AbilityNet Adapts and Expands on an 11-Year Journey with NetSuite

Posted by Mark Woodhams, SVP & Managing Director of NetSuite EMEA

Eleven years ago, when AbilityNet, a UK-based nonprofit providing technology accessibility services for disabled and older people needed to modernise its operations, a cloud-based system was a major consideration. As a lean, nonprofit organisation, AbilityNet did not have the staff or budget for a large upfront investment in on-premise software.

Today, the organisation has discovered that as well as cost savings, the flexibility of the system has proven equally important, if not more so.

The charity supports disabled people of all ages by helping them to use digital technology at work, at home or in education. With offices spread across the UK silos of information in Excel and Access databases were scattered across its locations. Data was shared through email, and the organisation relied upon an aging Sage Line 50 system for its accounting software. As the organisation grew to serve more people, it knew it needed to eliminate the hairball of different systems and install a centralised system for greater administrative control and auditing.

“We looked at on-premise software providers, but they all seemed overly complicated, difficult to deploy,” said Eliot Martin, Operations Director. “For me and the tech team, what stood out was that NetSuite had the power to go well beyond other products. We saw a roadmap of development that took us into functionality that we could take advantage of and scale with.”

AbilityNet had some unique requirements, different from a standard business and even other nonprofit organisations. Through online and telephone services it provides free assistance to disabled people, whether they us a wheelchair, have learning disabilities or dyslexia, or “anything that would prevent you from using technology,” according to Martin.

The charity also provides assessment services in workplaces and provides specialist consultancy services to a wide range of blue chip companies, ensuring they’re keeping those with disabilities in mind. Those are paid services which help fund the regular business.

Because of that, and because of the relative immaturity of Software as a Service at the time, there was some trepidation in moving to NetSuite.

“I remember a lot of sleepless nights after we realized that NetSuite was the product to go with,” Martin said. “But overnight we went from non-interactive, non-automated, bespoke siloed systems to a centrally managed system.”

But it’s the way that NetSuite has matured alongside AbilityNet that has proven to be the bigger advantage. As NetSuite added functionality that met AbilityNet’s needs, the charity was able to adapt NetSuite to its own requirements as well.

Additionally, a software donation from NetSuite.org, NetSuite’s Corporate Citizenship arm, provided an extra incentive.

Immediately, the custom workflows allowed AbilityNet to automate and centralise processes that had previously been ad hoc and scattered by geography. An assessor in London, might have been using Excel or Access to store information about their assessments. An assessor doing the same job in Glasgow, might have a different system, workflow and schema.

“Because of what we do, services and assessment, collecting specific subsets of info and interacting with clients in different ways, we needed a way of collecting information and processing that had an audit trail,” Martin said.

NetSuite’s custom workflows allowed AbilityNet to account for that. The customisation is an ongoing process. Today, AbilityNet has a two-person team that spends their time in NetSuite developing functionality and workflows to meet the organisation’s needs.

For example, AbilityNet has developed integrations with an organisation that provides services that serve as a precursor to AbilityNet, allowing for detailed data sharing on occupational health and accessibility, eliminating previous manual inputs, email and phone calls that were prone to error. The organisation has also developed a customised process that identifies potential disabled testers for applications or websites, sends them an email to determine their availability and schedules the testing, all from within NetSuite. Before developing that process, an administrator would need to spend a day orchestrating that process.

“Those guys are performing what I consider miracles,” Martin said. “That’s a constant iterative thing for us. We realize there’s so much power in NetSuite. We have a two-year strategy looking at the business step by step to determine the areas that need that automation and can save us time and effort.”

To apply for a software donation, visit NetSuite’s Corporate Citizenship website.

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