How the CDC Foundation Modernized and Automated Its Business Processes: A Digital Transformation Story

As a large organization raising over $1.25B for the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC Foundation grew to depend primarily on manual and paper-based processes. Through a major Digital Transformation initiative, the Foundation sought to modernize its operations and replace legacy processes with best-of-breed cloud solutions such as Salesforce CRM, NetSuite ERP, ADP HCM, SAP Concur, Celigo iPaaS, and much more.

Join us as Malcolm James, Senior Technology and Business Solutions Manager at the CDC Foundation, for a candid conversation discussing how CDCF successfully approached and executed the automation of its legacy processes, just in time to manage the 5-fold increase in transactions it experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Topics include:

  • The challenges faced by growing organizations like the CDC Foundation
  • Navigating their Digital Transformation initiative and selecting the right cloud-based tools
  • The pivotal role of integration and automation
  • Results, insights, and best practices based on the successful experience

In addition to learning about CDC Foundation’s digital transformation journey, we will also be running in parallel a fundraiser to help raise $7,500 for the Foundation’s CRUSH COVID campaign.

Full Webinar Transcript

Welcome and thank you for joining us today for our webinar, how the CDC Foundation modernized and automated its business processes. I’m Kristie Conner, director of product marketing for our iPaaS platform Celigo Integrator.io. And today I’m excited to have Malcolm James here with us from the CDC Foundation to share the foundation’s digital transformation story. Every company has a journey, and today we get to hear how Malcolm and the team at the CDC Foundation started their digital transformation journey from the business challenges they were facing to the processes and business results. This is a really great opportunity to hear from someone who has lived the experience and continues to look for new opportunities to automate processes. A few quick housekeeping items. The webinar today will be recorded, so you’ll receive a link to the on-demand version. And Malcolm is going to be available for Q&A at the end of the session, so please feel free to start asking questions. Just type them into the chatbox. For those of you who are new to Celigo, Celigo is the next generation iPaaS integration platform as a service. We are recognized in the market by our customers and leading analyst firms. In February, we were named the winner of G2s best software awards for 2021, and we’re the highest ranked iPaaS solution to receive this award in the category of best IT cloud management software. We’ve received several badges from G2 over several years. And this validation from G2 is significant because it’s based on our customer reviews. So a big thank you to our customers who have joined us today. We really appreciate you.

We’ve also been recognized by Gartner and their Gartner Magic Quadrant for enterprise integration platform as a service, which is also a huge industry honor given Gartner’s prestige and having made a list of 17 vendors in a very crowded market. What separates iPaaS and next-generation iPaaS? Well, our platform is built with the power of the technical teams and developers, but we also have built an experience that empowers less technical teams. We offer pre-built integrations, templates, and integration applications for solutions like NetSuite, Concur, ADP, and many others that help IT either by reducing complexity, integration complexity, or empowering less technical teams to integrate common integration scenarios. Malcolm will mention how the CDC foundation has used some of these pre-built integrations as part of their processes. Combine all of this into a platform, companies have a way to standardize integrations to automate business processes across the organization with the ease and cost savings expected of the cloud solution. We have over 4,000 customers and that is growing quickly. Today, we get the opportunity to hear from one of those customers on how they use the Celigo in their digital transformation process. Before I turn it over to Malcolm, I really want to thank you all for joining us because today is more than just a webinar. It’s a fundraiser to support the CDC foundation Crush COVID. Celigo is donating to support this effort. So if anyone is interested in showing support, please follow this link. And with that, I am going to turn it over to our guest speaker.

Thank you, Christy. And hello to everyone. It’s my pleasure to speak with you all today. I’m Malcolm James. I’m the senior technology and business solutions manager at CDC Foundation. I’ve been at the foundation for about four years, and my main responsibilities are providing technology direction for the organization, from business systems to hardware and the management of IT staff. I actually began working at the foundation right before the start of our internal operational transformation. So at CDC Foundation, the easiest way to describe who we are and what we do is that we’re an organization established by Congress to support the CDC’s mission. So interestingly, a lot of people don’t even know that we exist. And especially before the current pandemic, I would get a lot of questions in regards to what’s the next major outbreak that I have the inside scoop on. And even though we have been involved in many emergency response efforts like Ebola and Zika and now COVID-19, it’s neat to see and educate people on just how many public health programs we work on. We have hundreds of active CDC-led programs in more than 140 countries. And that’s frankly a great thing to be a part of. A little insight into our COVID-19 response, in particular. We’ve been able to meet so many needs.

