27 Databases, 1 Quality Process
Scouts Canada integrated its nationwide membership by unifying data.
Posted Dec 20, 2004
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Members of Scouts Canada are expected to be "wise in the use of all resources"--perhaps a lot to ask of a child, but equally daunting for a CRM project. That didn't stop the leadership of the organization from trying to unify its fragmented membership system. Tom Obright, director of information management for Scouts Canada (SC), says that each of its 27 separate councils had its own membership registration system feeding information to the national level. By the time SC got the data, he says, it was too late to help address any problems. SC also had concerns over when to begin insurance coverage for new members. To make matters worse, all those enrollment details were sent in by fax, making data entry a horror and causing a thrice-annual administrative nightmare. "It was one full week [spent] grabbing all these sheets and throwing them together into some kind of presentable format," Obright says. SC was reducing its staff, so efficiency was the project's primary goal. More fundamentally, though, Obright realized that rather than taking control away from the councils, the secret was to empower each one. "We needed them to be able to do the data entry themselves," he says. "To do that we looked for systems that were Web-based." Obright says the Siebel Systems CRM package SC selected for its membership management system (MMS) was a great jumping-off point. SC started the implementation process in September 2001, with a four-council pilot that lasted 12 months. By January 2002 the pilot was going so well that SC started bringing data from the other 23 councils into the MMS. Eventually, the organization made the registration process uniform systemwide, supplanting the 27 subtly different formats the councils had created for themselves. Not that the process went completely without a hitch. "We never achieved perfection in the conversion process," Obright says. "The databases weren't as clean as possible to start with, and we couldn't [completely] cleanse them." Previously, registrars had been retyping the data at each local, regional, and national level. As SC expanded beyond the pilot, buy-in was tremendous, Obright says, in part because of the elimination of duplicated efforts. Nationwide, the quality of data entry went way up, despite having fewer people to input data. The new system was nearly a casualty of its own success. "Once [local groups] saw the full scope of the data that was available, they wanted [more] access to it. The degree of precision the local groups wanted would have quickly overwhelmed [us]," Obright says. "We wanted them to be able to extract a copy of the baseline data from our centralized system and export that to their local computer and do whatever they wanted to create the reports that we could never produce." Affordable extraction-and-analysis systems were hard to come by, but in the end SC chose Databeacon, primarily because of what Obright calls "a simpler and easier-to-use user interface"--a critical feature when the data analysis is being handled primarily by laymen. Regional officers can now extract the specific information they need without having to download entire blocks of data. "This took a load off our national scouting organization," Obright says. Obright says the system "feels like a scouting application rather than a business application." From an insurance perspective SC was able to codify when a new registrant was actually being added to its coverage, something that had been dangerously open to interpretation before. Without the consolidated member database, Obright says, "it could have taken as much as six months to get that data into all twenty-seven databases.... By going to the MMS we managed to get the job done much faster, better, and the registration process happened much quicker."
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