Uniting Church Synod NSW & ACT – Success Story

Uniting Church Synod NSW & ACT rolls out simpler, scalable financials with Business Central and EBS

During 2022, the Uniting Church of Australia Synod of NSW and the ACT (the synod) successfully implemented Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, deployed by Evolution Business Systems (EBS), to modernise and centralise its financial reporting systems, gain better value for money and simplify workflows for its employees. The synod is now embarking on rolling out a shared services model to offer affordable access to the new system to more than 400 congregations with circa 50,000 members.

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The Challenge: How to replace an expensive, underperforming ERP system

As the third-largest Christian denomination in Australia, the Uniting Church is organised by groups of women and men, lay and ordained, operating through a series of inter-related councils.

For more than seven years, the synod had struggled with an expensive and poorly implemented Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system which its staff found difficult to use and failed to provide required reporting.
During 2021, the synod adopted a new strategic plan to move to a more shared services technology model across its region, which contains 13 presbyteries, more than 400 congregations, circa 50,000 members and parish missions. 

“Without a doubt, EBS is the best vendor I have ever worked with – and I have worked with a lot of vendors.”
Andrea Tustin
Chief Financial Officer
Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT

In seeking a new technology platform, key drivers for the synod included replacing the existing ERP system as well as offering a solution for the diverse systems used by presbyteries and congregations; creating a straightforward integrated purchase order process; simplifying the integration of data from external entities; and capturing the breadth of the organisation more effectively through a standard chart across entities. After reviewing the market, the synod chose Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central because of its integration with the Microsoft Office suite, its scalability and its cost-effectiveness.

Synod Office Chief Financial Officer, Andrea Tustin said Business Central provided a more affordable and simpler system to deploy, use and share. “Business Central is part of the Microsoft suite of products, so it’s fully embedded with Microsoft 365, which makes it more intuitive for staff to learn and use,” she said.

“Getting value for money was pivotal for us. Our main brief was to implement an affordable yet scalable system. Business Central largely satisfies those requirements. Compared to our former system, Business Central is much more cost-effective for this environment.”

The Journey: Deploying Business Central to modernise and centralise financial reporting

The synod used a competitive bidding process to choose Melbourne-based ERP specialist Evolution Business Systems to deploy and support Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. EBS was distinguished by its long record of successful Business Central deployments and the backing of an active and engaged user group of its Business Central customers.
EBS began the synod’s Business Central rollout in the second half of 2021 by deploying the system into four small pilot sites. Learning from that process, the synod expanded the project and EBS started its major deployment of Business Central in January 2022.

EBS implemented phase two of the system at four larger organisations including the Synod Office; Uniting Financial Services; the Synod Insurance Fund and the Minister Support Fund, which manages revenues and expenses for ministers across the synod.

Andrea said the major implementation went smoothly. “Although no one on the finance team except me had been through an ERP implementation project before, the project management side was great. Working with EBS has been an absolute pleasure,” she said.

“EBS was very well organised, with a structured methodology. I’ve been through a number of previous implementations, so I had my own requirements. I wanted a full-on go-live setup checklist, so my team was clear about what they and EBS were responsible for, which we worked out between us.

“Business Central is a very functional mini-ERP designed for a small to medium size entity. Business Central compares well to the system it replaced, which staff did not enjoy using and was unable to give us the reporting we needed. Since the implementation, we have been tweaking the system to make it work better for us. It’s a on-going progression.

“EBS was certainly accommodating in that process. This was a good implementation. The response times were fantastic throughout the project and, even now, accessibility to their consultants is great. The endless patience of the EBS team is incredible.”

The Outcome: Delivering Business Central to Synod entities throughout NSW & ACT

Uniting Church of Australia Synod NSW & ACT is a large and distributed organisation, including local churches, regional presbyteries and state entities. which make decisions by consensus in each area of the church’s life for the benefit of all.

The Business Central deployment is intended to modernise and centralise the synod’s financial reporting, including hopefully for its congregations and associated entities
Based on the values and history of the church, this consensus model means individual presbyteries and congregations need to opt-in to use Business Central rather than rolling it out from the top. Currently, individual entities use a range of systems including MYOB and Xero.

Andrea said the synod was promoting the benefits of Business Central to encourage its adoption by presbyteries and larger congregations. “The big plan is to roll it out to all of them, but as they are their own decision-makers, we are designing a business offering with options for use of Business Central,” she said.

“Business Central is a very scalable product. This offer will go to presbyteries and congregations. Some congregations are very small.”

The major benefits of Business Central for the synod include better value for money; its growing popularity with staff; simplified workflows for purchasing and approval processes and greater scalability for the wider church.

One user reported she was especially delighted by the ‘Import Sales Invoices’ function in ebs-plus, which extends Business Central functionality. “I just had the best experience with bulk invoice upload, something that would normally take me 40 minutes to put together and send out was completed in just 15 minutes,” she reported. “I could upload and also add multiple documents and select which ones I wanted to be emailed with the invoice. BC is fantastic!”

Andrea said this keen user acceptance of Business Central was an important benefit for the synod, “Generally, users are really enjoying the product,” she said. Andrea also said the EBS Business Central user community was “absolutely” a benefit for the synod, by allowing it to gain and share experiences and insights with comparable organisations for the benefit of all. “User groups are generally a fantastic tool,” she said.

Word of the Synod NSW & ACT’s successful Business Central implementation has already spread in the Australian Uniting Church community because Andrea was soon asked to support a “cookie cutter” implementation of Business Central for the Uniting Church Synod of Northern Territory.

Andrea said the key components of this successful deployment were accurately scoping the project and choosing EBS as a deployment partner. “Without a doubt, EBS is the best vendor I have ever worked with – and I have worked with a lot of vendors,” she said.

“We expect to save even more time as we learn more about how we use the system.”

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