Volunteer Service Abroad improves business efficiency with Microsoft


Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA) is New Zealand’s largest and most established volunteering agency for international development. Headquartered in Wellington, VSA deploys New Zealand volunteers across Melanesia, Polynesia and Timor-Leste to participate in building the capacity of underserved communities.

 Image by Volunteer Service Abroad

Since its establishment in 1962, VSA has deployed New Zealanders for over 3,000 assignments, which focused on growing local businesses, supporting strong communities, safeguarding the environment, fostering good governance and improving education and health. Recent volunteers have been involved in relief efforts on the Solomon Islands, helped to generate new sources of income in Samoa by facilitating innovation in the use of local ingredients and overseen building projects in Vietnam.

Supporting volunteers across the Pacific region
At any point in time, more than 100 volunteers are deployed on assignments ranging from three months to two years. Despite running a complex business model, VSA prides itself on its ability to support its volunteers abroad by consistently delivering a high service standard. However, its staff was confronted with managing an ever-increasing workload using legacy systems.

In mid-2013, VSA decided that to continue providing high-quality services, it required a new information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure that offered functionality and performance better aligned with its business needs. The primary challenge was to shift from its 20-year-old infrastructure that was currently consuming 2.8 percent of revenue without incurring additional expenditure.

“In the past, we made various attempts at enhancing our ICT systems,” explained Peter Deefholts, VSA’s Business Transition Manager. “While each change brought about incremental improvements, it locked us into legacy software and systems that further limited our ability to respond to changes.”

Leveraging cloud-based systems to support its operations and business functions 
VSA decided that its best option to upgrade its ICT infrastructure while minimising costs was to leverage Microsoft’s pricing for nonprofits. Through this plan, the nonprofit was able to gain access to enterprise-level software.

Over a period of eight months, VSA migrated to various cloud-based Microsoft solutions, including: Office 365™ Enterprise E1, Microsoft SQL Server® 2012, Power BI for Office 365 with SharePoint® Online and Azure Active Directory®.  It is now currently migrating to Microsoft Dynamics® CRM Online Professional.

With Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and Office 365, VSA was able to provide a reliable platform for its staff and volunteers to access critical information and collaborate more effectively. With Azure Active Directory, staff had easier and safer access to cloud applications—enabling them to stay productive beyond the office.

VSA also utilised Power BI for Office 365 with SharePoint Online to create and deploy interactive reports and visualise data, providing valuable insights and business intelligence previously hidden in evaluations and report narratives, ultimately increasing organisational knowledge.

Happier staff, enhanced efficiency and lower ICT infrastructure cost
The Microsoft nonprofit pricing helped VSA achieve direct cost savings of US$35,000 per annum (or seven percent of its total ICT expenditure in 2013)  while allowing it to implement an infrastructure that would have otherwise been inconceivable simply on the basis of software licensing costs alone. The savings were then reinvested to enhance ICT facilities and services, which included the deployment of Windows 8 phones for its management team and in-country Programme Managers.

“Budget has always been a key concern for nonprofit organisations,” said Peter. “Without the nonprofit pricing, we would never have been able to consider such a transformational shift in our software platforms and organisational capabilities.”

Streamlined operations and easier data management have led to huge time savings as well: nearly 10 percent in process execution and 20 percent in generation of reports. In addition, the added analytical capabilities allow VSA to enjoy accurate and timely assignment outcomes forecasting and reporting to support its management processes and meet contractual reporting obligations.

Peter said, “The migration to Office365 was relatively painless for the organisation. Most staff only needed a two-hour training session to get started, and they now find it easier to support our volunteers and partner organisations effectively and efficiently. They feel more productive, are happier and are highly motivated to make full use of the new programs.”

In the months to come, VSA will continue upgrading its infrastructure to facilitate its volunteers’ efforts in making a difference to communities in the developing world.

“Microsoft products have allowed technology to move from being a constraint to being an enabler. There is a real sense of relief as the impediments imposed  by the legacy systems are removed, and great excitement in the air as our  people explore potential opportunities with these new systems and technology,” concluded Peter.

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