At a high level, we’ve provided lab and medical equipment. We’ve hired over a thousand staff members for health departments. It’s super impactful to be able to address things like crucial communications, health equity, and so much more. I really love just seeing how we’ve been able to pool resources to really fight COVID-19 and bring an end to the pandemic. And so why digital transformation? For over 20 years, the CDC Foundation has been growing, especially in the last five years or so. But in that growth, the technology to run the foundation has lagged behind. And so we had many manual paper-based processes. We had people working in silos, limited access to data, Excel kings and queens, data hoarding. It’s funny, we even had colored folders for approval processes. And so whatever step that approval process was in it would be determined by the color of the folder. And that folder would make its way from office to office. So those are all things that needed to be eliminated. And so we had a desire to replace legacy systems with best-of-breed solutions and really go into the cloud. And that whole transition, the requirements were really focused on security, availability, ease of use, dashboards and reporting, and integration ability, and single sign-on.

So four years ago, we did kick off that technology transformation. And our organization, and especially our CEO, was aligned with the vision from the top down to be a leader in the nonprofit space from a technology standpoint. And change management was a big concern, as well. So we’re not only replacing five systems, but we’re also replacing long-standing processes and siloed operations that do end up giving increased reach and visibility. And that can cause a lot of hesitancy and intimidation with the staff. But ultimately, we asked how can we centralize our operations from a global accessibility and efficiency standpoint? So it’s a bit of a struggle for us to not only determine what to connect but how to connect and when to connect it and also what our business in various projects required. So we saw when we met with vendors for these different implementations just how unique our business is. And we did internally harp on taking advantage of best practices. But what we found was that a lot of times best practices didn’t necessarily accommodate our existing processes or policies. And so we understood that we needed a solution that was going to be customizable, powerful, worked well with our core system, yet was also able to– yet we’d also be able to build and maintain them as the organization continues to grow.

So in that wetting and discovery process, we looked at DELL Boomi and Jitterbit probably most closely, as well as a few others. But we ultimately decided to go with Celigo because we could clearly envision learning and growing with the platform. When it comes to manual processes, we did start to feel the weight of those colored folders and paper processes and non-existent policies and systems in some cases, and just not having systems that held us to those things. Everything was manual, didn’t exist or ended up external of any digital system. And I can still to this day here our COO demanding that we no longer store critical information on Excel sheets. So finally, we understood that we had limited IT resources and of course, I can speak to that very well. We have a small IT team consisting of three full-time employees and potentially a team of contractors at any given time. And to add to that our strengths were really in the knowledge of individual platforms or processes, rather than large-scale integrations. And so an automation of this magnitude would really be new for a majority of the IT team as well as for leadership. And then the data governance that comes behind these systems was also relatively new. So that technical challenge did extend outside of IT Into all departments.

And so when we talk about the evolution that we had internally, our integration automation strategy– I’ll get into the specifics of each of these is a little bit later in the presentation. But when we started to look at integration, the first thing that we did was identify what we call the brains of our operation. So NetSuite is the system that we always viewed as the center where data would always flow to or from. And it was obviously a central touchpoint. So we always kept that in mind, not only in selecting NeSuite, but during that NetSuite implementation process. And being a non-profit, our CRM is also critical. So we knew we would tackle the Salesforce-NetSuite integration first. Expense management was one of our most manually disconnected processes. So that one was easy to identify for automation. And then ADP is our employee data source that can help tie some of these pieces together. So converting opportunities to cash is a necessary function for us to operate. This workflow is certainly one that we needed to be automated. We started with this integration first because NetSuite and Salesforce are our two primary platforms and they do have the most data sync between the two in terms of volume. And they also have many shared records between the two. So, for example, our project data exists both in Salesforce and NetSuite. We saw immediate business value because it cut down on dual entry tremendously and also increased our efficiency on reconciliations.

So in regards to the implementation itself, due to our unique structure, we did utilize a mix of templates with custom development for the more unique aspects of the process. Celigo was really great in helping us with our managed deliveries from start to finish, and really what that means is they helped us map out our current processes, find a pathway to automation and build out all of the necessary flows and train us on how to manage and understand it in the process. Expense management was one of our more cumbersome organizational-wide processes that we had to modernize. Every aspect of expense management was manual and disconnected from purchasing a flyer hotel manually via a travel agency to the paper expense report that accompanied that trip. Purchasing cards also were not integrated into our ERP at all. So really, every aspect of expense was primarily managed outside of the system on paper. And so this whole process was user-facing for a majority of employees, so it had a quick value add. The integration allows us to leverage automated expense management systems. Everything can be completed and tracked in systems or on mobile devices and can be fully paperless. So again, this is a big increase in efficiency. The good thing about this integration is that not much advance or custom work was really necessary, even though we did leverage custom elements that existed within our NetSuite platform.

