Catholic Relief Services To Turn To Enterprise Reporting - InformationWeek

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Catholic Relief Services To Turn To Enterprise Reporting

The Baltimore-based agency will begin employing BI to report on how donations are received and spent, while developing better ways to share information with its offices and partners worldwide.

The tsunami that devastated parts of South and Southeast Asia in 2004 prompted an overwhelming response. Donations poured in immediately. To date, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has collected more than $150 million in relief assistance. And the Baltimore-based agency will begin employing BI to report on how those and other donations are received and spent, while developing better ways to share information with its offices and partners worldwide.

The official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the U.S., CRS provides $550 million in annual assistance to people in 99 countries and territories on five continents. "We are armed for relief and development work overseas," says Jeff Baeuerlein, CRS assistant director for domestic finance.

To help accomplish its mission CRS recently implemented Crystal Reports Server XI from Business Objects, which includes Crystal Reports, a BI-based enterprise reporting program used by small and medium-sized companies to create, deliver and manage reports. Currently residing on the agency's IBM AS/400 minicomputer, Crystal Reports will complement the current enterprise application software, PeopleSoft, in use by all domestic employees. CRS intends to migrate overseas users -- currently using enterprise software from Sun -- to PeopleSoft and link it to Crystal Reports. Full deployment of the program will not occur for some time, CRS says.

Overseas, CRS operates in what are called "reporting countries." Each country is assigned a country code and all activity on donations is entered into the agency's database systems using it. The process of separating these codes for financial reporting purposes, however, is a time-consuming and manual one. Users run reports and then cut and paste information to split up countries by their respective country codes. The agency says that Crystal Reports will save time by automatically separating the codes as the process is run.

Non-profit organizations like CRS must keep precise financial records to comply with governmental regulations. For the agency to achieve this in its previous reporting environment required time-consuming processes that limited its ability to share information.

This has been the case for CRS. For example, a typical report is created and then has to be downloaded into Excel. The report is then reformatted before delivery. According to Baeuerlein, the entire process takes from 3-5 days. He anticipates that Crystal Reports will cut that time in half, as users can create and customize reports within the program.

Web-based reporting is limited at CRS; however, the agency expects this to change as Crystal Reports is more widely deployed. Features such as Web-based dashboards should make accessing up-to-date information easier. By linking an existing report to the program, data will be automatically updated each night, and users can access the information as needed. "It's updating without formal processing," says Baeuerlein. Moving its reporting to a more Web-based environment will also help CRS to better monitor and manage its programming more efficiently, the agency said.

For users at CRS who prefer to work exclusively on Excel, the agency will embed "live" Crystal Reports into spreadsheets. This will allow those users to access and refresh reports, while giving them the option to drill down into underlying reports. The idea is to have users work in a format that is familiar to them as they benefit from the advanced functions of the program.

While CRS is confident that Crystal Reports Server XI will enhance its current reporting environment, a full deployment of the program will require some serious technical considerations. Internet connectivity will prove to be an issue, especially for those users in remote regions with limited ISP's. And the migration of all worldwide users to a single enterprise application software will be no small task.

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