Many nonprofit organizations spend a lot of money on information systems, but do not get a lot out of them. There are a variety of reasons for this, but foremost among them is that information systems are frequently chosen to meet a particular set of prioritized business requirements, which become the focus of the initial implementation. As time passes, one or more of several conditions can emerge.
- Secondary priorities not met during the initial implementation remain unaddressed, even if the information system has the capabilities to meet those requirements
- Requirements change as the organization itself changes over time, but are never formally considered relative to information systems as operated
- The information system vendor releases new features or improvements that could provide additional value to the organization, but those releases may not reach the staff who could use and benefit from them
If these conditions remain unaddressed for a prolonged period, the organization may find that its information systems become increasingly less effective in supporting business needs.
To remedy this problem, I recommend that organizations conduct a review at least once per year to determine if business requirements or the information systems have changed. This can be an internal or external assessment.
To demonstrate the benefit of taking this measure, I’ll provide two brief stories from recent client engagements. The challenges present in each would have been addressed within the context of the recommended annual review.
Story 1: Accounting Efficiency Improvement
In a review of an accounting system, an employee learned that a frequently repeated task, taking nearly two hours per repetition, could actually be completed in less than a minute with just a few clicks. The feature supporting this efficiency had been available in the system for multiple full version releases, but because the organization had not conducted regular reviews, the feature went unnoticed. The employee had been performing the task in the inefficient manner for two years. This employee is no Luddite—she is an able and willing user of technology. She simply didn’t know that the feature was available to address her need.
Story 2: Learning Management System Redo
Frustrated with their learning management system, a client hired us to perform a selection process for a replacement system. During the selection process, we learned that information system already in use by the organization possessed all of the features needed.
Why wasn’t the client aware of these features? As it turns out, the vendor released new features “turned off,” allowing top-level systems administrators to introduce new features to the business on a schedule that made most sense to the organization. Unfortunately, the in-house administrator did not know this part of the administrative interface. By the time we conducted our assessment, there was so much emotional baggage associated with the incumbent system that it was not considered as a solution candidate despite meeting all the requirements.
Bottom Line: Getting More Out of Your Information Systems Requires Annual Reviews of Features and Processes
This can be in-house or an external assessment. This review should be conducted regularly with the teams that use the software, and should be an integral part to begin any new software selection process. Do not rely on your vendor to make you aware of new features—be proactive, and enable your Information Systems users, trainers, and HR to facilitate and reward staff who utilize the software to its full potential.
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Ready to have a conversation about your software selection process? Or perhaps you are looking for an assessment and roadmap to ensure your organization is considering software investments with long term strategic value. Whatever your nonprofit technology consulting needs, Build is here to help.