Are you looking for a new program or client management system? If so, you’ve probably noticed that selecting the right technology can be tricky. There are a lot of options to pick from and knowing which one will work for your organization and programs requires asking yourself and the technology vendor the right questions.

Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Here are some helpful guidance questions for picking a new data management system.

Clarify your team’s priorities

First, have an honest conversation with your staff about your needs, wants and priorities for your new program or client management system. Discuss these questions, and summarize your notes for future conversations with potential technology providers:

  1. What’s your primary reason for transitioning to a new system? Are you looking to save time? Money? Both? Increase staff productivity?
  2. What are your biggest pain points with your current system? If you could build your dream system for tracking your program, what would it include?
  3. How long are you spending looking for data or reporting to others, and how much is that costing your organization? How might you save time and money with more features or a more efficient system?
  4. What data are you interested in collecting, or need to report to stakeholders and funders?
  5. What systems have you used in the past? What were some of the features of these systems that you liked?
  6. What other systems are you already using? Are there other systems that your new system must interface with? What services and programs would you like to consolidate into one system?
  7. Who will be using your system and how often? Who needs to be included in the decision making process?
  8. How comfortable is your team with learning new technology and what is their tolerance for change? Are you looking for a local server based solution, or a web-based solution?
  9. What is your timeline for adopting a new system and who on your team will be leading the transition?
  10. Are you looking to adopt an existing system, develop your own, or partner with an emerging system in development?

Carefully evaluate your options

Now that you have a good sense of what your team is looking for, you’re ready to start researching your options to assess whether or not there’s a potential fit. When evaluating a new technology platform, be sure to review these questions with product representatives:

  1. Why was the system created and for who? Who built the system and what’s their motivation for maintaining it?
  2. What are the existing features and what’s on the roadmap? How will future improvements be prioritized? Map these to your team’s prioritized list of features.
  3. What is the pricing structure? Is there a setup cost? Annual cost? Is this cost based per user or is it a site-wide license? Are there discounts or grants available?
  4. Who else is using the system, and what has been their experience with the product and support?
  5. What does the on-boarding process look like? How long does it take to get setup and trained? What are our options to import legacy data into the new system?
  6. What support and training is included? How are support questions managed and what is the typical timeline for resolving an issue? Can users easily access documentation and trainings and how often is this information updated?
  7. Are users able to customize the program to meet their program needs? How difficult is it to add a field or change a page layout?
  8. Are users able to create custom reports and dashboards in the system? Can these reports be easily emailed to others or exported to excel?
  9. Does the system have a client facing features, or an option to feed information from the public into the system? Can the system be viewed on a mobile device?
  10. Are there additional applications or modules to the system to enhance functionality?

Get the most out of a product demo

You can get a better idea of what you’re getting by insisting on a custom demo that caters to your needs and priorities. Sitting through standard product overviews may be useful at first, but push for a deeper understanding of the features and benefits that matter to you and your team. Consider these tips for getting the most out of a deep dive demo.

  • Walk through the typical data flow following the day-to-day work of your program staff.
  • Review the process for creating a report and customizing a report.
  • Ask to see how easy it would be to change a record layout, add an additional field, or create a customized workflow.
  • Review the process of updating multiple records at one time, which has the potential to save a lot of time.
  • If it’s important for your organization ask to see how other programs and service lines would fit within the same data system, and flag benefits of consolidation.
  • Discuss and review security and privacy mechanisms and ways of controlling who can see what.

Plan for a smooth transition

Whether you’re excited or nervous about adopting new technology, moving to a new system is never as easy as flipping a switch. Here are our change management tips to support your transition.

  • Make sure your staff lead has set aside the time and has the capacity to transition the program and the staff. Set realistic expectation for your team and don’t underestimate the amount of time it will require everyone to adjust.
  • Prepare a data migration plan that identifies your “go-live” date, which data you’ll be bringing with you, and when and how you’ll be moving it into the new system. Agree on what you will archive or leave behind from your old system.
  • Decide on your on-boarding priorities. Which features do you need to implement right away, which can wait, and what might you put off until next year?
  • Prepare a training plan and document new procedures and operational norms for data entry. Create “cheat sheets” for common data flows as needed for staff.
  • Ask a lot of question during the on-boarding process and take full advantage of the support, training and documentation offered by the vendor.

Find your path forward

No one product is going to be a one-size-fits all. Do your homework so you can move forward with confidence.  We hope this guide helps you make an informed decision and a smooth transition. Share your tips and comments with us and we’ll update this guide periodically. Good luck!