In previous article Rethinking M&E Software, we looked at how M&E software systems are still failing to achieve key data accountability goals. In this article, we offer an innovative approach that focuses on key principle. A simple, flexible and comprehensive data management solution (similar to data warehouse found in corporate IT world, but non-existent in the social sector IT solutions ). Most users in social sector IT are typically not highly IT literate. While this parallel analogy helps understand business problem, there are two main differences
a) Most users, including those in IT, are looking for lot simpler systems
b) Data sources are quite different from corporate IT (such as ERP, CRM, Order Management, HRM, etc.)
The key requirements for these systems are:
- Track results in a single data store to reduce island of data into different systems
- Real-time calculation of outcomes identified by an organization
- Beneficiary unique reporting
- Pre-defined templates for each partner and funders to generate quick reports
- Scorecard or SROI for impact evaluation
- Cloud-based integration & storage (such as Zapier) for collecting results from unstructure or qualitative data management software
Based on these requirements, there are two good alternative options.
Option 1: Cloud Platforms
During last decade there are several leading robust cloud based platform have emerged, such as Salesforce and Microsoft Azure (these are two enterprise IT solution, but there are many more).
Many organizations are already using Salesforce for much of its CRM processes and see an opportunity to expand the use of Salesforce perhaps to include other needs including monitoring, evaluation, and learning system. However, an average organization can take months customizations and large IT budget to achieve a final system. While many organizations are moving towards these platforms, many are finding difficult to use effeciently beyond their core functionalities such as CRM, fundraising tool, etc. These platforms require significant customizations. It's a non-issue in a normal corporate IT as they may have the capacity to fund these skills internally, they can build application internally or externally as they have higher technology learning curve. Social sector organizations, on the other hand, are dependent on grants based model, don't seem to have a steady investment for highly sought IT skills (unless large non-profit). As a result, they tend to struggle to come up with quality requirements. Often they have to rely on IT resources which are usually not coming from social sector and probably not familiar with M&E software.
Even after building a system, Salesforce/Azure platform is questionable from an average IT user in Social sector organization. While it is easier to store quantitative data, it is challenging to integrate dynamic narrative from unstructured data sources, qualitative results to build impactful reports.
By seamlessly integrating multiple systems into a single platform and reducing time spent on consolidating data, thereby allowing organizations to spend more time analyzing data, build impactful reporting engine that can rapidly integrate qualitative and quantitative outcome and take action. While this practice is very common in corporate IT world, it is in not common social sector IT.
Option 2: System for Progress Data & Coexist with current system
The concept of a data warehouse is very common in corporate IT. This concept is virtually nonexistent in the social sector IT except with well funded nonprofits and foundations. While we certainly do not preach the same in the social sector IT, SoPact Impact Cloud is a virtual data warehouse that simplifies data aggregation from any sources of data.
The modern impact management system should continue to coexists with any internal systems, not create another data island and provide a comprehensive and flexible way of managing evolving impact & progress data management.
Another challenge is that social sector often collects data from disconnected data sources such as qualitative systems, unstructured data sources such as excel/word, shared cloud drive and structured data stores.
A properly designed system not only provides hosting for all progress data from partners, beneficiaries or any other sources of data but also provides a simple way of querying results to meet different funding and program cycles. This system should provide historic results in a trackable database and not in islands of excels. The system needs to be designed based on modern cloud-based integration principles and online services such as Zapier, OpenFn, Twillio, Workato, etc as data sources in the social sector are located in disconnected sources. Once these data is aggregated, program manager should be able to quickly build impactful reports with simple drag & drop tools.
If this sounds like a solution that you are looking for sign-up for Impact Cloud Demo.