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Cloud-based financial management and consolidated OLAP reporting for an international NGO

Aide et Action International is a non-governmental organisation focused on achieving access to quality education for all. Based in Genève (Switzerland), the organisation has more than 1000 employees and leads 120 projects all over the world. To improve the quality and transparency of the financial information and to increase the productivity of its financial teams, Aide et Action has deployed a cloud-based ERP5 configuration that covers general and analytical accounting as well as budget management for 30 distinct entities located in 22 countries.
  • Last Update:2015-08-20
  • Version:002
  • Language:en

Aide et Action International is a non-governmental organisation focused on achieving access to quality education for all. Based in Geneva (Switzerland), the organisation has around 1000 employees and leads more than 100 projects all over the world.

As the top managers of Aide et Action International are targeting excellence in terms of financial management, the NGO has started in 2009 a major project in order to improve the quality and transparency of its financial information and to increase the productivity of its financial teams. This project is based on the deployment of a cloud-based ERP5 configuration that covers general and analytical accounting as well as budget management for 30 distinct entities located in 24 countries all over the world.

Company Profile
Name Aide et Action International Staff >1000 people
Social form NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) Sites 30 sites in 24 countries worldwide
Creation date 1981 Website

30 Years of Growth Worldwide

Founded in 1981 in France, Aide et Action has developed activities targeting quality and access to education for 5.000.000 children in 24 countries. At the end of 2007, Aide et Action did adapt its organisational structure to the growth of the association with the creation of Aide et Action International, a new head organisation in charge of the governance of the NGO. This reorganisation implied new relations between all regional entities and confirmed the need for the NGO to move towards a centralised yet flexible financial system capable of meeting the new requirements and improving the productivity of the financial staff.

Prior to the deployment of ERP5, each of the 30 regional entities, was using its own and individual accounting system (mainly Sage software). The budget management was based on spreadsheets updated from time to time by each region. Managers were lacking consolidated reporting to follow up on a daily basis the execution of the budget and consolidation of the accounts at international level was a long, heavy and iterative process.

ERP5 implementation to meet the needs of a large NGO

Project Key Indicators
Integrators Nexedi and Amarexia Time to prototype 1 month
Modules deployed ERP5 Accounting & ERP5 Budget Time to deploy in pilot countries 6 months
Nb of users 50 accountants Time to deploy worldwide 1.5 year

Aide et Action did buy consulting services from AMAREXIA in order to help the NGO formalising its business requirements and choosing the right IT solution. ERP5 was compared to other famous proprietary ERPs or financial software packages and has been chosen as the only solution capable of meeting, in SaaS mode, the complex financial requirements of the organisation with a high level of adaptation to some specific needs and the possibility to be extended, in a second step, with additional ERP modules.

According to Jean Bruma, consultant at Amarexia : “ERP5 has quickly been identified as an affordable solution for Aide et Action that could cover all requirements with a high level of flexibility. It is fully inline with the evolution to the Cloud of Aide et Action IT”

The implementation lead by Nexedi started with a one month prototyping phase in order to demonstrate how ERP5 would meet the requirements of the financial management of Aide et Action. This initial step allowed to reduce the risk of a project failure because all project members could understand quickly how the software was covering the key features like budget definition and consolidated budget follow-up.

The implementation project continued with the preparation of an ERP5 configuration able to allow 4 pilot countries to manage their accounting and budgets with ERP5 in 2010.

Based on the success of the deployment in the pilot countries and thanks to additional features introduces by Nexedi related to consolidated reporting, the use of ERP5 got extended in 2011 to all the entities of Aide et Action all around the world with the exception of South Asia (India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) where the migration to ERP5 is planned for the financial year 2012.

The Challenge of always up to date Consolidated Reports

Managing the accounting of distinct entities in 24 countries requires to be able to comply with different national or local regulations and to adapt to different "financial cultures". ERP5 financial management is based on the idea of an unique and shared set of accounts in which each individual account can be associated to several national charts of accounts. Aide et Action could thus enforce the use of the same accounts in all entities by proposing to each region a different view on the accounts and by producing the accounting reports of each country in the local currency and in a way that complies with local legislations.

From an analytical point of view, each accounting transaction of Aide et Action has to combine 4 distinct dimensions : the region (or country) of the Aide et Action entity, the project involved, the related business activity and the funding.

Here a sample Purchase Invoice Transaction from Aide et Action Cambodia that corresponds to an electricity Invoice.

It shows how the analytical information (funding, activity and Project) is associated to the general ledger account information.

The NGO has to provide quite complex reports to its institutional funders in order to justify how the subsidies are used. To give to Aide et Action Accountants and Finance Controllers the possibility to design and run any kind of budget report, Nexedi did interface ERP5 with the Jedox PALO OLAP engine.

