5 Ways Islands of Data Can Hurt Your Not-for-Profit

The term “Islands of Data” describes a situation in which departments within an enterprise each use their own software applications from disparate vendors, none of which integrate with one another.

Here, we contrast using “Islands of Data” versus a single “Integrated System” from one vendor or integrated vendors that cross all departments.

There are 5 critical ways islands of data can hurt your not-for-profit organization.

Problem # 1: Training and Internal Support Costs

Applications from different vendors have different personalities. The logic behind the applications can vary greatly from vendor to vendor, consequently the look and feel vary as well.

This usually means someone from each separate department has to learn their particular application, and that knowledge once acquired has no use outside of that department. Having different training programs for each department is more complicated, and because no curriculum can be reused in other departments it is more expensive to develop.

Likewise for support, it becomes more difficult for a technician to support multiple departments when technical requirements are different in each one. This typically results in more people and certainly more hours required for support compared to a single integrated system across departments.

Problem #2: Software/Hardware Maintenance Costs

Multiple software vendors require multiple annual support fees, and quite often require dedicated servers and other dedicated infrastructure. Since hardware also requires maintenance, this runs up the price tag on annual support.

Problem #3: Lack of Integration

Islands of data typically have little or no integration with one another, even though they often involve common customers, vendors and/or processes.

The result is often retention of duplicate data between systems, which involves at a minimum duplicate entry. It also results in a “partial” view of the big picture in each disparate system, and no synchronization between systems when things change. Changes originating in one department are often not reflected in a companion department, even though the change may be material to that companion department.

The answer to this is often the creation of complex manual support systems, usually based on spreadsheets created by individuals to reconcile data across systems. Difficult to maintain and highly subject to errors, the manual systems are often lost then recreated when an old employee leaves and a replacement arrives. The amount of time invested to construct these “crutches” is very expensive to the organization.

Problem #4: Reduced Collaboration

When staff from separate departments have to work out solutions common to both departments, it is a great inconvenience when one system has half the picture and another the other half. When committee members do not have access to each other’s information, they are forced to resort to spreadsheets, word docs and email to compare notes. Who has what version of the final product is often an issue, making it hard to keep everyone on the same page.

In an integrated environment, updates in one department are immediately reflected in the companion department, so they can make their own judgments on up-to-date and accurate input from their peers.

Problem #5: Crippled Decision Making

In these economic times, not-for-profit companies are under great duress due to decreased contributions and reduction of grants and public funding. Any organization in this digital age has to have access to current, accurate and complete information in order to make the best decisions for their business or constituency.

In addition to the direct out-of-pocket expenses described above that are extracted when running disparate systems, the worst outcome may be the crippling effect on management when important decisions have to be made based on incomplete and inaccurate information, or when the information cannot be complied in time to facilitate an informed and proper decision.

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