Monday, December 15, 2014

How To Tell If a Supplier's Lead Consultant is Right For You


I've written many times how I believe that one of the most important things for any database implementation is the database supplier itself. And within the supplier relationship, one of the most important relationships will be that between your supplier's 'lead consultant' and your staff. So you need to make sure that such a relationship is right for you. And one way to do that is to hold 'mock workshops' during the procurement process.

In almost all fundraising database and CRM system implementations you are going to have some sort of initial 'discovery phase'. This might be as simple as two or three days with the supplier where they take you through the options, discuss your needs and configure their system with you. Right through to several months of intense work with many workshops, software prototyping sessions, business analysis work and more.

Personally, I think that this is one of the most important parts of your implementation. Get it right and the subsequent system development will have every chance of going well; get it wrong and you're starting off down the wrong path from the word go. Not good.

So it therefore leads on naturally that whoever the supplier allocates to work with you as their 'lead consultant' has to be someone who you trust and who is right for you. That job title may go under various guises but essentially it is the person from the supplier who will lead you through the workshops, who will work with you in defining how the systems should be for you, will do a variant of business analysis of some sort, maybe even some project management, and will as a result work very closely with your staff.

So to find out if a supplier's lead consultant is good and is going to work well with your staff, one thing you can do is hold a 'mock workshop' during your database procurement. By this I mean that you should arrange a session whereby a supplier's lead consultant visits your office and leads a workshop with some of your staff in order that you can assess how that goes. This should be done in the same way that the supplier would do if this was a workshop during your actual implementation. The importance of this is not so much the subject of such a workshop, but more about the approach which the consultant takes, their connection with your staff, the confidence which they do (or don't) bring to your team, and so on. I have done this a few times and it has always been useful.

I wouldn't suggest doing it with all your potential suppliers and you need to wait until you are some way into the procurement process so that any short-listed suppliers can say who you would be working with if they did win your contract. As such, I would normally do this with, say, just the last two short-listed suppliers when we are getting close to making a decision. It is therefore one of the things we can bring into the final decision process.

And if you want to take this a step further, then don’t just ask for a mock workshop, but ask the supplier and lead consultant to then go back to their office for a few days/weeks and then return to show you what they would do with the knowledge they have gained from you. E.g. ask them to configure an aspect of their software for you based on the workshop subject, and/or ask them to show what documents they might create from such work. Don't take advantage of a supplier's time if you do do this - i.e. don't expect them to spend many man days customising a complicated part of your system - it should be just enough so that it shows they have put in some effort.

Yes this is more time and work for you and your staff, and of course for the supplier(s) too, but it is definitely time well spent. It's such a critical part of your project that anything you can do like this to try to improve the chance of success can only help.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Example Risk Register Template

In my most recent blog, I discuss the need for a risk register. But if you haven't managed one before, then where should you begin? Below, you can download the template which I start with on all my projects. Plus a few words of advice and ideas:
  • This is just an example! Just a sample template. I hope it is useful but don't just use it blindly. If it's right for you then great; but if you want to adapt it, simplify it, expand it then you should of course do so.
  • Likelihood and Impact ratings: I'm a bit of a fan of not simply saying High, Medium, Low without trying to clarify what each means. Otherwise it can be very subjective and different people can interpret such words differently. Hence why I use a key to try to clarify each level. But...
  • ... What this does mean is that I don't allocate 1,2,3 etc and thus this particular template doesn't have an 'overall risk' column where you multiply the Likelihood by the Impact; e.g. if you had a High Likelihood (and score it 3) and a High Impact (also scored 3) then multiply them together which gives you a simple 'risk factor' of 3x3 = 9. Some people like this sort of approach.
  • The Response column: is very Prince, so if you want to adapt that then go ahead.
  • Colours: I have added different sets of columns in the spreadsheet in different colours just to show a bit of structure. But once you get going you might want to make all columns the same colour and use a colour traffic light system for the individual rows.
And of course: there are many other ways of listing, recording and managing risks, and the risk register (and any template) is thus just one aspect of this. My way isn't necessarily best. There are many good ways of managing risks. And it won't make you a risk management guru overnight!
I hope this helps. If you have any questions or ideas/suggestions then please do add them in the Comments below.

Click on the image below to download the template

Monday, December 08, 2014

There is no such thing as a risk-free project - but that doesn't mean you should worry!

Risk - Onyx Edition (Ghosts of board games past) 
A few words only: I was recently contacted by a charity who had identified a number of risks with their up-coming CRM project procurement. And as a result, were panicking somewhat over what to do and how they could proceed considering everything they now knew about the risks involved.

In such instances, what is important to remember is this: there is no such thing as a risk-free project - never. Not even if you had pretty much unlimited time, money and people. Even then there will always be some risks.

But don't worry! This is not a problem. Don't panic if you identify risks - just manage them.

Identify risks, document them, understand them, understand their triggers and outcomes. Find out when they could happen in the project. Determine how likely they are to happen and what the level of impact could be. Then make a plan to mitigate them, assign someone to manage that plan and monitor it. Create a risk register and review it.

