An ‘off-the-shelf’ information management system is a software package that you can buy to help you with your information management, including recording service data. These software packages can often work with (‘interface with’) other software packages that you have.
Hint: buying an off-the-shelf software package is only the start. You need to have policies and procedures in place to support your organisation’s IT use, you need to train staff and you need to work out what recordkeeping tools you will use.
Here's a guide on how to decide what off-the-shelf software you should buy.
Do some background research on your organisation
You need to work through quite a few steps to decide that an off-the-shelf system is right for your organisation. Make sure you are clear about what information you want to collect and how you are going to collect it (see How to develop an outcomes measurement plan and read How to use Information Technology to improve your outcomes monitoring and reporting).
This How-To steps you through your decision-making and provides handy links to help you do an ‘IT health check’ and write an IT plan for your organisation. This will help you make a choice based on your real needs, not what you think are the features of a product you are looking at.
Write your business specification
You need to work out what you want your new system to do. Write a list or description of the information you want your system to collect and store, and how the pieces of information link to each other and how you will use them . Write a list of requirements you want your system to have and divide them into ‘must haves’, ‘should haves’ and ‘it would be nice to haves’. (This is called a ‘system specification’.)
Hint: When you are writing your business specification, try and anticipate what your future needs will be. This is called ‘future proofing’.
Do some background research on the off-the-shelf options
Talk to other services about the off-the-shelf systems they are using. You can do this through your networks, or through the bulletin boards and blogs on websites like ImproveIT (an ACOSS initiative to help community and health organisations make the most of their ICT investments). 1
Liaise with software vendors
You will need to liaise with software vendors to purchase your system. Here are some questions to ask about software you are considering buying:
- How is the software priced? (Per seat, per concurrent user or per processor?)
- Does the price include on-site services? (Services and support?)
- What if we’re not satisfied? Can we return the software and get a refund?
- How timely is the software company at getting ‘bugs’ fixed?
- How often do program updates happen? Will we get a warning?
- Are upgrades included in the fee?
- Can the software scale up if our organisation grows?
- Can we customise the software for our specific needs?
- What are the costs of customisation?
- Can we integrate this software with our other business systems?
- What problems have you seen installing this software?
- What are the hours of support? How is the support delivered?
- What qualifies as routine technical support?
Hint: make sure you look at what support is offered and the costs associated with this.
- 1. ImproveIT offers UnderstandIT (IT explainers, guides and templates tailored for the not-for-profit sector), DiscussIT (a bulletin board where you can discuss technology), Events (conferences, workshops and lectures to help you with IT issues) and a blog (news and information). ImproveIT is an initiative of ACOSS, Infoxchange, the Australian and Victorian Governments, Microsoft, Connecting Up and techsoup.