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    Posted August 1, 2011

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Equity Rebuilds Its Core Membership and Contracts Information System

System Redesign Will Streamline Numerous Internal Operations, Improve Services

For almost two years, Equity has been building a vast, new enhancement to its information technology infrastructure that will radically streamline internal operations for the 49,000 member Association. The new, state-of-the-art system will be launched this fall and will vastly improve the way various Equity departments interact with each and the membership at large.

AEA's Communications Department checked in with National Director of Information Technology, Doug Beebe, to see how this massive project is going and learn more about the new system.

What is your role in this project?

As the National IT Director at Equity for almost 14 years, I was the logical person to initiate and oversee this project. I inherited the system we are replacing, so I have long observed its functionality and the eventual need for an upgrade. This is a journey in information gathering and analysis, political juggling, brainstorming, breaking, fixing, and testing. A lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.

It was important to me that this not be an exclusive IT project, so an internal design team was formed - composed of a creative and talented mix of technology, membership, and contract administration staff -- to help lead the project. In addition to my own team of IT professionals, I am very lucky to have Karen Nothmann, Joe deMichele, John Fasulo, Tom Kaub, David Thorn, Russell Lehrer, and Joan Glazer by my side. If you bump into any of them at Equity - thank them for their tireless work.

What is the scope and size of the project?

A good information system reflects the work of its organization. This project is the first phase of enhancing our core Membership and Contract Administration systems. These systems track and manage our 49,000+ members, their status with the Union and their employment in the Theatre. It is a major overhaul, moving to a web browser interface from a mainframe-type system. We have also migrated our Accounting system to a new platform that will communicate with the core system.

What necessitated these changes ?

The rapid change in technology has impacted almost all aspects of our daily lives. The same is true of Equity. When I became the IT Director in the late 90's, we were introducing email and a public web site as "new" technology. Although we've expanded many services over the years, the core membership database has reached the end of its life cycle. The new system will offer more flexibility, rapid development, improved integration with other technologies, and the ability to facilitate communication and business process workflow. I guess that's a lot of technical talk to say that we are building a more modern, efficient solution to help us manage our members and their work.

What process did you go through to determine what kind of system Equity needs ?

Companies often make the mistake of focusing exclusively on the technology itself and forget the most important part: the people who use the system. That was our starting point. Working with our Business Systems Analyst, Karen Nothmann, I conducted extensive internal interviews with staff in every office to gather feedback and ideas. We also sifted through hundreds of emails we've gathered over the years from members, especially regarding our Members Only web portal services. Some of the key technology questions involved determining what platform we would use, whether we would host the system in-house or through a provider, and whether we would hire outside developers to assist in the design and implementation.

After writing an in-depth RFP (Request for Proposal), and completing an extensive selection process, we decided to adopt a Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform, to bring the system in-house, and to partner with Broadpoint Technologies for development. Broadpoint has extensive experience with other unions, including the AFL, and has proven to be a terrific asset.

How many departments does this effect ?

This project is all about managing our members and their employment, so the system will affect our entire staff. Because the current Membership and Contracts system had limited flexibility, many fractured solutions developed over the years. The new system will help consolidate these solutions and offer a single, comprehensive backbone for all of our business processes.

What impact will this have on overall member services for the Union ? What improvements will be most apparent?

The more efficiently our staff performs, the better the membership is served. That efficiency may be realized through improved communication between staff and members, workflows to guide the staff through our many business processes, and streamlining those processes through a more intelligent technology platform. By bringing the system in-house, we also hope to reduce the large price tag of hosting through a provider.

On a more visible level, we will be taking credit cards over the phone or in person, offering paperless billing and Equity News, new online Member and Employer Portals, and self-managed email subscriptions.

You mentioned that this is Phase I. What's coming up in the future ?

An information system is constantly changing. It must adapt to the goals of the Association, our members' needs, and the World at large. But change is difficult for most organizations, and resources limited. So this phase is focusing on our core business processes. Future enhancements include: a re-design of CastingCall, our job search engine; expansion of our National Council and Board management system, and the expansion of both our Member and Employer web portals. This includes online payment and report submission by employers, electronic contracts, and more. Our work is never done, but I couldn't be more proud serve our Membership by helping Equity use technology in an effective, efficient way.

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