Association Headquarters, also known as AH, is a professional services firm in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, that helps nonprofit organizations help others by providing them with services such as staffing, administrative support, office space, equipment and technology.
Through its for-profit management of nonprofits, AH gives associations the tools to fulfill their missions, create value and advance a variety of industries, from clean energy to baby safety, nursing and physical therapy.
Association Headquarters uses Datarails for data consolidation and staff utilization reporting, bringing together payroll and project data from many different data sources to make informed decisions about head count, project costs and staff availability that ultimately improve the efficiency not just of AH, but also of the many nonprofits it serves.
The problem: No way to track project costs
Because Association Headquarters has multiple nonprofit clients, job costing is particularly important for the company, as it enables AH to track the costs of individual projects.
When nonprofits need help helping others, they turn to Association Headquarters. And when Association Headquarters needs help making informed decisions about head count, project costs and staff availability, it turns to Datarails.
The company was particularly interested in examining its actual vs. budgeted labor hours to figure out how to allocate labor hours as accurately as possible so that labor hours could be used as efficiently as possible.
But AH ran into a problem: The reporting software they were using with their ERP was so complicated that they needed an outside consultant to write the job costing reports.
And even with the outside consultants, the reports served up more questions than answers. “Those were not meeting our needs,” said Kristina Orta, the senior reporting analyst at Association Headquarters.
Next, the company tried to use a combination of Excel and a database management system. But that still didn’t do the trick.
There was so much data – 1,000 spreadsheets and 1 million rows of payroll information – and so many calculations necessary for the data to be useful that the combined systems still couldn’t provide Association Headquarters with what they needed.
“The systems weren’t powerful enough to handle all of our data and do the calculations that we needed in order to transform the data and make it useful,” said Orta, the senior reporting analyst at Association Headquarters. “Datarails was able to handle all of that.”
The solution: Make labor data useful and create reports on the fly
Association Headquarters uses Datarails to consolidate its current and historical labor data from Excel spreadsheets and the company’s payroll system, and make the data useful by breaking it down into monthly amounts. Reports showing project needs and staff availability are then distributed as reports to the rest of the company.
“Our actual labor data is saved in a thousand spreadsheets, and our labor history is saved in a million rows of data from our payroll system. Datarails is able to easily consume all of those spreadsheets, identify the relevant data, transform it in the way that makes it useful, and then securely save it in the cloud.”
“Datarails is able to easily consume all of those spreadsheets, identify the relevant data, transform it in the way that makes it useful, and then securely save it in the cloud.”—Kristina Orta, Senior Reporting Analyst
Through its lookup capabilities, Datarails helps ensure that information like contract descriptions and employee names are consistent on the reports even if they’re not consistent in the supporting data. And through its auto-calculate function, Datarails is able to break up the total labor budgets into monthly buckets while summarizing labor details on a per-month basis. The finance team then sends out reports with that information.
Prior to using Datarails, the company’s labor data was being collected, but it wasn’t being analyzed or used to make better decisions.
“After implementing job costing, we realized that we have all of this data that nobody sees,” said Orta. “We’ve been feeding this monster and not using any of the effort that went into it.”
Once AH began using Datarails, the finance team was able to use the labor data to track project costs, and share that information with the rest of the company through reports created “on the fly.”
“Datarails now gives us a tool that we can easily go to to put that monstrous data into it and report out of it in an easy way,” said Orta. “We now have the ability to create reports on the fly, to answer questions as they come up.”
‘We’re very self-sufficient now’
Datarails is an “easy-to-use tool” that enables Association Headquarters to be self-sufficient and create reports on their own as needed, said Orta.
“We’re very self-sufficient now. And that means that we can really work on our own to create reports as we need them,” she said. “What I like about it is that you can be as hands on and into it as you want to, and at the same time have your support person there to say, ‘Hey, I need help, I need this right away,’ and know that they’re there to support you.”
“I would absolutely recommend Datarails to other companies,” said Orta. “It’s an easy-to-use tool. It has great versatility.”
The impact: More efficient hiring and project management
With a large share of Association Headquarters’ costs going to labor, it’s crucial for the company to know whether they need to hire someone in order to tackle a new project or whether the existing head count is sufficient.
“We now have the ability to create reports on the fly, to answer questions as they come up.”—Kristina Orta, Senior Reporting Analyst
To make the right decisions, the management needs to have full visibility into the workload for each current employee in addition to the labor hours allocated to a specific project.
“One of the great things that Datarails has allowed us to do is to take a look at the budgeted hours by employee, to see who we’ve put too much on their plate and who might have availability to take over other projects,” said Orta. “It’s really made a difference in making sure that we know when we might have to hire someone or whether we can shuffle projects around.”
The reports also increase transparency about what is happening with each project – for instance, if one project was allotted so many resources that others were not getting what they needed – enabling management to ensure that all projects on deck are not only allocated time but also receiving it.
“One of the great things that our new reports can show us is that a specific project has budget for this month, but no hours reported against it,” said Orta. “So we can dig into the data and figure out what happened. Is someone else working on the project? Did that person get assigned somewhere else so that we can stay ahead of things before projects really get behind?”
“Our managers are now empowered to make informed decisions using up-to-the-minute information,” she said, “and be able to see the effects of those decisions in real time in order to be able to make adjustments.”