Do NGOs Really Need Business Intelligence Solutions?

The short answer to the long question whether NGOs and Non-Profits really need Business Solutions and analytical tools is ‘yes’. 

According to NGODotOrg, an NGO is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level. It is task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest and perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions. They bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information. Some are organized around specific issues, such as human rights, environment or health and provide analysis and expertise, serve as early warning mechanisms and help monitor and implement international agreements.

If you look at it from the 20,000 foot view, NGOs are geared towards becoming the instruments of change. Depending on their mandate, they sit smack in the middle of all the stakeholders: those who will be the change, that which needs to be changed and what is going to drive the change. What drives the actual change to take place is data. NGOs are institutions built on data. Lots of it. That is the currency that assess just how effective their plans, strategies, decisions, actions and influences are going to be. Crudely speaking, without a wealth of this currency, an NGO can’t achieve very much.

Assuming that you have already identified your reporting and analysis requirements, here’s a checklist to justify why you should be shopping for BI Tools, if you:

  • need to access relevant business data efficiently;
  • need to integrate data from multiple business applications or data sources into one window or dashboard;
  • don’t have visibility into the company’s operations, finances, and other areas;
  • need to increase the number of users needing to access information and their analytical capabilities;
  • need to rapidly grow, raise funds or exploring M&A;
  • need to launch of new products across markets and demographics;
  • need to conduct frequent upgrades within the IT environment.

If you are nodding yes to any, many or all of the above, you should definitely be looking around for BI Tools. But there are several out there, so you before you begin shopping, you need to know what your exact requirements are. The exact internal requirements.

Types of Business Intelligence Tools

There are multiple BI solutions on the market, each with different capabilities and strengths. They target specific needs of  users from the organization – those that need operational reporting or tools that allow analysts that look for trends and patterns that allow for strategic decision-making. Having said that, there some typical components of almost every BI solution:

Data Mart/Data Warehousing: A dedicated or confederated storage of the data organized in a reporting and analysis-friendly fashion, generally capable of supporting rapid reporting and analysis against large amounts of data.

Reporting: Structured reports suitable for viewing online or distributing to third parties, along with authoring tools to enable users to create and modify reports based on pre-selected organized data views. Recent BI tools generally provide for a high level of user report customization, such as allowing the users to add or remove data, relabel data fields and create or modify data filters.

Charts, Graphs & Mapping: BI tools vary greatly in the type and sophistication of visualization elements such as charts and graphs. At a minimum, most tools provide simple bar & line graphs and scatter plots. More sophisticated platforms provide graphs associated with statistical analysis, like violin plots or histograms. A few tools include geographical mapping of data.

Dashboards: Dashboards follow the auto ‘dashboard’ model to display a set of charts and graphs of key performance indicators important to a person’s operational role. More sophisticated tools allow users to do their own dashboard creation or customization.

Analytics: Leading BI tools provide users with the ability to interact with their data much as one would using pivot tables in a spreadsheet. This enables you to plot multiple variables against each other. The tools are interactive and allow you to add or remove variables interactively, create or modify filters, chart or graph data, and interact with the graphs and to move from summary to detail.

Again, there are two major considerations to have before choosing your BI Tool: first, what is most compatible to your existing IT environment, and second, what you want from it. A lot of the solutions out there have special pricing specific for NGOs, so that could become a secondary consideration.

The NGOs IT Strategy vs NGO’s Vision

There is really a fine line between what the NGOs IT Strategy is versus what it’s actual technology needs are. Considering the IT strategy is created by the IT Head based on the long-term vision, created by the leadership head (ie: CEO, MD or Board), the technology strategy has to be flexible. Flexible in terms of the number and types of users, types of devices it will run on along with physical locations of where it will be used in. While which BI tool is best for your NGO institution is the decision of the IT Head, what the needs from the BI, remains the decision of the leadership and the users.

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