How WE.org uses cloud data to drive global good with Azure
By Microsoft in Business Team on July 6, 2018
Filed under Microsoft in Business
|Focus on: Empower Employees, Optimize Operations
In the late 90’s, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger knew he wanted to change the world.
Craig saw things he knew weren’t right —abuse, inequality, and cynicism—and decided to make a difference. That compassion grew, and today, Craig and his brother Marc’s nonprofit organization, WE, is dedicated to “making doing good, do-able.” Although its offices are based primarily in North America and the United Kingdom, WE’s efforts and impacts have a global reach. Through various programs aimed at engaging students, teachers, families, corporate employees and even celebrities, WE is well on the way to realizing its goal of empowering 100 million people to care and act.
The overall vision at WE is driven by three programs: WE Villages, WE Schools, and WE Days (Me to WE—the nonprofit’s social enterprise arm—helps support these programs while giving the organization a way to offset operating costs and reinvest in its growth). Each of the programs plays a unique role in advancing the WE mission: to empower the next generation of change-makers to transform communities across the globe. Whether it’s through humanitarian-focused volunteer trips, direct funding, or both, WE manages projects in many developing countries to help provide education, water sanitation, healthcare, employment opportunities, and agriculture and food security.
“We’re focusing on delivering the capabilities, products, and services that are going to provide the most business value and help us scale to achieve our mission of empowering 100 million people who care and act,” said Director of IT and Enterprise Services, Dan Kuzmicki.
Over the last 18 months, WE has been undergoing a major digital transformation, including a focus to bring its infrastructure to a more efficient, unified, scalable, and secure cloud solution. WE used a variety of different solutions and services to support its digital environments in the past, bootstrapping systems to meet business needs as they arose. While one department might have relied on a third-party cloud provider, others used on-premises infrastructure-as-a-service solutions, or even something entirely different. It became evident to leadership that to create change on the ground, they’d have to start from the top, and truly create an infrastructure that encouraged unity and empowered their cross-functional teams to work together. “We had a number of different systems and platforms all over the place,” Kuzmicki recalls.
The result was a nonprofit facing multiple organizational inefficiencies, from paying for a variety of redundant services to isolating each department and its data. Different departments were separated by their own organic solutions, producing inconsistent environments that restricted teamwork, stifled communication, and made WE susceptible to inaccurate data reporting. Kuzmicki, and his colleagues — CTO Kelvin Kang and Head of Strategic Planning and Operations, Heather Harkness — recognized the divisions and inefficiencies their datacenter management was creating, and knew the organization needed to digitally consolidate.
“Our mandate is to try and do more with less cost, and that meant that we had to go to the cloud,” Kang explains. “That drives a lot of our decisions. Unless on-prem solutions are critical for performance reasons, everything is being pushed to the cloud because that lowers our overarching cost and lets us focus [our resources] on our programs.”
WE is like many nonprofits, no matter their size: They aim to maximize their impact by finding smart, technology-powered ways to improve efficiency, automate operations and empower employees. That’s why Microsoft has committed to supporting organizations’ ability to do more good through discounted or donated technology offers.
Doing good in the cloud
Despite WE’s designation as a charity, its efforts encompass a wide range of complicated processes and systems. Searching for a partner to help them resolve their unique organizational needs and unify their competing web of data services, WE turned to Microsoft for both a vision to simplify the complexity, and the support to navigate it. Kuzmicki says, “The Microsoft team did a fantastic job in sitting with us, understanding, getting our requirements, and getting a vision of where we want to go.”
Thanks to a grant from Microsoft Philanthropies, WE was able to leverage cloud services like Azure to set a new normal for the organization. A unified cloud environment set the foundation and infrastructure to break down barriers between departments, enabling the nonprofit to be better stewards of the communities it seeks to empower.
“[Azure’s] really helping us scale and enable all of our existing buildings and regional offices to act as one and bridge that divide,” Kuzmicki explains. A unified, equipped, and scalable system means the WE team can act more efficiently, use off-the-shelf resources and create new tools they hadn’t imagined previously. “We’re seeing real world results immediately and are able to deliver workloads to the cloud using Azure very quickly.”
By consolidating its datacenter environment, WE’s IT team built a more accessible system for creating and managing workloads and additional services. Azure’s cloud technology empowers the IT team to better serve departments across the organization and unite operations across the world.
Meet WE’s Service Desk Bot
With Azure in place to better connect, manage, unite, and navigate its data, Kuzmicki started exploring new ways to automate and simplify WE’s daily operations. That research led him to develop WE’s very own service desk bot—an Azure-based digital personal assistant that helps employees answer IT-related questions, ultimately freeing up additional time for his team to focus on the bigger picture: empowering people to change the world.
“Within about an hour of tinkering, I was able to have a functional prototype [of the bot] effectively deployed within our SharePoint instance,” he explains. “We’re populating it now, and our final goal is to embed it into Microsoft Teams to help our service team answer questions.” Now, employees will be able to get answers to questions more quickly than before, and Kuzmicki and his team can spend less time on Frequently Asked Questions and more time working on the organization’s more complex IT challenges.
The Service Desk Bot has generated a great deal of interest throughout the organization, inspiring employees to explore more ways to automate WE’s internal processes—potentially even building live chatbots for customer conversations and increased access for after-hours inquiries.
The Future of WE
Whether expanding their ERP and CRM solutions, or exploring machine learning and AI opportunities, the team at WE is committed to continuing its digital transformation to find new and greater opportunities to support its mission to empower people to do good. “There’s been a lot more conversation and excitement over the past year about how technology and innovation are and will continue to help drive us towards where we want to get in the next ten years,” Harkness says.
WE’s digital transformation exemplifies the various and powerful ways that innovative technology can empower an inventive team and facilitate alignment between cross-functional teams. Cloud innovation has helped WE to more strategically allocate funds, encourage internal collaborative efforts, and ultimately drive a more unified organization. The WE organization’s implementation of cloud technology is just its latest step towards its goal of building a more compassionate and caring global community.