Thursday, April 29, 2010

How to Manage Software Presentations During a Procurement Process: Part 1

When you manage a procurement process for new software, it is highly likely that will involve presentations from prospective suppliers. So, how should you approach such a process, how can you manage such presentations and what questions should you ask at the presentation? In this two-part blog, I will provide some thoughts to this.

One approach I have started to use much more with my clients in a procurement process is a series of pre-demo meetings. We invite each short-listed supplier who will ultimately be giving a presentation to come to the charity's office several weeks before the presentation and spend up to, say, half a day each (longer if you like and you can spare the time) with the (key) users and managers of the charity to find out more about their requirements. I am assuming that you have already created a Statement of Requirements or Invitation to Tender document of some sort and that the supplier has already seen that, so they shouldn’t be working 'from cold' at such meetings.

The benefit of such meetings are two-way: for the supplier, they can get a much better feel as to the key needs and wishes of the client (suppliers tend to really like this) and for the charity, they get to meet the supplier and understand how they might work with them if they did get the job. I always ask the suppliers to bring not just a salesperson to such pre-demo meetings, but also a member of their staff who the charity would actually be working with if they won the contract; for example, an implementation manager, support staff, client liaison etc. It also means the supplier should be able to tailor their subsequent demonstration of the software much more to the charity's specific needs, rather than just doing a generic demo.

These meetings should be part of the whole procurement process and it is a great way for you to get to know more about a supplier and how it works. It does mean that your staff will need to commit much more time to the whole procurement process, because they could be having the same sort of meeting with 3 or 4 suppliers, but procurements are often a very important process and you may be spending tens of thousands of pounds (even hundreds of thousands), so that extra bit of time the staff do spend can be well worth it. My experience is that the end-users tend to quite like such meetings and feel involved when asked to give their feedback on the suppliers. After all, it is all very well getting some fantastic software but if you feel you can't work with the supplier because of their attitude/approach etc then it is going to make any implementation much harder.

In the second part of this blog I will discuss how I manage the actual presentation from the suppliers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The next time someone says, But They're My Records...

Many charities are now moving away from "data silos" and the concept of "owning one's records". Which is great news and about time. So the next time one of your users/colleagues/staff says to you, "I don’t want my contacts to be stored on a central database because I don't want anyone else to be able to contact them…" then this is the response I recommend you give them:

The fundamental problem with this is that if they don't store their contacts on the central database (and instead, for example, keep them stored in Excel) then, in actual fact, it will be impossible for them to stop anyone else contacting them - assuming that such contacts have - or will have - other relationships with your organisation which are already stored on the central database. For example, if your user is the events manager, then if any of their event registrants are also donors, volunteers, prospects, on other mailing lists etc and as such they are already stored on the central database, then how can the events manager stop them being mailed? No-one using the central database will know that they are also on the separate events spreadsheet. Moreover, they will probably need to be contacted sometimes by other users anyway.

Of course, you could introduce a system whereby you check both systems for duplicate records and do file transfers between the systems, and thus flag the central database with some sort of mailstop, but that can be potentially complex, unreliable, definitely time consuming, will invariably carry a cost of some sort (even if it is internal costs only), and it will immediately go out-of-date unless the routine is constantly repeated. And even then it isn't going to be definitely 100% reliable (e.g. because different systems may store name fields differently, have different coding systems, even have different addresses but for the same person, or their data structure may be updated in the future without the other system being aware of it).

The best way to manage this situation is to store all such records on the central database and then to introduce policies and procedures to manage a structured communication policy. And, if necessary, appropriate security to ensure that only appropriate staff can view/update specific records or entities within such records.

In addition, more and more, organisations are understanding that the concept of "my records" is not helping the charity holistically. It is against the central ethos of CRM and the benefits that can bring. Of course, particular individuals may need to be managed by one/some specific staff, and relationship management should be at the core of any system and CRM (SRM) itself, but it is equally or even more important that NFPs do know all their constituencies and the people who connect with them. The days of individual data silos should, thankfully, be numbered.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How technology can be at the heart of supporter care

There has always been a synergy between databases/technology and supporter care, but it seems to me that this has become a particularly hot topic for charities. Charities are realising that not only do they need to be efficient but they also need to show they are being so, to compare their policies against best practice and to give supporters the best customer support possible. And surely technology and databases can and should help with this; whether it is something as basic but as important as receiving and processing donations, right through to using supporter feedback to really drive your future fundraising strategy and operations.

