Home Case studies Africa Inland Mission (AIM)
Africa Inland Mission (AIM)

Transforming the digital fabric of a federated nonprofit with a new global collaboration platform

Client Africa Inland Mission (AIM)
Service areas Apps & Digital Service Development
User Research & Product Discovery
Key statistics
  • 150+
    and approximately 1,000 users were managed by Suru
  • 10+
    disparate legacy IT systems
    were replaced as a result of the work Suru did

AIM is a federated, global nonprofit mobilising volunteers and their families to field offices around the world.

Their regional offices were struggling to collaborate effectively and were being dragged down by inefficient processes and legacy systems. Suru led the whole organisation through a significant digital transformation, including the design, development and successful rollout of a next-generation platform to manage the complexities of their operations, deliver a major step forward in experience for staff and volunteers alike, and release hundreds of staff from manual work to refocus their attention on their core mission.

Designing a flexible, global HR & CRM system

Suru designed, created and rolled out a platform to organise and drive the recruitment, placement and lifecycle management of thousands of volunteers across the globe. As a cornerstone of AIM's digital transformation, the platform is a major step forward in their efficiency and effectiveness, reducing their spend on digital systems and delivering a transformative improvement to the experience of staff, volunteers and partners alike.

I appreciate how vital Suru's early planning work was. Every problem we've had has come from poor communications so I really value and appreciate what Suru have done.

Karen Lewis, International Personnel Director

Breaking free of restrictive monolith systems

AIM had tried to digitise their processes but off-the-shelf software hadn’t served them well, leaving them stuck with ‘digital paper’. The vendor of their core system — an expensive commercial HR platform — made a lot of promises but the software never lived up to the vision and was so complicated that almost no-one used it, leaving just a handful of gatekeepers across the organisation to try and keep it up to date.

As such, no-one trusted the data so workarounds and fragmented data silos sprung up. Staff had been forced to resort to hand-compiling lists of placement opportunities and available volunteers every month and coordinating logistics by email. Inter-team communications suffered, compliance was nearly impossible and duplicated work and cross-checking meant staff were spending their time doing admin rather than focussing on the core mission. Fragmentation meant governance reporting was a burden, difficult communications made it hard to stay on top of risk, and the experience of external applicants suffered and limited AIM’s ability to attract and retain the best people.


Complex Organisational Structure

AIM is a complex, federated organisation with semi-autonomous regional offices and a coordinating International Office. Designing software for such a context, let alone successfully rolling it out, is challenging.

High Staff Turnover

Many staff are themselves ‘on placement’ and turnover is high. Any solution had to be intuitive and guided even for complicated, multi-step processes — relying on extensive training and experience was not an option.

Poor Data Quality

Data quality was a serious problem — no-one really trusted what their systems were telling them so had to spend hours collecting and cross-referencing information by email — and previous systems had failed to solve the data problem because they didn’t actively drive users to keep systems in sync.

Disparate Regional Workflows

Regional offices had very different ways of working and incompatible processes. Significant change management would be required long before thinking about the tech, but different regional offices are working in very different contexts so naïve standardisation would never have worked; any solution had to support collaborative processes without forcing everyone to do things the same way.

Key Irregular Users

The global platform, whilst critical, was never going to be where the majority of staff spent most of their time day-to-day so a system would need to be extremely intuitive for those using it irregularly.

Flexible Model Required

AIM works in highly complex domains — recruitment and vetting; multi-variable matching of people to placements; the logistics of safely moving families around the world — and things in the real world never happen ‘by the book’.

Modernise, simplify, unify

AIM’s dream was to have a single, trusted repository of all key information to help everyone collaborate more efficiently, reducing the time for applicants from first application to arrival on the field. They needed to de-risk the effects of staff turnover and help all staff drive processes properly and wanted to modernise the experience for applicants and teams, especially the younger generation. And they wanted to reduce expenditure on I.T. systems that weren’t delivering a return on investment.

What did we do?

A few attempts led by internal staff, and later by traditional software consultants, had failed to gain traction having gotten bogged down in the sheer complexity of the task. It was clear AIM needed the help of an experienced team to navigate the project — Suru Partners brought that experience as well as the design and technical expertise necessary to guide AIM to a successful outcome. Here’s what we did:


Discovery & change

So many software consultants and vendors start with a predefined solution in mind, but we always take the time to really understand the organisational context, needs and challenges. For AIM we needed to understand not only what their vision was but what it would take to make it happen.

By engaging all the regional teams and staff at every level we helped AIM realise that even the best system of record keeping wouldn’t deliver their vision. They needed a platform carefully designed to guide their people through collaborative processes.

Suru co-designed the processes AIM teams would need to achieve their goals, identifying which areas needed consistency and which should be allowed to diverge, and strategies for supporting these processes in software. We guided staff through the process of change, setting them up to successfully adopt new ways of working, with an outcome-oriented view of success, understanding that the goal was to make teams more successful, not simply build yet another digital system.

