Creating a ‘Single Source of Truth’ for Your Data
23 August 2016 at 8:58 am
Hot Topic: IT expert Ian Patterson offers his top tips on integrating data in a Not for Profit organisation – how to make sure every piece of relevant data is captured in the one place.
Allow me to state the obvious: IT costs a lot of money. Although it’s cheaper today than yesterday, essentially technology is expensive. The sad truth is organisations make IT more expensive by using it incorrectly and without sophistication. Old procedures stick around past their use-by date, creating an inefficient and inaccurate system.
On top of that, established organisations don’t want something that clashes with their existing workflow. Even if that workflow is known to be cumbersome. In a time-poor world we see an attitude of “if it ain’t completely, 100 per cent, irrecoverably broke – don’t fix it”.
This stagnation is furthered by an inability to actually do anything about it. The government simply does not give money towards building capacity. Organisations must find their own funding to patch up their house. And if they don’t follow a solid strategy, we often see these initiatives go to waste (we provide a framework for crafting a holistic IT strategy in our whitepaper).
Last week I met with a Not for Profit executive who told me all about how his team couldn’t agree on crucial data. Even when it came time to print their annual report there was conflict around what money was raised and how they measured impact.
The issue stemmed from the same data, entered manually, into multiple excel spreadsheets from a variety of silos. The fundraising team had their version of the truth in their spreadsheet. The finance team had their truth in theirs. This, of course, created inaccuracies and misinterpretations.
These problems tend to emerge organically. No one sets out to have their data conflicted and spread thin. It requires careful, enforced procedures early on – but most organisations only see this in hindsight.
So what if there was a way to make sure every piece of relevant data was captured in one place, departments could communicate better and everyone saves a whole lot of time and frustration (without having to start the whole thing from scratch)?
There is. We call it: creating a “single source of truth”. And with a bit of thinking and planning you can do it too.
The single source of truth is where the data is updated and maintained. As an example: employee data is updated in the HR / payroll system which then can be integrated with a rostering system.
And we do this through software integration.
Software integration is the act of synchronising core business functions such as IT, payroll, finance, human resources, rostering, time and attendance, and fundraising.
Let’s look at a mock example of a disability service provider with a system that not’s integrated.
The above is something I often see. Everything sits in separate spreadsheets, nothing talks to anything else, inefficiencies become the norm, crucial data can (and does) slip through the cracks.
Now here’s the same provider with integration:
That’s a bit better, isn’t it? Everything communicates as it should, everything is captured, everything is streamlined.
I don’t need to tell you all the benefits this would have on your organisation. I’m sure you can imagine how much more funding you could allocate towards fulfilling your promise, rather than supporting unneeded back office costs.
What I will tell you is that organisations who take the time to do this work start to see efficiencies become the norm throughout their whole operation. A smooth foundation for the team to work with has an upward effect, and a faster pace naturally develops. It’s quite remarkable.
So how can you achieve this?
The process of getting this up and running isn’t easy, but there is a process.
First, visually map out the client journey and everything that enables that journey. Actually draw it out so it looks something like the above.
Then, take a microscope to it and start asking and answering the following questions:
- Is this process the right one? What could be done more efficiently?
- Where are we seeing communication issues occur? Why are they occurring?
- What software do we currently have in place? What don’t we need and what do we?
- Where are all the places our datasets are being stored? Is there one place where could they be stored?
Answering these will paint the picture you can begin to craft a new process against. Once the business process is transparent it will become strikingly clear where information is being siloed and where it can go for universal access and input.
The questions are straight-forward but finding the right answers and implementing them is where the real work begins.
So I would recommend following the same path that we take when making improvements:
- Get the leaders into a room.
- Explore the options with a guided conversation and then prioritise the activities.
- Start with the quick wins.
- Consider what you could change in the short-term that will make a tangible difference.
- Look to the top four or five activities that will take more work but will have the most impact.
- Create a client portal for self-service, have that feed directly to your monthly reports.
- Engage your IT partner to start implementing these changes over the next few quarters.
- Devise a roadmap with them so everyone understands what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by.
Following this will see your data, and organisation overall, operate better, quicker and with less headaches. This methodology was crafted with the help of Orchard Consulting Group, who we have teamed up with to provide uncomplicated IT strategy for Not for Profits and social enterprises.
About the author: Ian Patterson is CEO of Human IT. With almost 20 years of experience in IT strategy, management and support, 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.