So it is poignant that the Institute of Fundraising Technology Group are incorporating a dedicated 'Operations' stream in their forthcoming conference on May 13th this year. (I feel at this point that I should declare an interest and say that I am on the Technology Group committee, but as we are a non-profit making group and my interest is purely to raise interest so we can help more charities, then I feel it's okay to be blogging about this!) We actually held an evening seminar last year on outsourcing and data processing and sold out the event, so we know how just how important people consider the subject.

The conference is therefore going to have individuals from Unicef discussing 'The journey to transform our supporter service from efficient processing to successful soft sell Supporter Service Centre', Age UK talking about 'Using supporter and client feedback to inform Charity strategy', and Kings College London reflecting on 'How is operational support enabling successful fundraising?'; plus sessions on ensuring your online donations are 3D secure, integrating and automating online giving and more.

So if this is of interest to you then come along. The whole day is a chance to network with like-minded colleagues from other charities and you even get a free wine reception in the evening!

Visit the IOF Technology SIG web site for all the info and I’ll see you there!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why Not Outsource All Your Database Management?

The role of Database Manager can be a tough role to fill, especially for organisations who use the more sophisticated fundraising and membership database packages such as Raiser's Edge, IRIS, ThankQ, Progress and many more. You need someone who is not only technically adept but, ideally, someone who also understands your charity's business requirements, who can ask questions and who is able to work pro-actively to help support your database and associated systems.

So I'm wondering if there is an argument as to whether this role could be completely outsourced? Why should you as a charity have to recruit and manage a database manager when there might be a company or individual who could do the job as well or better and potentially at the same or lower cost? After all, many other activities both in and outside technology are outsourced, from IT support and hosting databases to marketing and even HR.

Indeed, outsourced database management has been something which data bureaus have already provided for some years, sometimes admittadly because the databases they have created have been so complex or inflexible that only they could understand them, but sometimes because it made complete sense to the charity to let them do this.

The key would be to find someone who could really understand your fundraising or business requirements but still be able to provide excellent database management. But with specialist companies, database suppliers themselves and some individuals, this would be exactly what they could offer. You would need to determine exactly what you wanted them to do: is their role simply to maintain the structure and data integrity, security and finance codes, or would they actually run queries and write reports, do segmentations and help with mailings, run Gift Aid claims, do data loading, review and write processes and so on. Is it really possible that your fundraisers could simply use the database to just look-up records, run the actual reports, do some basic analysis on donors and prospects?

Some charities clearly think so. Médecins Sans Frontières are renound for their outsourcing, and consultancy, Purple Vision have introduced their 'database management on demand' service for this precise service; and a number of fundraising and membership database suppliers now offer such a service on their own propietary databases too. In fact, on the Database Outsourcing page of my web site, I list another 10 organisations who offer at least some elements of this approach.

But you do need to consider everything very carefully: you would absolutely need a tight SLA (Service Level Agreement), tight data protection contracts, a well-defined scope for the work they are and are not doing, and full clarity on costs. Depending on your needs, it might make sense to have a fixed price contract for specific services or to charge by the hour/day.

But the benefits can be great. A knowledgeable and instantly available person to support you who is (should be) a specialist, (potentially) contractable accountability, potentially lower costs - although I realise that is very much debatable and dependent on the specific contract (e.g. especially with economies of scale for the outsourcer, if their specialist skills mean less time is needed per task, no NI/employee costs etc) - and, as harsh as this sounds, if it doesn't work out, then providing you have considered your contract up-front, then you could still get rid of them for an alternative (as much as this would be a bad thing to have to do).

Let me know if you have succeeded or failed in any such venture.