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Humanitarian aid organization Direct Relief International has been bringing critically needed medicines and supplies to people affected by poverty, disaster or civil unrest for more than 60 years. In 2010, the organization selected SAP software to help it get personnel and supplies to the right places and people as efficiently as possible. With thousands of clinics located in 72 countries and all 50 United States and hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment and medicines, SAP software helps Direct Relief track every item from its warehouses to the final destinations with a level of precision that has helped the organization consistently score 100 percent in fundraising efficiency as rated by Forbes magazine and the prestigious 2010 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation.

Recently, the organization opted to try a new SAP solution – the SAP StreamWork collaborative decision-making application – to help focus and accelerate projects among teams that are distributed across states and countries. Previously, the Direct Relief team members had been using Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration. However, while they found SharePoint useful as a general portal or intranet, when it came to managing the flow of communications and projects, especially for a distributed group, they preferred the more structured environment of SAP StreamWork.

“We were looking for a solution that could help us drive projects forward,” said Ross Comstock, IT director at Direct Relief. “It helps us quickly get a group of people together and focused on working through a problem, even if they’re in different countries. For that purpose, SharePoint was too general. SAP StreamWork was much simpler, with a lot of tools built into it to drive decision-making. When I have a meeting with stakeholders, I can pop into SAP StreamWork and illustrate where we are on a project. It offers a simple way to tell a story, and it helps our communication with stakeholders.”

Comstock reports that, in addition to being dispersed geographically, the SAP StreamWork collaborators come from various departments.

“There are people with a variety of skill sets using SAP StreamWork,” said Comstock. “We are bringing individuals together across groups, and not just within one business unit. Going forward, we would like to do the same with our partners. We have a big network of partners, hospitals and clinics in states and countries around the world. With a tool like SAP StreamWork, we could collaborate across this network and better help our partners see exactly where their money and supplies are going to and coming from.”

Comstock reports that Direct Relief got SAP StreamWork up and running very quickly, and that it took about four to five days for people to become really comfortable with it. He says that people had a few early questions, but that the solution is easy to get to know and use. “One of its real strengths is that you can get up and running very quickly, and manage a project and collaborate without getting everyone tutored on a complex framework. That’s harder to do on SharePoint. With SAP StreamWork, it’s more explorable.”

What’s next for Direct Relief and SAP StreamWork? The initial pilot projects have sparked new ideas and creativity, including plans for a partner portal with SAP StreamWork embedded, to promote the richness of collaboration across Direct Relief’s partner network in the same way it has started to experience among its business units.

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