Stop the Repetition and Focus on Innovation
The financial challenges many organizations will face over the next year will force some hard decisions. But I also hope it will bring some much needed clarity when it comes to technology.
The simple fact is that most organizations are using technology and locked in to manual time-consuming processes that are wildly outdated. The costs of this technology–both in terms of staff time and vendor fees—is, frankly, a waste. And it is waste that can be easily cut while improving operational and fundraising effectiveness.
The problem to date has many sources, but a line from a recent blog by Matt Asay captures the heart of it:
Open source is not an excuse not to compete. It’s a way to compete more efficiently, focusing on real innovation rather than everyone reinventing the same wheels.
Simple put, the proprietary model means that the technology most nonprofits use is a variation on features and functionality provided by countless other vendors. Each of these vendors has built this technology from the ground up. Simply put, that means the majority of development effort in nonprofit technology goes into “reinventing the same wheels”, either through expensive and laborious customization efforts or efforts to reach feature parity with competing products.
What a tremendous waste of time. Imagine if the competition between all the technology providers in our space saw the majority of effort going into innovation! Instead of seeing small step changes every few years and wild proclamations about how facebook and twitter integrations are going to ‘revolutionize’ your organization (really?!?), we would see true, genuine innovation that saves staff time, cuts costs and increases revenue.
For innovations that really are game changing, we need things like:
- Technology that actively recognizes and classify constituents using the same language and rules as your organization. If you consider a major donor someone who gives $5000 in a calendar year and group them as part of the “Founders Club”, you should not have to run queries, hack custom fields and create complex codes to translate this into your software. The software should automatically recognize them as such the moment they give that 3rd gift that puts them over $5000 for the calendar year.
- Technology should share information in real-time. With the advent of simple XML messaging networks, this has become inexpensive and reliable. Gone are the days of complex, expensive integrations between databases. Anytime there is activity or a change in data, a system publishes a message to the network in XML (this is the same language and technology used in Real Simple Syndication (RSS) and is also how banking and financial trading systems share information, so it is obviously secure). All your other systems connected to the network can pull down and update the information relevant to that system.
These are the types of innovations that matter. This is what we should expect from our technology. And the reality is that these innovations both exist and are likely significantly cheaper than what organizations are paying vendors currently.
We need to stop ‘reinventing the wheels’, open up our technology and commit to genuine innovation.