Photocreo Bednarek - Fotolia

How the Australian Red Cross coped with a donation surge

The Australian Red Cross adopted Boomi’s integration platform to manage the surge in donations in response to the floods in New South Wales and Queensland earlier this year

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Asia-Pacific: CW APAC January 2023 – Trend Watch: CIO Trends

A telethon run by the Australian Red Cross to raise money following the February 2022 floods in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland brought in more than A$27m, all of which was disbursed to those affected.

Broadcast by the three commercial networks, the telethon drew in a peak load of 24,000 concurrent visitors to the Red Cross’s donations page and 1,500 simultaneous phone calls, resulting in a remarkable 11 donations per second.

With only a few days’ notice of the telethon, there was little time to scale up to meet the expected workload, according to Australian Red Cross CIO Brett Wilson.

While the organisation is gradually adopting cloud-based applications such as the Optimizely digital experience platform, it still has many legacy applications. Although they have all been migrated to Amazon Web Services (AWS), they were not designed to handle sudden and massive spikes in activity.

The Red Cross had adopted Boomi AtomSphere in 2020 to connect many of its core applications, such as Pivotal CRM (customer relationship management), TechnologyOne for enterprise resource planning (ERP), Okta for identity management and many smaller ones, that played an important part on the night.

Each time a donation was made, the overall system checked whether the donors were already in the CRM, added them if necessary, validated their address, processed the transaction through the payments gateway, and recorded the transaction in the general ledger.

In addition to integrating the various applications, AtomSphere was able to control the rate at which data flowed to ensure the receiving system was not overwhelmed. For example, the legacy CRM system can only handle around 3,000 donations per day, but the telethon resulted in 100,000 donations in a day.

“[Boomi] could hold onto those [transactions] and trickle-feed them into the legacy systems. Otherwise, we would have overwhelmed the CRM or ERP,” said Wilson – and that would have put a stop to taking donations.

Wilson said AtomSphere helped keep the various systems up and running so the Red Cross could take donations all night. “It looked seamless on the surface, but it was like a duck swimming on a pond,” he observed. “With Boomi in place, it gave us the ability to scale.”

Fortunately, it didn’t take a month (100,000 transactions at 3,000 a day is fractionally more than 33 days) to finish processing the donations, as ways were found to accelerate the process after the event so that it was completed within four days.

“What stands out to me… is that it was a genuine partnership [with] people on both sides supporting each other,” said Boomi’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Nathan Gower. “It’s rewarding to work with purpose-based organisations.”

Having to throttle ERP transactions is a common problem, said Gower, and some providers are known to block application programming interface (API) access to customers that push too much data into the system in too little time.

Conversely, Boomi can enable up to a hundredfold increase in transfer rates by taking advantage of multithreading, he added. “Not all integration platforms have the ability to do that.”

Many organisations have a similar requirement to integrate multiple pieces of software to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time, Gower observed, noting that Boomi’s approach is especially valuable in environments where there is a shortage of skills or insufficient budget to employ the number of people that would otherwise be required.

Tech teams to the rescue

Boomi was not the only technology supplier to the Red Cross that helped on the night. Levo took care of the organisation’s use of Optimizely and upsized it twice during the telethon to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, Nexon scaled up the Red Cross’s Genesys cloud-based contact centre from 25 agents to more than 300 agents. To further support the fundraising, Nexon and Genesys waived the professional service and agent fees that would normally have been charged.

Technology also helped the Australian Red Cross disburse the funds more quickly.

It received around 100,000 applications for aid. After filtering out those that did not meet the criteria or appeared fraudulent, it made almost 67,000 grants. Robotic process automation (RPA) from Automation Anywhere shaved 15 minutes from the time it took to handle each of them. That’s a total of some 16,000 person-hours, which Wilson noted was a “substantial saving”.

The benefit wasn’t simply the time saved by the Red Cross – it also got the money into recipients’ hands more quickly.

The organisation is now using RPA to administer other grants, including those under the The Australian Red Cross Family and Domestic Violence Financial Assistance Programme and those from Multicultural NSW. Thanks to this “digital co-worker”, the Red Cross is able to ramp up grant distribution without needing more staff.

The Red Cross said 100% of the donations from the telethon would go to flood-affected people with no deductions towards overheads and costs, and backed that up by publishing a PowerBI-based dashboard so donors could see where their money was going.

It “resets the community’s trust” that the Red Cross is doing the right thing, he said.

Illustrating this, Wilson said he took some calls towards the end of the telethon, and one person donated A$50 and then after some thought decided they could just about afford a further A$30 a week for the next several weeks because they were assured it would all go to people affected by the floods.

What advice does Wilson have for others? 

  • Most organisations would be unable to scale up so dramatically and quickly without help, so you need to develop strong partnerships.
  • The resulting team needs to focus on outcomes. If something goes wrong, the focus must be on finding a solution rather than apportioning blame.
  • Make sure your architecture is fit for purpose. For example, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications provide better scalability and easier integration, and may help reduce the number of different applications you are running (the Australian Red Cross currently uses 208 applications, and Wilson is working to reduce that number).

“We’re on a fairly solid path,” he said. “Everything we do is about how we can improve.”

Read more about IT in Australia

  • Australian switchboard manufacturer BE Switchcraft has rolled out a radio frequency identification system to track production jobs and streamline manufacturing processes.
  • Telstra will use Azure as a preferred cloud while Microsoft will look at boosting its capacity on Telstra’s subsea cable network in a wide-ranging deal.
  • The AskVic WhatsApp chatbot will provide culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia’s state of Victoria, with Covid-19 information and support.
  • With a strong DevOps culture, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank has been moving its most important applications to the cloud in a journey that has already reaped returns.

Read more on Integration software and middleware

Data Center
Data Management