According to Aide et Action Finance Controllers : “The integration of ERP5 with Jedox PALO allows us to use Excel to design and run our budget reports. Thanks to the automated synchronisation of ERP5 with PALO, we are able to update instantly our consolidated budget situations.”

This Jedox Palo Modeler Window shows the list of dimensions available in the OLAP cube configured for Aide et Action.

The hierarchical content of the Group Dimension that defines the structure of Aide et Action International is here show : "Mali" country is part of "West Africa" group which is part of "Africa" Group which is part of "Aide et Action International".

One key innovation in ERP5 that has a major impact on the quality of the daily reports at Aide et Action is the possibility to handle so called “Internal Accounting Transactions” to synchonize the accounting between two entities involved in an internal corporate transaction. A single Internal Transaction, validated by both entities, allows for example to record simultaneously a sale for one entity and the corresponding purchase for the other one. “The ERP5 worklfow of the Internal Transactions solves our problems of cross-checking of operations in the accounting of entities that are working together. This saves a lot of our time!” says a regional Financial Manager of Aide et Action.

Here an Internal Accounting Transaction between Aide et Action West Africa and Aide et Action Senegal.

It is intended for internal electricity costs re-allocation. This single transaction is part of the accounting of Aide et Action West Africa and also Aide et Action Senegal.

Change Management is a Key Success Factor

Deploying a new central financial management application in a large and decentralised organisation like Aide et Action International requires to setup a strong team to manage the change. The whole project has been based on 2 key principles : involving the accountants from the early beginning in the project and demonstrating progressively that the new approach was efficient. So, the Aide et Action project team has been composed with accountants and financial managers from different levels of the organisation (international, regional , national and project) and the deployment planning was structured by 3 major milestones :

  • a validated prototype of the application to demonstrate quite early in the project how the solution is working and to convince project team members about the efficiency of the new solution
  • a successful use of the new financial application by a group of 4 pilot countries during 6 months to demonstrate the possibility to migrate to the new system and manage the budget and accounting of the pilot entities
  • an intensive initial 2 weeks training program for the accountants of all countries at worldwide deployment stage in order to share the experiences of the pilots and make sure the users get properly trained to the new application and get familiar with new rules and "best practices" introduced simultaneously with the deployment of the ERP

The first year of use of the new application required a great investment from regional and international financial managers and controllers in order to follow up, on a daily basis, how the system was used and to enforce the best practices and changes in the business processes.

Quality of Internet Accesses can limit Cloud based IT Strategies

Aide et Action International has built its new IT system on Cloud based solutions and most of their applications are used in SaaS mode. When deploying the new ERP5 financial application in many countries, it came to light that the qualities of the internet accesses were very different from one entity to another. So, ERP5 response times could be good from some places and quite bad at the same time from some other places. Some internet accesses were also unstable in time which means changing depending on the hours in the day or the days in the week. Poor DNS management in some countries was also affecting from time to time the possibility to access the central server because the URLs could no longer get resolved. Interestingly, the choice of the browser on the user side could impact a lot the performances and the Opera web browser thanks to its "turbo" mode could make the use of the financial application much faster in some places.

For all the main offices of Aide et Action, the combination of changes to some internet access contracts, re-organisation of the local networks and use of the "right" browser allowed to make the use of the system comfortable from everywhere. Differences in access times are limited to a factor two between fastest and slowest connections.

Covering Core Business is the Next Step

The successful deployment of ERP5 to cover financial management worldwide has lead to the start of a second project targeting core business management. The wide functional scope of ERP5 allows Aide et Action International to extend its ERP5 configuration with management of subscriptions to the NGO, donations (Payments) and related fiscal receipts, relations with donors (CRM) and sponsorships of pupils.

Thanks to integration of core business processes with financial management, ERP5 is thus fulfilling the goals of an ERP adapted to large NGOs like Aide et Action International.

Lessons Learnt
  • Do not underestimate the efforts related to change management especially if the organisation is large, decentralised and international
  • Interfacing ERP5 with Jedox PALO (ERP with OLAP engine) is a very efficient way to allow end users to the design themselves complex consolidated financial reports
  • To reduce the risk of an ERP project failure, start with a short prototyping phase targeting a key process in the company
  • It is possible for an international organisation to enforce the use of a common set of accounts in all its sites and still comply with local regulations or habits
  • The use of Internal Accounting Transactions in ERP5 automates the synchonisation of accounting transactions in different entities that do business together and prevents from possible inconsistencies
  • Pay attention to the quality of internet accesses from all your sites when implementing a Cloud based IT strategy