Celigo easily picked up on our needs and completed all of the configurations, which again allowed us to automate the processes that we had. Automating HR processes is a current workflow that we’re tackling, and so we wanted to drive more employee related automation across our systems, things like automated provisioning, headcount tracking, and sharing roster information between systems. Having all of those things would enable systems driven requisitions and changes for employees. So far for this integration, we’ve leveraged templates to the extent that ADP allows, and we do have a payroll process that can get fairly complex. So customization will probably have to go a bit deeper than using just the existing templates. Celigo has helped us on this mostly with our guidance and experience on how to get the most out of ADP in spite of some of those limitations that most other compatible apps don’t have. And so the value of iPaaS may be the most important takeaway of anything I’ve spoken about so far. I do truly believe it can change how you approach your business systems and how your organization functions as a whole.

From the IT perspective, one thought that I always had in my head is while we have a great integration team, great resources and support, but what’s going to happen, and how will we survive once all of the expertise is gone? And it’s just us. It’s just our core staff maintaining and owning the platforms. And it’s also paved the way for a mindset shift within IT. So we need solutions to seemingly complex issues. We can really look back to what we know and understand Celigo is capable of. And we also consider that there are unknown or unfamiliar possibilities that may exist as well. For our business users, I feel like everyone can see the value add of these integrations. It’s been easy for our staff and administrators in various departments to continue using their systems. And the feedback has been really positive overall. And I think probably one of the biggest reasons for that is that staff can work in the systems that they’re most comfortable with, whether that’s visually or functionally. And that does ease the overall change management process. And the cool thing is staff also understand the mindset shift, and so when we’re in meetings and brainstorming and things like that, solutions come up that allow integration and automation to serve a crucial role.

So, again, this whole process has definitely been a game changer for us. We couldn’t imagine doing business today without going through this process. We definitely have many moments when we come together, and we look back in amazement at where we’re at compared to where we were. And it’s truly mind-blowing. Automation, it’s also allowing us to take on more and more opportunities and really drive our growth. We’re also continuing to find efficiencies with the automated flows that we already have. So in regards to the next steps, as an organization, we truly feel like we’re just scratching the surface of what we’re capable of and the reach and impact that we can make. Of course, this is a great feeling because it’s almost our mission verbatim, to do more faster, or together our impact is greater. And lastly, we love to tell our story, and so we found that there are certainly many non-profits that have the same exact challenges that we do and are hungry for solutions. And we’re also learning that our goals have advanced us past the traditional non-profit. We can actually tell a story that’s helpful to many other areas of business as well. And so, last but not least, I do want to highlight our crowdfunding campaign, Crush COVID. So I love not only the title of the effort, but exactly what it means. This campaign is meant to protect those on the front line, support health protection campaigns, and address health equity. So we do have a page for give4cdcf.org/Celigo. And so I do encourage anyone who wants to help fight the pandemic to contribute there. And anything from $1 to $1 million is all certainly helpful. And so with that, I will turn it back to you, Kristie.

So thank you for that, for your session. I thought that I would start off with some questions, if anybody has questions, please start typing them into the question box right there. And I’m going to kick off with one on security. So, Malcolm, what kind of questions did you and your team have related to security in your process?

Sure, that’s a great question. So I think security is huge. So I think it’s hard for a lot of organizations to move to the cloud with security in mind, especially if you’re used to having your data in office, on-premise and having your data in the cloud. It’s like what is the cloud? I can’t see it. I don’t know exactly where the data is. But yeah, security was very big. The approach that we took was looking at each of these individual platforms and what their security metrics and SLAs were. So pretty much all of them have a security standard that they adhere to. And so we just took a close look at those before deciding on any solutions.

Great. So that kind of leads to the next question, which is your thoughts and any commentary on the solutions that you chose and you spoke to earlier, NetSuite, Concur, ADP? In your process, what were some of the key, critical reasons for choosing those solutions?

