Software Isn’t Magic

As organizations begin to recognize that data and evaluation are imperative for program development, they are sometimes tempted to look for a quick, silver bullet approach to data collection.  In the final blog of our Conquering Data series, we want to caution against the urge to purchase the hottest new software in an attempt to solve your data problems without knowing exactly what you are getting into. In a nutshell, software isn’t magic.

Over the years, we’ve seen many organizations try to tackle evaluation by purchasing a piece of software, instead of creating a comprehensive evaluation plan. They envision software to be a thought-free “set it and forget it” solution. This is never the case, but it’s hard to blame organizations or individuals for expecting this – software vendors do a great job selling their products as such!

Unfortunately, organizations often make these purchases and end up feeling like they have wasted their money and not gotten what they ultimately need. This occurs, in part, because many software vendors market their systems as user-friendly, and nonprofits may not have the internal expertise to adequately test those claims before purchase.  Further, vendors may set unrealistic expectations about the amount of staff time typically required to launch new software systems. As a result, many organizations are unprepared to devote the staff resources necessary to implement new software successfully.

Before making a software purchase, we strongly recommend that you fortify your internal evaluation strategy first, and consider the following questions:

Are the right processes in place? If you don’t have a well-thought out evaluation and data collection plan, including key data elements you need to collect and who will collect it, you probably aren’t ready for new software.

Will this software meet your organization’s needs? Make sure you have a good understanding of what the software can do, as well as any limitations. Provide the vendor with a detailed, written description of how your program works to ensure it can track service provision for each client. Create a written analysis plan to share with the vendor as well to make certain they are aware of your reporting requirements. It’s also important to understand the amount of support the vendor will provide to assist with troubleshooting the new software until it is fully functional, as well as the additional cost of any such support.

Do you have the right people in place to support new software implementation? You will need to appoint at least one staff person to oversee software implementation, and consulting resources may also be helpful to support the process. It’s important to select someone who is extremely detail-oriented and interested in learning how to use the software in order for them to be successful. If you are already short-staffed, or staff are overwhelmed with their current responsibilities, it might not be the right time to take on a new initiative.

Software can be a powerful tool for your organization, and if handled properly it can provide impressive insights and outputs. To ensure new software implementation is successful for your organization, make sure you have clarity about what you need and the capacity to support the new tool once it has been purchased. Otherwise, your organization could end up wasting valuable time and money on a software solution that doesn’t work.