The process was probably the most informative thing I’ve done since working with AIM for the last 8+ years.

Sara Cola, Benefits Coordinator

We designed a target system architecture and, crucially, stress-tested it with real data and journey scenarios to verify the design could handle the complexities of the real world, not just simple ‘happy path’ examples, and iterated until it was a good fit for teams’ mental models by running user prototyping. This was a highly-practical design process, grounded in reality, rather than software architecture from an ivory tower.

Even the best digital systems don’t by themselves guarantee the data they contain is accurate. Suru went beyond the initial system brief and designed features that actively gathered updates from users and surfaced stale data to managers rather than naïvely assuming teams would remember to update the system without prompting.

Through the early stages we developed strong buy-in from users across all regional offices and at every level by including them in deep user research, avoiding the common mistakes which lead to ill-fitting systems that fail to deliver a return on investment.


Design & Development

Armed with a deep understanding of AIM’s needs, an informed strategic plan and highly engaged stakeholders we began the technical work.

Suru’s technical architects designed the data architecture and system design, utilising an appropriate blend of technologies that would keep costs low and complexity manageable, and ensuring the platform solution was appropriate for AIM’s future budget and technical capabilities.

We developed a roadmap of development which could be deployed in stages to realise value quickly. Although the project was a significant, multi-year programme with many interdependencies and complexities the first modules were deployed into production within the first 6 months.

We actively involved AIM teams in the design process with UX testing and integration happening regularly. We didn’t assume our first design would be right; we took a product development approach (uncommon in enterprise IT) allowing iteration and improvement that led to a well-fitting solution.

Suru actively engaged with 150 stakeholders, as well as an ultimate set of a thousand users.

Stakeholder management continued to be a key responsibility for Suru’s programme manager.


Stakeholder management & rollout

Suru managed the platform’s interconnected network of users and tenant organisations, thinking about the interactions between them and leading the platform evolution to satisfy disparate stakeholders who wanted to drag it in different directions.

Suru was responsible for actually getting the platform to be live and in use, not simply for designing and building it.

This meant significant change management work, helping regional office teams understand how their work would fit with the new platform and, sometimes, change how they’d always done things to utilise the system to the fullest extent and realise the project’s desired efficiency gains.

By acting as the bridge between users’ needs and the system design, translating their context and day-to-day activities into actually using the system, Suru took a massive burden of change management and stakeholder management away from AIM themselves — no need for a full-time project team within AIM.

Since inter-organisational collaboration is such a key aspect of AIM’s work, Suru facilitated user testing scenarios across multiple teams ensuring critical parts of business processes didn’t get lost “in the gaps” between teams.


Ongoing product development

No successful technology stands still, and AIM continues to evolve to meet new challenges. Suru now coordinates the programme of iteration, hearing feedback and ideas from users, understanding how they’ll affect everyone else, merging those ideas together and rolling out improvements.

Suru rolled out significant new features in a matter of days or weeks.

It’s said that no technology design survives contact with reality, and the real world regularly threw up scenarios that no-one within AIM had considered. Suru’s ability to take new ideas or issues very swiftly through the process of problem understanding, solution design, validation, development and rollout meant teams weren’t hampered during the critical early adoption phase.


A global system, successfully facilitating cross-office collaboration and process automation where previous projects had failed.

Multiple manually-updated systems and spreadsheets consolidated into a single, always up-to-date platform.

Increased confidence in system data meaning less reliance on time-consuming workarounds.

A major leap forward in the experience for external users, improving AIM’s ability to recruit and retain.

Harmonisation of regional processes allowing governance insight that was previously inaccessible.

Plenty of engineering effort went into not only creating the platform but setting up the architecture and integrations around it that enable resilience and rapid evolution.

Single sign-on using Azure Active Directory.

Multilingual interface.

Scalable and Agile System Architecture

Well-separated system design composed of loosely-coupled modules making it easy to add or remove whole business processes and change one part without breaking other parts. Our architects designed the boundaries of the technical system to mirror the natural boundaries within the organisation, a key strategy for long-term maintainability.

Seamless Cloud Vendor Portability

Deployed on Azure kubernetes meaning it’s portable across cloud vendors.

Rigorous Testing for Every Code Commit

A modern CI/CD pipeline, fully testing every code commit.

Capturing Business Requirements

A test-first approach ensuring business requirements are captured in automated tests before a single line of code is written.

Extensible API Ecosystem for Seamless Integration

An external API allows for deep integration with regional tools such as form builders, websites, account systems, LMS and ERP. We chose an event-first architecture to make it trivial for regional I.T. staff to develop integrations that react to changes in the platform. These considerations build the foundations of a platform ecosystem that all organisations within AIM can build on and extend.

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