Get those IT waggons rolling, urges John Tate, but be careful with the route you choose.
Since selling the IT company I was running, I have had a little more time to indulge my non-work interests. Something I am slightly embarrassed to admit is that I enjoy watching old Westerns on TV.
I have read a bit about the early years of the US. The romantic portrayal of the Wild West is highly divorced from the reality. Indians were not in the main the ‘baddies’; life was incredibly tough and lonely; and people struggled to eke out a meagre living.
Step forward to the twenty-first century and a new frontier has opened up – a technology frontier of new media and its application to fundraising and contact management.
Last month I went to the Institute of Fundraising annual IT conference. There is an explosion of new products coming onto the market. Vendors talked up their latest and greatest offerings, including new ways of raising money via Facebook, Twitter, and your website.
However, case studies from charities themselves repeatedly emphasised the difficulty of implementing a new system and the huge challenges along the way.
Many charities are thinking of making the migration to new technologies. Waggons are being looked at and supplies (budgets) costed, with the lure of a great new adventure lying ahead.
Most organisations struggle horribly with their customer customerrelationship- management (CRM) databases, so there is a strong attraction in a new system.
The biggest single problem is usually data integration. Multiple records are invariably held about individual donors. This can lead to inaccuracies and a high cost of maintenance. New fundraising tools create fresh contact data – and it is a real challenge to add this information to your core systems.
A lot of the debate about potential change focuses on the new technology. Should you look at an ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ product from a new supplier which is often not fully adapted to the specific needs of a charity – but which has all the technology bells and whistles? Or should you stick with a tried and tested ‘legacy’ solution? Can you bolt-on something additional to your current system to give you the new features you require?
These are good questions to ask. But (and this is a very big but) you need to be aware that the success or failure of your investment is likely to largely depend on your ability to manage the change in the way you work as a result of your investment in your new systems – rather than the selection of the technology itself.
So, for the experienced accountants, this is a reminder that little has changed, and for the fresher talent here are some golden rules to take to heart:
- Recognise the hard work required to install a new CRM system. Cutting corners rarely works. I have seen organisations allocate 15 per cent of their staff full-time to a CRM implementation. If you do not have the budget or internal resource available, scale back the project – or don’t do it;
- You can often get more out of what you have already got in place – for example, through staff training and improving your current processes. Make sure you look very carefully at this option;
- New technology may look great, but suppliers have a habit of overselling their offerings. Make sure it does exactly what you want, and really give it a good ‘thrashing’ before you commit to a purchase;
- Make sure you get buy-in within your organisation from the key people, and their teams on the project. Consult and communicate with rigour; and
- Don’t forget about the dataintegration issues. Take the time to really understand how a new solution will help you with these challenges and exactly how your new processes will work.
Much like the old Wild West has changed beyond recognition; the IT systems of the future will look very different from those of today. Make sure your own journey towards the new technology frontier is a safe one, and that you do not fall victim to the many perils along the way.
John Tate is a business consultant, IT adviser to CFG and a visiting lecturer at Cass Business School