Portland, ME (August 9, 2013) – How to stay relevant and strive for excellence in a rapidly evolving world of technology? It’s a looming question facing organizations of all sizes and types – small businesses, large corporations, government and especially social service agencies and other not for profits organizations.
The demand for nonprofit services continues to grow but federal, state and local funding is dwindling. Facing that challenge is causing nonprofits to merge, re-strategize and re- organize. It’s of necessity that nonprofits are paying close attention to something many find at the bottom of their ‘to do’ lists.
“The effective use of information and knowledge is critical to the survival and success of today’s nonprofit organization,” writes Amy Sample Ward, consultant with NPTech (nonprofit technology).
It’s all about data management – information management and business intelligence.
The experts call it “Business Analytics” and describe it as “… groups of analytical capabilities that are used to help organizations make better decisions … it’s about innovating and integrating technologies to produce best results in the most efficient ways,” according to the authors of “5 Keys to Business Analytics Program Success”. “It’s about continually trying to move the marker to achieve higher levels of performance, analytic maturity and to constantly strive for excellence.”
Sounds simple enough but not necessarily so.
For all sorts of reasons – lack of time, staff, money and know how – some nonprofits find themselves in a data management quandary. How does a nonprofit organization provide outcomes evaluation findings when it’s not really sure how or the best way to do that? It’s ‘must have’ information’ for private funders, individuals, foundations, corporations, policy makers and board members when decisions are being made about grants, contracts and contributions.
The timing is right for unique collaborations.
It happens a lot in Maine. Someone asks someone for a little help … and it happens. It’s how a unique collaboration between two nonprofit organizations – Martin’s Point Health Care and The Opportunity Alliance – began.
Shannon Banks, Vice President of Primary Care Delivery Systems at Martin’’s Point, was at the time VP of Quality when she got a call from a friend, Elizabeth Banwell, Chief Strategy Officer at The Opportunity Alliance – the nonprofit created with the merger of Ingraham, PROP and Youth Alternatives. Banwell asked Banks if she could recommend someone to help them show – from an outcome perspective – the real positive impact Opportunity Alliance is having on some 20,000 people it serves in Cumberland County. Banks suggested Banwell talk with Martin’s Point team of data management experts called the “Informatics Group”.
Banwell knew about Martin’s Point Health Care and its health care centers, physicians and nurses, and health care plans Generations Advantage and US Family Health Plan. Opportunity Alliance caseworkers work with Martin’s Point’s nurse practitioners in clinics. But Banwell knew little about Informatics.
It wasn’t long before Banwell and Opportunity Alliance CEO Mike Tarpinian met with leaders of Martin’s Point’s 15 person Informatics Group, including Director David Stearns, who was on the ground floor when Martin’s Point data management system was first designed 12 years ago.
“Dr. David Howes, President and CEO of Martin’s Point, saw the value in investing in data management and informatics at a time when a lot of health care organizations weren’t investing,” said Stearns. “And it has always been part of Dr. Howe’s mission as a nonprofit organization to provide services to our community.”
For over 10 years, Informatics has been donating data management services for care partners who use the information to prove the value of the services they are providing to the community. “It’s always been a good partnership,” Stearns
Stearns says managing all existing data in all systems and organizing it in a way for consumption is a problem for all industries and organizations. Some are advanced in how they manage it, some are in their infancy. Opportunity Alliance was in its infancy, according to Stearns. It had three organizations coming together – 30 agencies, 50 different programs – and all the data existed in different ways. They had pillars of information.
Elizabeth Banwell says collaborating with Informatics was like finding a ‘gold mine’.
“We really have to pay attention to what impact we are making – to aggregate our date and analyze it. It’s a national movement,” said Banwell. “A number of private foundations – large ones – are very interested in how health and human services organizations are going to chart their course in this direction. So finding Martin’s Point which had already spent 10 years experimenting and moving so far in data management was really helpful to us.”
There is really no one-size fits all program structure, according to the experts. It is a given that any data management system takes time, commitment and investment. It’s an investment in tools and people.
“The software is expensive – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – and you need people who know how to administer it,” said Stearns. “We bought a tool to help manage the data but over the course of the years we mastered the tool and when it came time to upgrade, we built our own.”
Stearns says it took the Informatics Group 12 years to have Martin’s Point’s entire organizations’ data within a data warehouse – a process that basically takes a snapshot of the data and puts it over in a separate environment. “Our group has that data organized and tools on top of that data so we can answer any question on the fly. That’s really powerful. It changes the decision making cycle,” said Stearns.
Banwell’s reaction to learning about ‘data warehousing’ was “that’s it!”
“Internally we had to figure out how we structure this. We had a quality department and an IT department,” said Banwell. “We began to migrate data staff over to quality and create a data management function internally … We have 37 different data collection systems, so being able to centralized that data was a bit of a concern of ours. There wasn’t anything in place like it before.”
Taking Informatics advice, the next step was developing the technological capacity by creating a ‘sandbox’ for playing with the data to determine what they had without interfering with day to day operations. Banwell says that work has begun. “The blueprint is in place and now we are going out to funders to ask for sizable gifts to help us do what Martin’s Point has been able to do,” said Banwell.
“Organizationally there is a safety net with regard to this project and that is Martin’s Point,” said Mike Tarpinian, Opportunity Alliance CEO. “They clearly have a process and pathway to success that we can mirror … I don’t know if it’s a unique characteristic of Martin’s Point culture or a unique characteristic of the folks from Informatics but I suspect that we probably would not have been given this level of generosity from other health care facilities.”
“What makes our Informatics Group effective is we really straddle the line of technology and the business,” said Stearns. “We know how to talk to the geeks and IT because we’re kind of one of them but we also understand the health care business.”
The unique collaboration between Martin’s Point’s Informatics Group and The Opportunity Alliance spanned a few months. “We’ll get back together in a few months down the road to see how they are doing, says Stearns.”It’s been a blast. I would love to talk with other nonprofits interested in data management.”
About Martin’s Point Health Care:
Martin’s Point has nine health-care centers and 75 providers offering primary care services for the whole family. Centers have onsite lab, pharmacy, and radiology services. Most major insurances are accepted. Martin’s Point is also widely acknowledged for its Medicare Advantage Plan “Generations Advantage” and the U.S. Family Health Plan for military retirees and their dependants as well as active duty families. For more information please visit: www.MartinsPoint.org
About The Opportunity Alliance:
Initially two separate organizations, in 2011 People’s Regional Opportunity Program (PROP) and Youth Alternatives Ingraham unified their missions to form The Opportunity Alliance. The Opportunity Alliance works with people to build better lives and stronger communities. They provide advocacy, leadership, and support to identify the goals and address the needs of individuals, families, and communities throughout Maine. For more information, visit: http://www.opportunityalliance.org/