Dealing with Overwhelming Choice – NFP Applications
Thursday, 9th June 2016 at 9:13 am
Hot Topic: When faced with overwhelming choice when it comes to organisational applications for Not for Profits what’s required is not more options and information, but direction, writes IT strategist Ian Patterson.
Dropbox or Sharepoint? Salesforce or Zoho? Xero or AccountRight? Slack or Hipchat?
Every day I speak with organisations that are lost in a sea of options with no buoy. We live in a world with software for just about anything and that’s the problem. We scour the internet reading articles like “Top 50 CRMs” and “Nine Essential Business Applications for 2016”. But these don’t help. Not really. These articles don’t grasp the nuanced problems that we’re looking to solve with technology.
So what can leaders do when faced with the overwhelming choice?
Often in Not for Profit organisations the CFO is tasked with coming up with some options, providing a business case for the most suitable one and pitching it.
Is this a reasonable request of someone without an IT background? Someone who hasn’t needed to keep up with the changing tides of tech? I’d argue “no”.
Hiring a CIO is an option, but not something many organisations can afford, and even then, it’s not always clear what a CIO would be doing day-to-day – especially within small to medium sized NFPs.
What’s a better alternative? Clarifying your direction.
When you are faced with overwhelming choice what’s required is not more options and information, but direction. In order to move forward you must look at your strategy and clarify: what exactly are we looking to achieve, why and how. Set your direction and you’ll find evaluating and selecting the right software a relatively easy process. (To help you clarify your direction have a read of our whitepaper “The Align IT Strategic Framework”. It will provide you with a framework to craft an IT strategy for your organisation).
Setting a direction
In order to know where to invest you must have a specific, crystal clear direction pointing to where you want to end up. “A better user experience for our beneficiaries” isn’t enough. “Ability for our beneficiaries to book in sessions with their care workers after hours” is. This direction can only come from crafting a considered IT strategy.
Problems arise when an IT strategy is served as a massive 3-year endeavour. It can quickly become academic and meaningless. At the speed technology moves, the IT landscape will inevitably look different in a few years time.
These big strategies stifle agility and are often abandoned after no clear benefits are seen in the medium-term. The strategy should be practical and geared towards quick learnings.
Once you have a shorter-term (I recommend a 12 month) strategy down pat, collate a list of every initiative that you could possibly be implemented to improve the organisation, then, spend time picking the top five initiatives that will generate the most impact and focus on getting those rolled out. Initiatives like implementing a Client Information System providing access to client history and financials, or a system that automatically generates invoices based on staff rosters could do wonders for streamlining your operations.
Provided enough thought has been put into the strategy you’ll now have a very clear picture of what you want your tech to do – thus making IT proactive, not reactive. This picture can now serve as criteria with which you can effectively gauge whether an application meets your needs or not.
For the initiatives that require implementing a new application, you’ll need to find (or become) an application champion.
Managing change – finding (or becoming) an “application champion”
Implementing a new application isn’t just about putting in new software and telling people how to use it. It often comes with fundamentally changing how your team does their job. And changing that is work. You must have an on-boarding strategy.
Once you have an application that you need to implement you’ll need to bring your team along for the journey, and you need an application champion to lead the charge.
You should already have an idea on how to best enact this change within your organisation but an application champion requires three traits:
The champion must truly know and understand the technology. Dedicate the time to really explore the application. Take it for a test drive. Map out how your team or beneficiary should use it and follow that process to the letter. Try to break the process and see what happens.
Get intimately familiar with the inner workings of the application and become the source of wisdom.
Change management is often the most difficult thing one can do within an organisation. As such, many will give up after banging their head against the wall for months.
This is where you need to show grit. Team up with those who believe in the change. Ask for favours. Never stop leading by example. Guide people where needed. Ensure that things change and stay changed.
For the on-boarding to truly work you must have the seniority (and trust) to get your team to stay on board.
If this is not you, engage the best person for the job. You can still be the knowledge wizard but their ability to put their foot down and have final say will ensure the investment isn’t wasted.
You’ll greatly increase your chances of success by ignoring the temptation to run with the shiny new application that has just hit the market, or by acting on a recommendation of a “great app” from somebody that doesn’t clearly understand your business model or purpose.
To ensure that you choose the most appropriate software and that it delivers the value you are looking for, take the following steps:
- map out your business model
- invest time to clarify your IT strategy and direction
- collate a list of every initiative that you could possibly implement to improve the organisation
- pick the top five initiatives
- evaluate the software options to bring these top five initiatives to life
Implement the initiatives – one at a time, led by an application champion with effective change management capability.
About the author: Ian Patterson, is CEO of Human IT. With almost 20 years of experience in IT strategy and management, he is passionate about helping Not for Profit and for-purpose organisations create social value through IT. Human IT works to help the social sector organisations fix their internal operations and boost their social impact.