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.


Steve Thomas said...

Thanks for mentioning "database management on demand" in your blog Ivan. Here is our experience:

We launched our service last year - initially for users of The Raiser's Edge, ProgressCRM and Iris Integra - and already we are working with quite a number of clients.

We expected the main interest to come from smaller users, charities and membership organisations that can't afford a full time DBA but still need the same skill set on an occasional basis. And we have a number of clients in this category. Buy also, perhaps surprisingly, we are working with some much larger organisations. Typically these have an urgent need or a discrete project but their in-house team is already fully engaged, so we work alongside them to get the job done.

It's a very flexible approach and it works well by agreeing in advance the number of hours that the client wants to commit to.

What you say is so right - the specification must be clearly defined and understood for the work to be effective - and for the relationship to be mutually beneficial. We have a one-page SLA so we all know where, how and when we will respond to each client request - it works well.

If you are interested, see more on our web site:

Philippines Outsourcing said...

Outsourcing can be a success if you can get the right people, with the right tools to successfully do the job. While it's true that some outsourcing companies are under-trained in the field of Database management, but there are some that focuses on tried and tested methods that work.

My point is, if you're an online entrepreneur, you may want to research first hand before hiring an outsourcing company.

Be prepared to know though that the right people comes at the right price- even in outsourcing.

Anonymous said...

Outsourcing is a convenient choice for business, while some services are needed. As well as small businesses and large business community often outsource their work to certain activities, when they hear that it makes more sense to hire someone as an employee.

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Alden Morris said...

In addition, an outsourcing organization can bring better control techniques to your organization than what would otherwise be available.