by Erik Arnold, chief information officer at PATH.
In a conference room in Zambia, David Lubinski scribbles annotations with a stylus across a tablet computer, his movements creating red lines and boxes on the image projected on the screen behind him. His audience is Zambian health officials tasked with designing a stronger logistics management information system for their country. The participants eagerly offer improvements for how the process model should be revised to accurately depict each step for obtaining health supplies.
Lubinski captures their real-time changes on the screen, refining the process model with their edits until the group is satisfied with what they’ve created.
For Lubinski, program advisor for health management information systems at the global health nonprofit PATH, this active collaboration is a crucial part of his job. And the tools he uses to make it happen—Microsoft PowerPoint, Visio, and Word—are equally important. They allow Lubinski and his team to be efficient advisors and consultants while staying true to PATH’s commitment to develop innovative health solutions that are affordable and appropriate for the communities it serves.
“The real impact of having good tools is that they allow us to work the way that PATH works,” Lubinski says.
These tools are part of a 2011 grant from Microsoft for software and licenses that cover use by PATH’s 1,000-plus staff members spread across offices in 23 countries. The grant provides a technology backbone that enables PATH to access the most up-to-date technology, improve communications among its staff, and free up precious funding to increase the organization’s impact on the health of people around the world. It builds on a 2007 grant from Microsoft that allowed PATH to connect its increasing number of country program offices and modernize its data center.
Replacing a patchwork quilt
Like most nongovernmental organizations, PATH has limited resources for administrative activities, says Erik Arnold, PATH’s chief information officer. The organization, headquartered in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, has grown dramatically in the past decade to meet global health needs ranging from improving nutrition for mothers and children to protecting millions of people against epidemic meningitis in Africa. Close to half of its staff are based in field offices in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
As PATH expanded, it sought the least expensive IT options, Arnold explains, resulting in a patchwork quilt of technology and tools that didn’t always meet the organization’s needs. With Microsoft’s recent grant, PATH is now able to standardize its IT infrastructure across its sites and give staff like Lubinski access to core technology to boost program effectiveness.
“Our group uses every piece of software that’s in that grant,” Lubinski says. “We could not do our work without it.”
Lubinski and his team rely on Visio, for example, to produce sophisticated diagrams that help ministries of health in developing countries document and plan technology requirements for their countries’ health systems. With PATH’s guidance, a country determines its need for, say, improving care for newborn babies and their mothers, then builds the enterprise architecture to address that need.
Moving to the cloud
On the back end, PATH is using the Microsoft grant to streamline technology across its global sites and prepare to move the organization’s network infrastructure to Microsoft’s off-site hosted solutions.
“As a nonprofit, it would be irresponsible to build a large, complex, and expensive IT organization,” Arnold says.
In addition to the challenges that any global organization faces, PATH also contends with the realities of the sometimes-rugged conditions of the places where it works. “Forget Internet bandwidth and latency,” Arnold says. “I’m happy when our offices get consistent electricity.”
Cloud-based solutions like Office 365 are an obvious answer, he says. They are much more cost effective and reliable than on-premise solutions, will enhance operations for staff around the world, and will allow PATH to pursue projects in some of the most remote locations in the world.
As PATH continues to expand its reach, Microsoft’s grant will ensure the organization has the technology backbone it needs to deliver solutions that enhance and save lives. From a data center in Seattle to a conference room in Zambia or a remote village in India, Microsoft technology is playing a critical role in helping PATH transform global health through innovation.
For more information, please visit www.path.org.
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