Behind the Bat Helpline


Bat Conservation Trust logoWho are they?
BAT CONSERVATION TRUST.

Where are they?
A national organisation.

What do they do?
 “We work on a number of levels to create a better world for bats.”

How big are they?
Around 40 staff.

What did they receive?
Microsoft SharePoint Server Enterprise Edition.

The outcome?
Real-time online statistics and graphs, amongst other upgrades.

With up to forty staff at peak periods, and offices in London, Scotland and Wales, the Bat Conservation Trust is larger than many wildlife-conservation organisations. Boasting TV presenter Chris Packham as its President and ex-England cricket captain David Gower OBE as patron, the charity is well-supported, with thousands of volunteers helping on various projects across the UK.

Bat Conservation Trust_Pip In Flight
 Photographer: Hugh Clark
Image courtesy of Bat Conservation Trust

“It’s been very well run, and the charity is very good at making the most of what it has,” praises Martin Newman. Martin is an external consultant – an IT professional of thirty years’ standing – who has helped the Trust over the years to develop an IT infrastructure that has kept it ahead of the game in this area.

“One of the Trust’s roles is to run the National Bat Helpline, funded by the Natural England government agency and others, and this is where many of the staff are based. It’s extremely well-used – they can manage well over 100 cases a day during peak times,” he says.

Bat Conservation Trust_Helpline
Image courtesy of Bat Conservation Trust

These cases range form personal concerns merely requiring reassurance through to issues concerning building work and planning permissions with considerable amounts of money at stake – the helpline staff can point people in the direction of professional advisors, or deploy local volunteers to investigate and deal with some practical issues Reactions to bats can be very varied, Martin laughs. “Its great to get callers saying ‘I’ve found some bats; they’re wonderful – how do I get some more?’ but some people are genuinely concerned about them, and the protection afforded by the law can require development work such as house extensions be modified or delayed with the inevitable stress that causes.”

The helpline staff need systems that enable them to record the necessary information with the minimum hassle. “We have to pass an enormous amount of information back to Natural England – which is one way that SharePoint comes in,” he says.

The Enterprise edition of Microsoft’s suite came as a donation to the charity via the CTX programme. “The standard version is good, but the Enterprise edition allows us to do a number of things very easily – for example simply integrating our databases with Excel,” Martin says. “I’m not sure that many small charities will have this edition – the full price is a couple of thousand pounds but we got it for a small admin fee.”

“With it, we can extract statistics to display live on our intranet pages – for example, we can keep track of peoples’ most frequently asked questions. And this means that we can keep the important stuff at the forefront of peoples’ minds here – in effect it gives us an internal marketing tool.”

“SharePoint’s Enterprise Edition is unique in that it lets us take live data, then use Excel to present it in any number of ways. To get quite complicated graphs on to a web page is actually quite hard – SharePoint simplifies this immensely.”

Martin’s experience gives him a perspective on how the inclusion of high-level products such as SharePoint on the CTX scheme can benefit innovative charities, his view being that it’s helping to make things ‘practically’ rather than ‘technically’ possible for organisations with a knowledgeable IT team behind them.

“Much of what SharePoint offers could be done in other ways,” he argues. “The difference is that without it you would need a substantial amount of bespoke programming. Now, packages like SharePoint can deliver certain things very quickly – they make it easy for an organisation, and give the users a nicer front end. Getting hold of the software from CTX was very, very easy, and it has allowed us to do new things in a much more convenient way.”

 
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