So like I spoke to earlier, we had a vision really from the top down on what we wanted our work environment to look like. I can still remember on day one, our COO drew out a visual for me on when I come to the office, so this is what I want to look like. I want a single sign-on dashboard where we have our five core platforms and I can just one click get into them. I can work in whichever system is best. And so when we selected each of these platforms, being able to have a platform that would kind of support that vision was big. And so really from a, I guess, more of a technical standpoint, what that meant for us is that every platform would have to support single sign-on in some way, shape, or form. Every platform would have to have good visual reporting. And then also each platform– we did have that integration ability in mind. So being able to connect Salesforce to NetSuite or Salesforce to other systems, even as we continue because we do have some smaller subsystems that we still continue to purchase and integrate to this day and the same standard still applies. We pretty much only look at solutions that help us support integration.

So my next question – thank you, Malcolm – is really around your team. You mentioned that you had three full-time employees, I believe, and then you work with contractors. How long did it take for the team to get up to speed on using Celigo Integrator.io?

I will say it took probably a couple of months and it’s an ongoing thing where we’re still learning. But the overall project took probably a couple of months. And so through that process, any time we exchanged information with Celigo or walked through the flows that we were developing, Celigo would teach those pretty much hand in hand. So it was easy to pick up on. It was really one of those things where we could kind of learn as we go. But I do also believe it’s a process that doesn’t really end. Celigo because of the top five iPaaS platform that it is, new features still come out. There are things that enable better integration as features are rolled out and things like that. So for our specific custom needs within our flows, I would say it took probably a couple of months, but it’s certainly ongoing and learning new features and leveraging the new features has been pretty simple as well.

Great. So a question around reporting. The question is how do you leverage reporting and has it increased with your digital transformation?

As for reporting, an interesting one also, and I think really just working in any systems you have, people will have systems that they prefer. So some people are going to like the black and white nature of NetSuite and go there for reporting. Some people are going to find Salesforce most intuitive and so they’ll go there. I think the integration really allowed us to almost become platform agnostic. So we can– it’s really helped our reporting because any type of report we need, we know we can get it. So if there are system limitations. So, for example, if NetSuite can’t spit out a certain type of report, we know we can just go into Salesforce and pull it. And then, the same thing on the user end. If a user is just more comfortable with creating a report in one platform versus another, then they can do that as well. It doesn’t necessarily solve all of our reporting needs. I think sometimes there are still needs for maybe a data warehousing component. But integrating the systems that we do currently have was a big help in regards to reporting.

Great, thank you, Malcolm. And so a question around– I had mentioned pre-built integrations at the beginning. How did your team use the templates to build integration applications in your process and project?

So I think we have– even though our business is unique, we do have certain elements of our business that are pretty standard. So, of course, we have donor records. We have project records, employees, things like that. So for those standard records, we were able to leverage just out-of-the-box templates, and really actually for a majority of the data that we’re synchronizing, we do leverage out-of-the-box templates. There are more nuanced cases where one record may not correlate to an exact other record in another system. Or maybe sometimes one record will need to be split up into multiple records. So we have some unique use cases that do require a bit of advanced customization. But for the most part, all of our integrations use out-of-the-box functionality, out-of-the-box templates.

Great. So this question is around change management. Do you have any suggestions for any best practices around change management for any companies starting this process, or in the middle?

Yeah, change management is so key. The phrase change management in the early phases of our integrations probably came up a million times. Almost everything is focused around that. I think really, no matter how large scale of integration you have, there’s going to be elements of change management that should be a focus. It was important for us to kind of set the expectation early on that change is coming because you are going to have people that are hesitant to change. You’re going to have people that don’t like the new systems because they’re familiar with the old system for 20 years. It’s never failed them, Or they’re not familiar with the new platforms. So in that selection process of determining a new platform to migrate to. And then also integration, something that you always want to be mindful of. And I know for us, we started off very small, so we can never let that escape our thought process. We have to be considerate of the fact that not only our end-users, but the team IT as well, they have to be comfortable with the change. They have to understand it and really have to have buy-in. So I think for us, just having that voice from leadership, from our CEO all the way down, consistently from the very first day that we started to put the organizational, the operational, transformation together, all the way through to go live, I think was very helpful. It’s kind of crazy. Looking back, it was such a concern for us. But now in the world we’re living in, I feel we transitioned fairly well. But I think it is because we put such a high value on considering it.

Great. Thank you. I’m just checking to make sure I got all the questions. Any suggestions for best practices– let’s say you rewind four years, and you went backwards in time, anything that you would say to your four-years-ago self, before you started this project?