And if you haven't implemented a risk register before, then look out for my next post and I will publish the standard template which I use on all my projects.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

What now for Care, Integra, Donor Strategy...?

PlaceWorld silos 
Advanced Computer Software, the latest owners of the Care/Integra/Donor Strategy/Charisma stable of CRM software systems for charities has been sold again, this time to US private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, in a deal that values the company at £725m. So what does this mean for the charities who use said products? After all, this is now the fourth time that Care, for example, has been sold in the last 9 or so years. Can charities continue to keep faith in the software?

A little bit of history repeating
To some charities, it must seem like deja-vous. For many years, Care Business Solutions was a ‘family-owned’ company and many large charities such as Marie Curie, WWF, Amnesty, PDSA and more have bought Care, and it was and remains a sturdy system. But in the last 9 years or so, Care has been sold first to the CS Group (mid 2000’s), then IRIS (in 2007), then ACS (early 2013) and now Vista. At the same time, Charisma was sold to Systems Group who then got sold to CSG and then, well, see Care. And sadly it hasn’t been plain sailing for all clients. If you talk to charities and consultants then certainly the time under IRIS was not perceived as a happy time, and that was reflected partly in new sales.

And on each occasion, unsurprisingly, clients have been promised “development plans”, “new investment” and “stability”. I don’t know how many think they have received that.

So does this matter?
I’m an independent consultant who really tries to present both sides of any story. And so I really want to provide a balanced analysis to show the pros and cons of such changes – but on this occasion I am struggling. I can certainly say that the key products listed above are still robust and operationally sound - which is something we should never ignore - and they have to a degree been developed (witness ACS’s NG development) and some of the staff from the various incarnations have stayed on. And of course there is nothing unique in such takeovers - it happens throughout the commercial sector and other NFP CRM systems have of course been bought and sold and continued or discontinued.

But at the moment I am wondering if such upsides are outweighed by the issues and possibilities which occur with such change: first there is continuity of investment (or not); then the continuity or otherwise of strategy/approach/technology for the clients and their ability to plan; indeed, consistency all round. And it is surely unsettling for the company’s staff (and although some staff have stayed, I understand that at least one of the buy-outs mentioned above caused considerable staff turnover); and also as mentioned above, the time under IRIS did not give Care/Integra users the best experience and certainly didn’t provide many significant new fundraising database implementations.

And now…?
So I guess I should start with the hackneyed but fair phrase: “time will tell”. That said… if you were currently looking for a new CRM system for your charity then where would you look? ACS already had competitors in at least Blackbaud, Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics for their top-end fundraising solution (and more for some procurements), and thankQ for their mid to high-end NFP prospects; and their membership offerings had/have very strong competition from several Microsoft Dynamics ‘templated’ options as well as other vertical sector products.

So if a charity was to ask me what I thought was the future for Care et al then I would want to wait until we hear more from and about Vista. Basically, will it be different this time? Or will the 'acquisition tree' above continue to grow?

Monday, December 01, 2014

Integration Costs: Where to Start - and Where to Finish…?!

Link Wheel Diagram 
Integration is one of those words which can mean so many different things to different people. So for the purposes of this post, I don’t mean integration with third-party software such as Office or PAF software, but rather the need for data exchange or synchronisation between your new system and other data sources/databases. And as such, for any significant new database you will almost certainly have some integration.

As such, the sort of examples which you may therefore want to consider when integrating your database with other data sources include: receiving online donations, event registrations or any other data from your own website; data from JustGiving, VMG and other peer-to-peer fundraising websites; other supporter engagement websites (e.g. Engaging Networks); data importing/exchange with fulfilment houses; and data exporting to finance systems.

Sadly, the costs for such integrations can start to add up and they ain't necessarily cheap. So, a few key things to consider are:
  • Have you identified all your external data sources? Do so, in order that you can definitely decide on the best approach(es) for integration, so you can prioritise and of course to make sure you don't miss any critical data feeds.
  • When implementing a new CRM system, just because something was integrated in your existing (legacy) database, doesn't mean it will be easy to integrate it in your new CRM, at least not necessarily on day one.
  • Do you really need real-time integration? People often say they do, but how critical is it? The reason you need to ask is because real-time integration usually means higher costs and more complex integration
  • As such, 'batch process' integration is still more popular than real-time for most charities, and even for many corporates.
  • Custom-coded integrations are barriers to change: especially for small organisations. This is because they are more complex and more specialist to create and far more time-consuming and expensive to change later. Keep it simple for future simplicity.
  • You don’t need to make exclusive choices on integration - you could do one integration in one way (e.g. integrating your website and your database using web services) and several other integrations another way (e.g. batch imports from csv files).
  • Watch out for "integration transaction" costs when implementing APIs. If you do go down the route of using API services for integration then some systems (e.g. some cloud CRM systems) will charge extra if you go over x transactions per day. And although the starting point of charging can often seem like it only kicks-in with high volumes, a single "integration transaction" through an API is not necessarily, say, a single financial transaction (donation) from a website; i.e. using an API to add a single donation to your database might involve multiple API transactions.