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Get more from your finance system with our digital strategy for charities

58% of UK charities do not have a digital strategy – Tech Trust’s Digital Charity Survey 2018  

2018 finished with a flourish for the British Heart Foundation and Breast Cancer Care, with the launch of their new Amazon Alexa donation capabilities. This signals the beginning of the charity sectors move into the world of AI, but does it mean the rest of the sector is due to follow? With significant investment needed, are the barriers to entry too steep for most organisations? And without the budget to “think big”, how can you start to make great strides and catch up with the crowd?

Include your finance team in your decision making

“For charities in the midst of digital transformation, Finance and IT leaders can add value by using the ‘line of sight’ across the organisation to understand what is happening, acting as a force for good in championing successful change”. – Charity Finance Group and Eduserv

digital strategy for charitiesA digital strategy for charities can include an expensive price tag, so how do organisations go about ensuring they achieve a positive return on investment? One suggestion made by the above research is for charities to include their finance professionals earlier in their strategy development to increase the effectiveness of their plans. As it stands, only 43% of finance professionals are involved in such projects. Before spending “big” on grandiose plans, there are more cost effective options available.

Does your finance team find the functionality of your current system limiting? Are they frustrated and unable to perform tasks as required and in a timely fashion? With next generation financial management software like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, users can complete purchase orders, manage partial VAT and produce SORP reports with ease. Further flexible and accurate impact reporting can also be achieved by using Power BI to integrate your data across your organisation to gain “one version of the truth” across not only financial system data but also fundraising and grant management too. By understanding those financial “day-to-day” tasks, and how best to refine them, you can start to see the real benefit of an effective digital strategy for charities.

Your finance system in the cloud – essential for an effective digital strategy for charities

“Organisations that do not have a high-level cloud strategy driven by their business strategy will significantly increase their risk of failure and wasted investment”. David W. Cearley. Vice President, Gartner Research

There are numerous reasons why a charity may assess the proposal of the cloud: data security and access concerns, outgrown their current restrictive system or being held to ransom over increasing upgrade costs are just a few. If you find your organisation in one of these categories, it is time to consider the cloud in your digital transformation strategy. With Dynamics 365 Business Central, you are at the forefront of financial digital strategy for charitiesmanagement systems, which support your organisation as it grows. Rather than attempt to make the best of a bad situation with an outdated system, utilise an adaptable system that fully underpins what your organisation is trying to achieve. This is the key to an effective digital strategy for charities.

Gartner forecasts cloud computing to be a $300 billion business by 2021, as companies increasingly adopt cloud services to realise their desired digital business outcomes. This highlights the significance of the cloud in digital strategy for charities. Cloud computing delivers the speed and agility that modern businesses require and can generate new sources of revenue and significantly reduce costs.

Data is the new oil

digital strategy for charitiesThrough modern history, many oil tycoons have made their fortune by drilling into land that nobody else found value in. By realising the true potential of the land before them, these tycoons were able to profit exponentially. This can be applied to data today. Business leaders such as Facebook, Amazon and Google are at the forefront of realising the real value of data and how best to monetise it. The key is to understand the data you have to hand and how to use this in conjunction with today’s technology. SMEs are now latching onto the fact that their data no longer simply gives them 20/20 hindsight, but when combined with machine learning, provides very real actionable foresight.

“We’re entering a new world in which data may be more important than software”. – Tim O’Reilly, founder of O’Reilly Media and originator of the term “web 2.0” 

Another benefit of this kind of technology is that analysis of past performance is no longer a laborious task; it is automated, and gaining information about what is likely to occur in the future can be found immediately, providing time to make necessary changes. As it stands, it is not unheard of for charities to be reliant on highly manual processes, and having to manipulate data between systems and reports via Excel. With Dynamics 365 Business Central you can gain complete connectivity across your systems and achieve “one version of the truth” data. The ability to streamline processes and make life easier for the end user is central to any successful digital strategy for charities. Resulting in a reduction in admin costs and access to untapped insights, allowing you to make real informed business decisions.

It wouldn’t be a digital strategy for charities without mentioning AI and machine learning

During engagements with organisations now, digital strategy for charitieswe are having to ask ourselves what foresight and insight AI could add. System bank ledgers can be automatically reconciled with the bank statement, by identifying patterns in the entries and references.  Cash flow forecasting and purchase planning can draw upon system data, manual inputs and machine learning to predict what is likely to happen over the coming days and months.  Supplier invoices can be read by the system, 3-way matching performed and purchase invoices created and presented for approval, all without a single keystroke.

Using out of the box Microsoft Dynamics 365 functionality, our clients in the charity sector are increasingly using the standard machine learning models provided for forecasting and speeding up the flow of their organisation. The largest emergent trends bringing direct effects are in mining their available data for foresight that is enabling them to react ahead of time to threats and opportunities. A modern system should integrate effortlessly with your existing platforms too. With most organisations using Office 365, the proposition of seamless and minimal cost integration is great news. By unifying these assets you can add real value and streamline processes: with just a few clicks you can complete all invoicing tasks without even leaving Outlook.

The essentials for a digital strategy for charities

Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic. – Arthur C. Clarke  

If you do not have the budget of the British Heart Foundation, there are still highly effective options available for your charity when considering your digital strategy. Always involve your finance team, they possess the insight required to drive real value from any future decision. Ensure you are on a system that can adapt and grow with your organisation – one that is secure in the cloud and offers the assurances your charity needs. Understand the value of your data. Utilise a system that can connect the data across your entire organisation, to gain untapped insights and inform effective decision making. And finally, harness the power of AI and machine learning. This is no longer exclusive to the larger charities with “sky-high” budgets. The technology is readily available to you and your organisation – use it.

With a system like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, these capabilities are well catered for. And, with a potential discount of 60% for charitable organisations, it is certainly a significant option that will enable your organisation to achieve value for money. If you would like more information on our digital strategy for charities, or would like to understand more about Dynamics 365 Business Central, contact one of our experts today.