ICCM '96 Session

"Missions Management Using PETRA"

Roger Taylor - Software Development Manager, Operation Mobilisation

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Roger Taylor. Married to Caroline (a Chartered (or Certified for Americans) Accountant), with one son, Matthew, age 6. Caroline also serves with OM as the Area Finance Officer for Western Europe. Graduated in Computer Science and Mathematics in 1982. Worked as a software engineer for 12 years developing bespoke applications in a variety of industries, spending an increasing amount of time on project management.

I joined OM in late 1993 to help with the development of PETRA. I had expected to be programming, but took over the management of the project in mid-1994. The project is now in the final stages of programming for the first release which is intended to provide at least equivalent functionality to our current system, in which Bob Craton, who many of you know, had a significant part in developing. We expect development to continue for the forseeable future, and are already looking towards what to include in the second release. It is wider than just a software development project - we are integrating the software with telecommunications: especially email and fax.


The presentation will be given from the viewpoint of OM, but I feel that what is said will be common to most of the larger missions represented at this conference, and can therefore be applied by them. For the smaller missions then the points made will identify some of the traps to avoid as you grow in size.

I will start by looking at some of the background to management of your data using a computer system, and then move on to some specific examples of what we hope to achieve using PETRA and our associated infrastructure. I will be leaving some time at the end for questions, but feel free to make comments and observations as we go along, particularly where you feel I may be over emphasising particular points.

Whatever you do, keep in mind that God is always in charge. I could spend the entire time telling of how we have seen Him at work during the project, bringing the people with the right skills, even putting in delays to the project !

Why Manage Your Data ?

Stewards for God: - Luke 16 vv 1,2: Now Jesus was also saying to his disciples, "There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and this steward was reported to him as squandering his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be a steward’".
Luke 16 vv 10-12: He who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust true riches to you ? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own ?
Stewards for Donors: - Donors want acknowledgment of a donation, they want to know how you have spent it, they want their tax certificates !
Stewardship Generally - We need to be ensuring that the majority of donations are spent on active envangelisation, not on administration. At OM there is an increasing emphasis on recruiting "specialists" such as Accountants, Personnel Managers, and even IT staff :-) to provide better management of resources.
Legal Issues - Charity laws are generally strict on financial reporting requirements (comparable to company law).
Missionaries - Dependent on getting gifts from home in order to live, minister etc.
Coordination - Especially important for donor development so that different ministries within the organization work together on raising funds. A common comment about OM is that the major donors do not actually know what OM does. They know about parts of it but have no overall picture.

Why Integrate Your Data ?

Need access to different parts of the data for a single activity

The data that you have is never standalone:
For example, when you receive a gift, the accounts department must enter it into their system, the mailroom must handle the gift receipt, your donor development staff will want to analyse gift patterns, even the missionary on the field would like to know about it ! Again, when someone goes to speak at a church they would like to know:

If you integrate your data, then it is easier to answer the sort of queries outlined above.

Seen a move to integrated systems in the UK financial services industry where they were finding that the data they needed to target the selling of new financial products to customers was stored on their systems, it could not be interrogated as it was held in separate systems.

Gathering Requirements

Plan Strategically !
Get senior staff commitment
Involve as many people as possible
Needed to get the system you want

Before any decisions are made regarding the system that you are going to implement you need to find out what is actually needed by your organisation. This is a project in its own right. First of all, you need to have done some strategic planning. When you look through a high level strategic plan for an organisation you should be able to identify the systems needed to support the plan.

OM also has a strategic plan for Information Technology, which we refer to as out IT Blueprint. This sets out standards within which any IT projects will be developed. We looked at Hardware and Operating Systems, Communications, Database Technology, User Interfaces, Networking and Security.

Getting high level support for a project is critical. Technical expertise is not enough for a project. You need financial and other resources, and political support. You need to have as much representation as possible across our organisation when you are gathering requirements. Any system that it implemented will be used in a great variety of situations. In OM’s case we range from our US home office with 40 users, down to many single user field offices. You cannot skimp on this stage, otherwise you will get a system no one will want.

