Sam Vos, director of Connect Consulting shares a few practical questions that non-profits can ask consultants to steer their organisations towards successful information management system implementation.

The good news is that there are a number of things that non-profits can do to improve their chances of a successful information system implementation.  It boils down to good organisational analysis. A good information management consultant should help a non-profit to unpack the following issues so that the information system is designed to answer questions:

Do they ask about your mission and about your theory of change?

This need not be the mission of the entire organisation, it could be the mission of a single department that needs to improve their system (e.g. the marketing team needs a better system to keep track of stakeholder engagements or the fundraising team needs to keep track of donor reporting). Whatever the scope of the project, the consultants should ALWAYS understand your objectives, i.e. what you are hoping to achieve with the current project. If they lead a first implementation by selling you the latest feature of the technology rather than listening to the client’s needs, we would advise to steer clear.

Are they thinking through how the information will get into the system i.e. are they paying attention to methods?

Information systems don’t generate data by themselves, people feed them information. Many consultants (and even some organisations alike) are so excited about the technology that they forget to think about how the information will get into the system in the first place. Practical things like, who will do it, when, how often etc. are crucial considerations in designing a good information system.  So too are things like logical page layouts and sequence of events. As much as possible a system should use the language that the organisation already uses e.g. if you refer to your beneficiaries as clients, your system should do so too. If you refer to your donors as supporters, your system should not call them something else. New systems should denote an improvement in graphics and logical presentation of information but the more familiar a system feels to their users, the faster the adoption would be.

Are they giving you reports that give you a bird’s eye view of the important processes in your organisation? i.e. are they dealing with the metrics?

Consultants should help their clients to create reports that reflect the current activity that is captured in the system. This is probably one of the greatest advantages of implementing a modern information system. Many organisations forego the blessing of having information that can be extracted for a report at the click of a button because they are so used to not having them (thanks to the manual systems that they are used to). A good consultant will help their clients to consider how the data will be shown in a report and will also consider good frequency to pull that report and distribute and communicate it to the appropriate audience.

Other factors to consider would of course involve exploring the capacity on both sides to undertake the project at this point in time.

On the consultant’s side one has to ask if they have the technical know-how to deliver the vision that they proffer. Have they got examples where they successfully linked the organisation’s mission to methods to metrics? Equally on the client’s side, they have to consider if they have carved out time to invest in the implementation process? In our experience it normally takes 3-4 months to complete a big information system implementation. During this time there is normally weekly interaction between the consultants and we find that the more input the non-profit gives, the richer the end result.

The final thing to consider is whether you have senior management buy-in?

We understand that everyone is a little bit averse to change but successful implementations CAN improve everyone’s work experience. Having buy-in and support from senior management is crucial to ensure a successful implementation because people will have to make time to articulate requirements and expectations and then to review draft versions of the system. Our clients often put together a small committee of experienced managers that can all give us input on the system’s design that represent user’s actual system needs.

By looking for consultants that understand these aspects of system design, you are sure to improve your results.

About the Author: 

Sam Vos is the Director at Connect Consulting which was founded in 2010 to help non-profit organisations implement Since inception, it has helped numerous organisations ranging from small non-profits to large global pharmaceutical companies to complete successful information systems implementations.

Additional read:

Navigating the minefield of information system implementations for non-profits.