Our clients often tell us during operational reviews that they need new or better systems – to assist in managing resources, evaluating performance, and fine-tuning operations processes. Technology can help with these things, but it can’t replace thinking up front about the impact you're trying to have. Many organizations get bogged down measuring or reacting to what the technology tells them to measure. Poorly implemented systems can give you a whole lot of answers (in beautiful graphics) to questions you weren’t really asking, while the help you were really looking for remains elusive.
The smart project starts with the requirements. What is the organization trying to achieve? How will you know when you get there? Are there processes or resources that offer a broad proxy measure of performance? Figure out where you’re going, and two or three effective measures to test your progress on the path before you shop for technology or embark on a transformation project.
No systems solution is going to meet everyone’s needs, and many proponents of ‘plug-and play’ have been disappointed to find out that configuring a new system is almost as hard as building one might have been. But if you start with well-understood and broadly supported requirements, you will know what you’re trading off when you buy a packaged solution, and can decide whether it’s worth it.
Many of Ontario’s social service agencies are exploring pan-sector information technology services and opportunities to integrate. Before you embark on a new system implementation project (and before you pay a vendor), consider whether a clean-up of internal systems and databases, a systematic assessment of your current systems, and carefully articulated technology policy and requirements are needed first. Agencies taking this approach will know their own needs and their own data best, and be in a great position to influence province-wide initiatives. You may already have the app for that.