It is important to keep the representatives informed of how things are going during development as well. Ask for help on screen design, report design. Above all, keep them involved as they will help to gain acceptance for the new system across the organisation. If all this sounds rather commercial, that is deliberate. In order to be good stewards of our resources we need to be better than the commercial world, and set them an example.

Buy or Build ????

Ready made & tested	    Need a development team
Expensive for multi-site    More sites increases cost benefit
Match only 70% of needs	    Meet all your requirements
Separate packages	    Fully integrated
This list contains both positives and negatives on each side. The OM decision on PETRA was determined by an analysis based on the ideas shown, but by previous experience where we had built our current system. This decision has been questioned during the project, but whenever we consider the possibility of buying in packages we come up with telephone numbers for the cost.

Even when buying in packages you must never forget that you are likely to need some customisation to suit the needs of your organisation, and then you will also need to integrate the various packages which are bought. One UK organisation used to buy packages with a 70% fit, but found that they got burnt in getting the other 30% to work properly, so they spent far more on getting the right system.


Before I move on to talk a little about what PETRA will be helping us to do in managing our missions work I will give you a quick look at our current prototype version. As part of the process of involving the staff round the world we have sent out standalone prototype systems to over 20 of our offices worldwide. This has produced feedback from the users on what the system as it is being developed, and also gave them reassurance that this new system that they had heard about was really taking shape, and not just using the resources of the mission on an academic exercise.

Gift Management and Processing

Gift Entry: Monthly: The system is multi-currency, right down to the transaction level (each has the actual and the base currency), and allows reports to be generated in any other currency.

Staff and Team Management

A set of lists underlies the personnel system. The key ones are Abilities, Languages, Professions, Visions, and each consists of a list of areas, e.g. Abilities includes musician, juggler etc, and a level of competence. These lists will then be used to build up a profile of each unit (an area, field, or team) in OM, and this information will be distributed to each office. When an office receives a request for information about OM’s work in a particular area, it will be on hand, and should be up to date - we are never going to eliminate the need for printed brochures, but offices can be more certain of the information they have.

Units will also enter information about the "jobs" they have. When these need filling, then the vacancy can be communicated quickly around the world, and when it is filled then this information can also be distributed. There is a feeling in OM that we frequently lose people at the end of their commitment because we cannot match them up with a new challenge to fulfill their vision. A discussion about a recent leaver will often reveal that there had been an ideal vacancy for them, but the information was not available to match them up.

In a similar way we will build up profiles of our staff so we will be able to take the above process one step further and start to match people with vacancies even before their existing commitment has come to an end so that when they talk about their future there are already some ideas for them to consider. These profiles can also be communicated between fields - OMers often complain that they fill in the application forms to join up, and then when they get to the field, they have to fill in another set of forms giving the same information.

As people develop within OM, especially if they work on a number of different fields, then we will have a comprehensive history of their service. Currently even the home offices frequently do not know the full extent of someone’s service in OM !

Donor Development

Speaker at a church:
Who are our contacts at the church (and what role do they have) What previous contacts have we had (telephone, letters, gifts) Have the church sent out any people with us (now or in the past) How much does the church give (to who or what)

Last year had a good presentation on DD reports. These need

Unless our development staff can put this information together quickly and effectively, they are likely to miss out on many opportunities to develop the base of donors.

There is also a need for the development staff in the major offices to share contact information about contacts with Trusts and other major donors. We know that we lose out on donations because often only one aspect of OM’s work is presented to donor.

The Future

We have a vision to make PETRA available across the Missions community because having looked at some of the alternatives we know that the majority of organisations just cannot afford it.

One idea we have is for other missions to second a member of their development team to us for a year to help with the on going development and support of PETRA. In return we would give a license to the software, including the source code, and from the secondment there would be expertise within the mission to support and customise the software.


The underlying tool for the development of PETRA, Progress, provides many of the facilities required for multi-lingual working.

Getting commitment from the top level of an organisation can be very difficult. A project must often be marketed within the organisation to get this commitment.

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