We believe compatibility between software systems used in the charity sector could unlock huge benefits for charities. This blog post details the issues and how we think they can be resolved.
Two issues lay at the heart of the problem, the lack of interoperability between systems and the difficulty of migration. Although these issues don't seem earth shattering, they underpin the less than ideal software decisions being made within the sector.
Let's start with defining an ideal world. Charities should be able to select a suite of software solutions to solve their requirements. The solutions should be simple to use, not include superfluous complexity and require minimal training and configuration. If the charity grows or their requirements change, they should be able to add additional software, which satisfies the additional requirements, or migrate to another solution. The selected solutions should work together to seamlessly deliver a system which is tailored towards solving the charity's specific requirements.
The current ecosystem is far from this.
Unlike the consumer software we use daily, software in the charity sector does not integrate with each other. To workaround this, charities are often left entering the same information into two systems and shouldering the responsibility of keeping them in sync, which is no easy task. Oftentimes, the answer to a specific question may require pulling data from multiple systems, as it stands today, this is either not possible or requires a lot of effort and technical knowledge to manually gather and analyse the data.
Many charities have felt the pain of software migrations as their requirements shift due to funding, growth or programme changes. Due to the lack of migration options offered, charities often sink already limited resources into manually moving data to new systems or paying for external support to perform the migration. Even worse, many charities put up with ill suited software to avoid a complex and costly migration.
To avoid these issues, there is an understandable preference towards larger systems which encompass more functionality, over smaller more specific pieces of software. The end result - software which is hard to use and does too much, resulting in excessive complexity, training and configuration. With many charities struggling with digital literacy, this is highly undesirable.
So what do we do about this?
Obviously, software developers need to be aware of these issues and build features to solve them. This means focusing on the exporting and importing of data, exposing publicly accessible integration points and defining standard data formats.
The opportunity cost of implementing these features is high, by focusing on these issues, time is lost focusing on what customers want. As such without customer pressure, it is unlikely we will see much improvement.
So for the charities reading this, if you want to see these problems solved, you need to request these features. When you are looking for new software, make sure you explore whether migration and integration is possible. For your current providers, drop them an email and request these features of them.
We will be working towards creating a healthier software ecosystem and we would love if you would join us.