Supporting a Life-Saving Service

Case Study: Samaritans

At a time when their work is more vital than ever, the Samaritans project was a chance for us at Creative to support those who support so many others. They needed a Microsoft partner that they could trust to complete their project. We listened, and slowly but surely we gained that trust, simply by doing what we said we would do, when we said we would do it.

A life-saving service

Samaritans is a registered charity providing emotional support to anyone experiencing emotional distress, who might be struggling to cope, or who are at risk of suicide.

Every day, their volunteers respond to around 10,000 calls for help. During 2020, more than 20,000 people volunteered their time for Samaritans:

  • Over 16,200 trained listening volunteers responded to calls for help.
  • Over 3,200 volunteers supported the running of their 201 branches.
  • Over 1,000 prisoners volunteered as trained Listeners.

Their incredible volunteers run 201 branches throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland. They selflessly offer their time to help deliver a 24-hour emotional support service to people in many ways, from answering telephones and emails, to fundraising, generating publicity, administration and finance.

The infrastructure required to deliver this vital service is huge, and it’s vital that their software and processes provide a strong backbone from which to deliver this life-saving service.

The Challenge

Samaritans’ perception of the challenges faced at the time of contacting Creative stemmed from difficulties with a previous software provider.

The Samaritans project team further felt that they weren’t equipped to fully understand their core software, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. They were far from using it to its full potential, especially as there were so many areas of the system to set up before they could go-live.

All of this resulted in inefficient processes, slow turnarounds for important projects, and a feeling that their needs were neither met nor fully understood by their current software provider.

Working with Creative

From the moment that Samaritans engaged us, we began exploring how we would approach the project. Over the course of a few months and a number of discussions, we worked with the project team, led by Kevin Edwards, to compare notes and plot an appropriate course of action to fulfil the project success criteria.

We enter all projects collaboratively, always with one eye on the unique needs of the company we’re working with.

In the case of Samaritans, they operated with an ‘out-of-the-box’ approach first and bespoke customisation second – something that wasn’t reflected with their previous provider. So, we flexed our approach to be in line with what was important to Samaritans, their goals, and what they wanted from our partnership.

Pushing back to move forwards

Despite wanting to use out-of-the-box services where possible, it’s incredibly important that we push companies to look at the bigger picture and consider what would be possible with the right software and solutions in place. It’s also our responsibility to set realistic expectations for the strength of the project outcome.

When Samaritans first engaged Creative in January of 2021 they had set an ambitious go-live date of 1st April 2021. We discussed early on in the project whether this was achievable or whether pushing this date back slightly might result in a more successful outcome.

Our Approach

Together, Creative and Samaritans identified that the best course of action was to:

  • Push back the go-live of the main project phase to 1st July 2021.
  • Focus on the core software and standardisation where possible.
  • Address core processes where necessary to ensure the best use of the system.
  • Provide comprehensive training for the core software to extract as much value as possible.
  • Bring forward the implementation of Continia Document Capture.
  • Customise around the pain points further down the line if need be.

The lead consultant was made available to intensively manage the early stages of the project and provide Samaritans and their teams with the support they needed during this transition.

Issues could be raised with firsthand information from Samaritans’ people about what wasn’t working and why so that it could be resolved quickly and efficiently. Later into the project, this evolved into a process of refinement.

The training given to Samaritans teams was bespoke, relating to specific internal processes of the company and configuration of the software – every minute of training was valuable and unique to Samaritans.

Implementing changes of this size in this amount of time is incredibly complex. By having a strong presence from the very beginning, Creative’s lead consultant on the project was able to bring internal teams along with them on the journey. Playing such an active role in this way helped to form new, more efficient ways of working, and ensure that Samaritans’ teams were on board to embrace this change. Timings were even informed by how well teams were likely to pick things up and when.

The Outcome: Big Results From a Small Team

Strong project closure is essential to the success of any project. After a two week parallel run with the previous system to make sure everything was working as planned, the old system was fully phased out and Samaritans was able to use the new one exclusively.

By starting fresh and committing to a fully out of the box approach, we avoided transferring broken processes to the new system. Samaritans are now not only using a sensible and efficient way of working, but are future-proofing their software.

We’re delighted to have done all of this within the specified budget. This is so important to Charities – imperative, in fact – especially when the trustees are committing funds for this type of extensive project.

Where to next?

The relationship between Creative and Samaritans will mature into an ongoing partnership of process and system refinement and support. Together, we’ll address specific pain points, identify future areas of development and adapt to requirements as needed.

Like all customers at Creative, building a roadmap is key. This will evolve and change and grow as the world changes. A global pandemic has shown that your organisation, your trusted partners, and your people have to be adaptable and share your journey, just as we have done, are doing and will continue to do with Samaritans.

Project highlights as told by Samaritans

“Going live on time!”

All the project milestones were hit, including the 1st July 2021 launch date of the biggest phase of the project.

“Pushing back the initial go-live”

We were able to make this call because of our experience and knowledge of not only the software, but the nature of these projects. Setting expectations is also incredibly important.

“Bringing forward Continia Document Capture”

We urged Samaritans to bring the Continia Document Capture implementation forwards because of the huge benefits this functionality would have for their finance teams. While the Board of Trustees were cautious about taking on too much too quickly, we set them at ease by putting together a briefing document to present to them the reasons why we felt this was an important step in getting the most out of this project. Now, the finance team is already benefiting from this functionality thanks to this decision.

“Creative was engaging with us and adding value before we even formally signed on the line. Being accessible and providing advice and opinions at these early stages gave us confidence in their style of management and capacity for a project of this size. They may be a small company, but they’re well-organised and resourced.”

“We’d been burned by over-customisation, which was embedded into the previous service to the point where the line between core and bespoke software was blurred. Customised elements were difficult to upgrade and weren’t a great fit for us.”

“From the very beginning, Creative was a partner rather than a software provider. It was about collaborating to improve the end result. The focus was on addressing our concerns, learning about our processes and ultimately doing what was right for us as an organisation.”

“Making the call to push the launch date back was down to their experience and knowledge of not only the software, but the nature of these projects. Setting realistic expectations for us was so important, and gave us further confidence in their ability to manage this project.”

“They use their small team very well. In spite of their size, there was clear communication and a level of engagement and planning that we just weren’t getting with the previous provider. Creative was proactive, with careful and comprehensive planning, laying out all the phases of the project and communicating on them with us daily.”

“The project wouldn’t have worked with light-touch management – again a testament to Creative’s methodical approach. They were able to resource this level of management with such a small team. You need to make sure your software partner has the resources to be able to support you with training – you can’t learn it on your own. The technical support and expertise of Creative was invaluable in this new software being adopted by the internal teams at Samaritans.”