Innovative Finance Solution Helps Aid Group “Medicins Sans Frontiers”

Like most other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), MSF has to work on a tight budget. On top of that, its employees are sent to countries that are dangerous, and where access to communication is minimal – difficult conditions for the overhaul of an IT finance system. Yet that’s exactly what MSF’s Operational Centre Barcelona-Athens (OCBA) was up to.

Based in SAP ERP, SAP NetWeaver technology platform and with Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP), the project team came up with a custom-made solution catered to the organization’s special needs. It was implemented in the remote field offices in 2008 after months of extensive testing and training. The SAP ERP application and SAP NetWeaver data warehouse functionality provide precise and up-to-date reports from some of the most dangerous and technologically disadvantaged areas in the world. This has significantly sped up MSF OCBA’s internal finance and accounting work, officials say.

“Now, we can collect 80% of our finance data in eight working days. Before, data only arrived weeks after the end of each month and it took a complex transfer process to collect it,” says Inma González-Gallo, project leader for the implementation.

A truly individual solution

The path to such a successful solution was long and steep. Two years ago, MSF OCBA set a series of benchmarks that a new finance solution would have to meet. It should

  • function without a costly infrastructure upgrade.
  • work flawlessly in 23 (sometimes isolated) countries and 3 languages.
  • allow data exchange using several support carriers (such as USB sticks, CDs or email) if direct communication with central data system is unavailable
  • allow for easy as well as quick usage and maintenance.

The project team came up with a prototype that met all these benchmarks. With support from SAP Iberia, the implementation team at MSF OCBA worked with the tool for months, introducing iterative control cycles and feedback loops to prepare the sophisticated rollout of the application.

The financial coordinator of each MSF OCBA mission was trained to work with the solution (and made fit to train other people), and regional workshops were held in Uganda, Bolivia, Colombia and Spain. An estimated 100 people all over the world now work with the application.

At the SAP Quality Award 2008 ceremony, MSF OCBA was specially recognized for its “successful implementation under very difficult circumstances”.

The custom-made SAP ERP application now helps MSF OCBA’s employees with the entry of finance data, reporting and donor management. Several processes that in the past have been tedious and challenging are now quickly and easily completed – one example being invoice approval.

“Some expenses, for example for a computer, need to be checked by the mission before execution,” González-Gallo says. “Now, there is a workflow that saves the need of sending paper up and down the world, and allows us to guarantee that the data is validated by the adequate person.”

Improved donor management

A very important part of MSF OCBA’s accounting is donor management. Private donors account more than 80% of the organization’s funding, while governmental donations provide the rest. MSF OCBA had an annual budget of over $86 million, out of a global MSF annual budget of over $450 million in 2007.

With the new SAP application, donor management has become not only more efficient, but also much more transparent.

“We can now be more efficient in tracing the process of a grant from the early stages of the application, to every little item that is funded,” González says. “Our donors have very different reporting requirements, and although MSF has also met their reporting requirements, now it will be faster for us to produce this reporting, and also, keep an integrated history of our relation with each donor, being private or public organizations.”

A role model for others?

MSF OCBA plans to extend the IT update to its logistics department, and will evaluate options for an SAP extension over the coming months. MSF OCBA’s successful rollout of its SAP ERP application may even convince other sections inside the aid organization to take similar steps.

“We have proved to all the MSF international movement and to other NGOs that we can work with direct communications with the field, in a simple and easy manner,” agrees Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, General Director of MSF OCBA.

Médicins Sans Frontières
Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international humanitarian aid organization that provides emergency medical assistance to populations in danger in more than 70 countries. MSF is committed to two objectives: providing medical aid wherever needed, regardless of race, religion, politics or sex and raising awareness of the plight of the people they help. MSF has been setting up emergency medical aid missions around the world since 1971.