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Bosma Enterprises, a nonprofit organization for the blind and visually impaired, recently flipped the switch on a Salesforce.com implementation that transfers key applications -- from fundraising to warehouse management -- to the cloud.
The end-to-end, integrated business system, dubbed VisionForce, went live on Sept. 2, following a two-and-a-half year process of requirements definition, testing and training. Bosma, based in Indianapolis, supplements and extends Salesforce's core customer-relationship management capabilities with more than a dozen applications sourced through Salesforce's AppExchange business app store.
Bosma hired a channel partner, Cincinnati, Ohio-based NexGen Consultants, to design the solution and assist with the deployment. The company provided a range of services to Bosma, including vendor selection, project management, Salesforce configuration, data migration, integration, testing and training. NexGen has developed a specialization in Salesforce and focuses on nonprofit organizations as one of its verticals.
"We presented them with an extraordinarily complicated business problem, and they solved it in a better way than I ever dreamed possible," said Heather Quigley-Allen, vice president of marketing and resource development at Bosma.
Heather Quigley-Allenvice president of marketing and resource development, Bosma Enterprises
"It's a huge accomplishment for Bosma," said Matt Mountain, president of NexGen, referring to VisionForce. "It's going to set them up for significant growth going forward."
Generally, nonprofits are adopting cloud-based solutions as a way to obtain business-class functionality at a reduced cost. Channel companies help nonprofits install cloud-based software for accounting, constituent relationship management and other functions.
Channel companies and cloud service providers at times may offer products and services on apro-bono or reduced-price basis. Ebony Frelix, vice president of programs at the Salesforce.com Foundation, said Salesforce has provided free or discounted Salesforce licenses to more than 22,000 nonprofits.
Integrated and accessible
Quigley-Allen said the VisionForce project had two major requirements: integrate all of the organization's business systems and make every job at the company fully accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.
As for the integration objective, Bosma operated more than 30 separate software systems prior to the Salesforce implementation. Those systems included everything from Microsoft Access databases to Excel workbooks that various departments used to manage their portion of the business.
"As the company grew, each department built up its own system," Quigley-Allen said. "The accounting team worked hard to cobble together a system that works for their processes, and the warehouse team did the same for their processes. But the problem was, all of those products were reaching end-of-life and were no longer going to be supported."
Mountain said that Bosma's software restricted the organization's ability to share information, since the various applications didn't talk to each other. Nor could the software keep up with the organization's expansion. Quigley-Allen noted that Bosma has grown from around $8 million in annual revenue to $50 million in the span of about 10 years.
"The systems we had in place ... were not scalable," she said.
The new system would also need to accommodate blind or visually impaired people in a range of job categories. Bosma Enterprises, the largest employer of the blind in Indiana, employs people in areas such as light manufacturing, warehousing, customer service, sales and accounting. Accordingly, the project called for the inclusion of assistive technologies such as screen readers, which translate the information displayed on a computer screen via text-to-speech software or other methods like a Braille display.
Finally, the cloud solution would need to span both aspects of Bosma: the business side, which includes a production facility that ships medical supplies; and the nonprofit's rehabilitation and training side, which helps blind or visually impaired people navigate vision loss.
"We set off to do a fully integrated business solution that does every single function -- ordering to manufacturing to warehousing to serving clients in the rehabilitation process to fundraising," Quigley-Allen said.
An integrated system
The resulting VisionForce system has Salesforce at its center and includes a number of other software as a service applications. The accounting component comes from FinancialForce.com, which builds software for the Salesforce1 Platform. Precisio Business Solutions, meanwhile, provides its AscentERP enterprise resource planning (ERP) application. AscentERP integrates with FinancialForce within the Salesforce environment.
Other AppExchange apps included in VisionForce are Pardot for marketing automation and Conga Composer for creating customer invoices and other documents. Bosma also taps RingLead to prevent duplicate records within Salesforce and uses Taskray, a project management app, for new business development.
Quigley-Allen said Bosma pursued configuration over customization whenever possible. That is, having developers configure features already available in Salesforce apps, rather than building custom extensions.
But in one case, Bosma was unable to find software on the Salesforce AppExchange that met its needs for automating the organization's rehabilitation center. NexGen, however, built a custom object to satisfy that particular requirement, Quigley-Allen said.
"[NexGen] did it in a way that it is easy to manage for our systems administration team," she added.
Some customization was also needed to add speech capabilities to the ERP software and handheld devices used in warehouses, Quigley-Allen noted.
But, overall, Salesforce supports accessibility. Quigley-Allen said Salesforce is Section 508-compliant. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act establishes accessibility requirements for IT systems used by federal agencies. Salesforce also "works beautifully" with Job Access With Speech (JAWS), a screen reader, she added.
In helping Bosma with vendor selection, NexGen surveyed the market to make sure all applications were accessible to the blind or visually impaired.
"If they weren't 508-compliant, they were excluded," Mountain said.
Bosma took its time to define requirements for the integrated business system. Quigley-Allen said the organization used a mounted paper chart to map out what employees would like their job functions to look like in an ideal world versus the current method.
"We gathered that information from nearly every employee," she said. "That is how we did requirements building."
Bosma then began to build prototypes of different business processes within the system. Quigley-Allen said that task revealed that Bosma not only had to change its technology system, but also had to "pull the cover back on all our business processes."
Examining one business process, Bosma found that an administrative assistant in the rehabilitation center spent 40 hours a month pulling data out of different Access databases and Excel workbooks to create reports for billing purposes.
"It was a problem and we wanted to streamline that, as well," Quigley-Allen said.
Another issue stemming from the Salesforce implementation: change management. Employees would need to fundamentally alter the way they did their jobs in light of the new system. To make adoption smoother, Bosma conducted "an extraordinary amount of user acceptance testing," she said.
In addition, Bosma Enterprises worked to manage employees' expectations regarding the extent to which the requirement they helped define could be honored in the fully integrated system. Some page layouts, for example, couldn't be changed to completely suit employees in one department, since employees in other departments also had to access the page.
Quigley-Allen said the upfront work on requirements definition and training helped ease the latter stages of the project. User training took place before Labor Day and went quickly, she said.
"There is not an employee going into training that hasn't had some exposure to the system," she said.
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