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Concern Selects a Solution from IT Services Group Touchstone to Increase Financial Control and Address Complex Grant Management Requirements

~International relief and development agency expects to achieve major efficiency savings~

IT services group Touchstone is providing a project-based accounting, grants management and cost-allocation solution for Concern, in order to provide better access to financial information, to decrease the amount of manual data processing and to effect efficiency savings across the entire organisation.

Concern is Ireland’s largest international Relief and Development Agency and works in 27 of the poorest countries in the world, particularly in Africa and Asia, in both long term development and emergency projects. Key to the organisation’s success is efficient financial and performance management of the various ongoing overseas field programmes and related projects, and the ability to respond rapidly and effectively to emergency situations as and when they arise. Ray McElroy, Finance Director at Concern explains: "Everything here is focused on properly managing our programmes and projects, so we needed a system that would allow us to access information very fast, and to keep track of different sources of income and expenditure on different emergency and development programmes."

Concern approached Touchstone due to its wealth of experience in the charity sector coupled with its understanding of the complex requirements of the charity sector. Touchstone confirmed Concern’s choice of a Microsoft Business Solutions-Great Plains accounting package to manage the financials, integrated with a bespoke grants management and cost allocation system, based on the extensive functionality and fit with Concern’s business needs. McElroy comments, "A key reason for selecting Microsoft Business Solutions-Great Plains and Touchstone was the ability to report on the costs and outcomes of activities, whether by country, programme or activity, as well as to analyse activities by funding source."

The new Touchstone system will help Concern meet the reporting requirements of its funding-body stakeholders. "Half our income comes as grants from governments, EU funding bodies and charitable trusts and we have extensive and various obligations in terms of submitting proposals and reporting to them. We also need to ensure that we can facilitate the individual audit methodologies of these cofunders. Touchstone will build bespoke grant management functionality to closely manage these funding sources," says McElroy.

The Touchstone solution will also accommodate the crisis-driven nature of the organisation’s work. "If an emergency situation breaks out tomorrow, we need to be able to open up new cost-centers in the accounting system," says McElroy. "Great Plains is very comfortable and easy to interrogate, and local managers can modify or create these cost-centres for themselves."

The system will eliminate much manual processing and human error. "With our legacy system, we had to manually input the data and spend a large amount of time interpreting and developing information for different users," comments McElroy. "The new solution will allow the finance function to cut down reporting time, and will improve accounting productivity by at least 25%. This freeing up of accounting personnel to focus on cost analysis and income performance will enable Concern to provide more effective financial and performance management across the board."

The Touchstone solution is being implemented in phases. Phase one will start with the implementation of the accounting and grant management and cost-allocation system to a user capacity of 35, including integration to the ESiT's ThankQ fundraising system to provide a single view of income. The second phase will roll the system out overseas early next year.

Touchstone and Concern are in frequent contact to make sure that the technology meets the organisation’s needs. "We were aware of the benefits of working with a company that has worked with other charities in the UK, says McElroy. "Touchstone demonstrated quickly that they understood what we were trying to achieve."

Touchstone is a leading IT services group, with in-depth knowledge of the not-for-profit sector following 20 years of building business applications. Touchstone champions a business issues-led approach to projects, to manage customers’ expectations and ensure business requirements are met. As Paul White, Chief Operating Officer Touchstone, comments: "Touchstone’s issues-led approach combined with Concern’s commitment to securing maximum cost efficiencies will ensure that we are able to provide a flexible solution that makes accounting for international crisis situations easier."