Monday, April 18, 2011

9 Guaranteed Ways to Improve the Use of Your Database : Part 2

This is the second part of my blog on guaranteed (really!) ways to improve the use of your database. (But please do refer to my first part for a couple of caveats on the Ease, Time and Cost points...)

6. Instigate a structured training (and learning) culture

One of the most common complaints from end-users of CRM systems is that they have not received sufficient training. The training may have come from the person who’s job they were replacing, it may have come from someone else entirely who knows a bit about the system, it may come from someone who has been at the charity for years and is still following processes which are way out of date. Or they may have just been given an old, dog-eared collection of papers and told that is the user manual – or they may not have had any training at all!

If you want your database to be better then you need people to use it as it is intended. And therefore you need to train them. Properly. By people who know what the database should be doing, who know what the latest processes are, who have the time to train someone, who are happy and comfortable training someone - and, of course, training someone who has the time and inclination to learn. Being trained on your organisation’s database should be part of someone’s induction plan when they join your charity.

I also distinguish between a 'training' and a 'learning' culture: individuals should be encouraged to learn more about the system(s) they are using. This isn’t necessarily easy! Why should they bother learning something or asking more about something or wanting to improve something if it doesn’t help them with their job? So make it so that such practise does help them with their job. If they can’t do something on the database then encourage them not to remain quiet but to tell someone. If they have a good idea then get them to tell someone. The more people learn about what is possible on a database then the more they, you and the organisation will get out of it.

Ease: No technical skills, but needs Senior Management support Time: On-goingCost: Free

7. Create reports (and dashboards) your users and managers really want

If you really want to improve the use of your database, then you need to give users and managers information which they really want. So ask them what information they want, ask them what would really help them in their every-day role and with their strategic role, ask them what is most important to them and what they have always wanted to know! You might want to “manage expectations” around this by explaining that you might not give them what they want tomorrow... but you will try! You might also find that they can’t get such reports because no-one is collecting the data they want. So they can then help you rectify that.

Then create reports which they can use. And dashboards – managers love dashboards.

Ease: Needs technical skills Time: Each report might take from a day to many days!Cost: Free if you can do it internally (Otherwise you'll need to pay someone)

8. Create a Business Analyst role

This is one of the best ways you can get more out of your data and database, but it is also one of the more expensive. Human Resources always is. But what a Business Analyst (BA) will bring you to your organisation, if you don’t akready have one, might change and improve the way you do things so that they will more than pay back their salary.

Because what a good BA can do is go out to the users and discuss their needs, ask the managers what information they want, examine the procedures and processes you have, work on strategic documents with your staff, analyse data, analyse the database, produce options for change, make recommendations and help implement. They can act as the “bridge” between your database team and your users.

I realise this might sound like some “impossible creature” to some people, but really, they can be one of the most important roles in any organisation. To have someone who understands data and databases and what they can and can’t do, but can talk to your users and understand their business is gold-dust. If you find someone who can do this for you, hang on to them!

I should also say that although I use the term "Business Analyst" and define it here as a specific role, if you have someone who can do this sort of work even if they are formally called the "Database Manager" or any other similar position, then that is just as valuable. It's the skills and process which are important, not the job title per se.

Ease: Can be quite difficult to find someone good Time: Permanent roleCost: Expensive, as in you need a full-time employee on a reasonable salary

9. Get rid of any Data Ownership hang-ups

I’ve blogged about this before, so to summarise here:

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.

And anyway, it isn’t “my data”, it is the charity’s data. Start using it for the holistic benefit of the charity.

Ease: In theory easy, but you get stubborn individuals! Time: Instant to instigate, may take time for everyone to buy-inCost: Free

I hope you find all these suggestions useful. They really will improve your database if you put them into practise in a structured and considered way.

And if you have any other suggestions then by all means leave a comment below.

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