Yes. So a couple of things. So we were fine for an organization that was very paper-based. We didn’t have our processes on paper documented really anywhere. So that was an effort that we took to really document and– I’m talking about our processes, put those in SOPs, not only to give us a picture of what our processes are, but also to help guide vendors when they come in to assist on implementations, on exactly how to do the work and what it is that’s important to us. And then timing, I think, would be another big one. We had a lot of discussions early on about– we always knew that we were going to migrate to many new systems, but the timing question comes up a lot. So not only waiting to migrate, when do we go live? Are we running in parallel? Are we just doing a hard cutover over to the new systems? And then, once we’re on the new systems, when do we integrate them? So I think we had a good bit of back and forth, and I think probably the– I think the decision may vary from organization to organization, but my recommendation would actually be to, for one, follow best practices as close as possible, if possible, but also to live in the systems for a little bit, so you can truly understand how those new systems are functioning within your organization.

Because we have looked back at certain times. I know at one point we thought, we’re going live in NetSuite. We should go live in Salesforce at the same time and connect them at the same time. That way the data is always synchronized between them. But we had a big learning curve just as far as how we would use those systems, and it might have been a disaster if we did them all at once. So kind of sectioning them off, spacing out the go-live between each of these systems, really understanding of how they work, how our processes are going to adjust as we go live, and then what that integration looks like later down the road was very key.

Right. So we have a few more questions. Someone just asked, “So how has the current pandemic shaped your vision for what is prioritized next in your technology transformation.

I guess if I had to say one-word volume, so obviously with the pandemic, our response is huge now. I mentioned in one of the slides earlier that we’ve had a five-fold increase in our transactions already. I want to say we’ve had a ten-fold increase in the number of employees. And so really, everything about our business, the volume has really gone up. And so we have to operate in more of an automated fashion. A few years ago, we probably could get by with doing things manually, having only one or two people on a particular process. But we’re growing. We’re continuing to grow. And so automation plays such a key role. And so really anything that we take on now, we have to look at it from the lens of, “Can this be automated? Do we have systems in place that support full automation from end to end?”

Malcolm, when you and I spoke before in earlier conversations, you talked about your processes before your digital transformation and then after. And how would you have been– had you not embarked on the journey four years ago to get where you are, what would it look like now with the pandemic? Just maybe some comparables for the people joining us.

Honestly, I don’t know how– I don’t know if it would compare. It would be very hard for us to function in the current state have we not gone through this process. And the timing of our decisions, honestly, has worked out really beautifully. I want to say we started to wrap our first major integration right before or right as the pandemic was beginning. And so there’s really no way with the amount of volume that we saw that we’d be able to proceed in our own state. So it truly has been a mindset shift. Everything that we do touches these automations pretty much every day, every day. So I don’t know that it compares. I don’t know that we could really continue to function especially at a high level without automation. But the cool thing, on the flip side of that, we now have the confidence to take it even farther. So pandemic obviously isn’t over. So we do have more efforts that are– more opportunities that are coming on our plate and more things down the road that we’ll be taking on. And we have the confidence to be able to manage them internally with these automations.

That’s great. Yes, and it is funny because I’ve heard that from other customers as well. Once they’ve automated processes, they start to find new processes to automate. Well, so I think one last question. We talked about the templates and one of our guests has asked, “Are you talking about process templates or integration templates?” And I’ll just let you answer that.

Integration templates.

Yeah. So, again, just want to remind everybody that we’re also excited this webinar is not just a webinar. It’s a fundraiser to support the CDC Foundation’s Crush COVID Campaign. And we have a team page on there. If you are interested in supporting, give4cdcf.org/celigo. And I just want to share that on March 31st, we’re going to be hosting a mastering gross live panel on integration automation to scale, again, a panel with three of our customers. So highly recommend you to participate in that. And just want to thank you for your time today. If you have any further questions, please just email myself, [email protected], or you can always go to our website and fill out a contact us form. So thank you, everybody. Appreciate your time. And Malcolm, really appreciate your time and your story. Thank you. Bye-bye.

About the speakers

Malcolm James

Malcolm James is a Senior Technology and Business Solutions Manager providing innovative vision, strategy, and leadership in all areas of technology use, planning, development, and support within CDC Foundation. He joined the CDC Foundation in 2017 and is responsible for the full range of information systems and management of the supporting IT staff. In his role, James leads technology-focused strategic planning and proactively identifies opportunities to improve existing areas of service delivery performance. James graduated from Georgia State University with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Computer Information Systems.

Kristie Conner