Top Projects

Outside the corporate world, the nonprofit arena tests the determination and diplomacy of IT leaders.

Corporate IT managers are typically part of clear hierarchies, and their projects often have a single customer — the vice president of sales, say. But at nonprofit and public-sector organizations, IT is apt to serve diverse constituencies that are governed by consensus, not by fiat. Three Premier 100 honorees show that success in these arenas requires a deft touch.

Clarence D. White
CIO, IT secretary, The Salvation Army, Western Territory, Long Beach, Calif.

  • Project at a glance: Development of Ministry Snapshot, an enterprise reporting and performance-analysis system that applies complex algorithms to present the "efficiency" of each local operation in simple graphical scorecards. It not only saves much manual labor for reporting, but also offers insights that weren't possible before.

  • Signature leadership move: Seized an opportunity to turn a technology fix into a bigger piece of the business strategy.

In 2003, The Salvation Army's Western Territory, which includes 13 states, had so many system silos, it looked like an aerial photograph of Nebraska.

"It was statistical information that we had collected for years, on hundreds of categories that we religiously asked people to submit every month — how many people have showed up for meetings, how many food boxes prepared, how many beds available and so on," says White. "We have been collecting that information for decades."

Premier 100 2007

Not only that, but much of the administrative work at 250 local "corps" involved drawing information from those systems and compiling it into reports manually, a huge clerical effort every year.

Finally, although those unconnected data stores held huge amounts of information collected over decades, it wasn't feasible to combine and report the information in ways that might have helped The Salvation Army understand and improve its operations. It was gold to be mined, says White, 44.

The databases hold information about financial data, the people and the physical assets for each corps, plus performance statistics in a hundred or so categories, such as local meeting attendance. The original request from local users was to automate the production of annual reports that drew on this data, White says.

"That spawned an idea for us. I said, 'We can develop a snapshot that gives you, in real time, the performance data that you have been gathering manually and display it on a Web site.'" says White. "Then we took it one step forward and said, 'Now that we have that information in a snapshot, we can create measures, ratios and scorecards and display them in the same snapshot.' It moved from being a tool to help the process — what [users] asked for — to an opportunity to allow technology to have an impact on our business and ministry."

The result was the Ministry Snapshot, an application that draws data from a number of sources and applies statistical methods, weighting and scoring algorithms to produce summary measures of the operating efficiency of each corps in graphical form. First deployed in 2005, the application has since undergone several updates.

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