 1.2 million children and their families around the world. At the grassroots level, Plan also advocates for a variety of causes including better health care, education, water, building better schools, women’s health and sanitation.

But when charitable donations drive that work, there are few dollars left to fuel the IT budget, and when most of the budgets are administered in the local communities, it’s tough for the CIO to know what is even being spent on infrastructure.

“What’s difficult in a non-profit is to measure that impact and show people that impact,” Cantafio said. “But as donors demand more accountability and that’s where technology can really help.”

Cantafio made his comments at the launch of Sage Information Consultants Inc.’s strategic services practice, for which Plan is an early customer.

With about 81 per cent of the donations collected going to planning and implementation of programs, the other 19 per cent is used for marketing and administrative needs.

“So from the IT point of view, the challenge is extreme because we have to make sure we have maximum impact. We can’t afford to make large mistakes and have projects that don’t give us the value,” Cantafio said.

Formerly the CIO for the Canadian branch of Plan, Cantafio recently became director of technology for the agency worldwide and is now based in London, U.K. Plan has 6,000 employees worldwide and 50,000 volunteers.

“We really have to try and take into account the realities of where and how we work,” he said. “In the rest of the world, when you do an e-business strategy there’s an assumption people can actually get on to the Internet. In our case, for many of our countries, at best they have 28.8K access, and that’s if the phones work, which can be only a couple of times a week in some cases. At the same time we’re working in some of the most advanced countries technologically speaking, such as England and Germany, Australia.”

Cantafio says Plan has a good track record working with some levels of technology. The organization has made use of business intelligence (BI) tools to capture information from pockets of the organization.

Plan uses BI for segmentation, allowing it to target specific donors or if a crisis or event occurs in a particular country, it can quickly identify people who have children affected by the event and communicate to them to say whether the child and their community is okay.

It also has a model in place to analyze information about child mortality rates and sanitation, which are measured against a benchmark from three years ago.

Plan is currently in the process of prioritizing its IT functions with Sage, which has been assisting Plan with a number of IT initiatives, including an updated Web site.

And while certain IT functions such as e-mail are centralized, other IT services differ greatly around the world. Plan operates on a collection of disparate systems including AS/400, Novell servers, NT, and DOS-based systems and Cantafio said he wants to find a way to pull them all together and find economies of scale.

“E-business is one element of the business but there are all of these other projects and factors, including linking legacy systems, the infrastructure. How does e-business fit into the whole picture?” he said. “Ultimately what we’re extremely interested in is the governance side where once you do decide to invest in technology, you ask ‘How do you make sure you have the impact? Can you do it in three- to six-month increments?’”

Taking that kind of measured approach, said Sage CEO Chetan Mathur, is how the consulting firm wants to help companies as they move through uncertain times and “go back to basics.”
“We notice our customers are scrutinizing more. They are demanding ROI, not looking for it. Customers want to justify IT spending and initiatives,” said Mathur.

Sage’s other clients inside Panasonic Canada, the Globe and Mail newspaper and CIBC.

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