NGOs are organizations created for non-profit purposes. This makes it challenging to put aside enough resources to leverage digital tools and technologies in their day-to-day operation. However, embracing digital transformation doesn’t necessarily require investing millions of dollars. Any NGO, no matter the size, can embrace digital transformation in its capacity.
Data is a core component of digital transformation. All the fortune 500 companies you know about have been able to thrive by making good use of data in making critical decisions and determining their next course of action. NGOs, too, can take advantage of the massive amounts of data at their disposal as the starting point to embracing digital transformation. In today’s article, we will discuss how this can be done.
What is digital transformation?
Digital transformation is a process by which an organization integrates digital technology into all facets of its operations, thereby fundamentally changing how it operates. Any type and size of organization or business can embrace digital transformation. The benefits that come from using modern digital technology tools in an organization’s operations have, over time, proven to be way beyond the cost the organization incurs to acquire them.
Like every other type of organization, NGOs have to adapt to an increasingly digital world. This is because technology plays an increasingly vital role in an organization’s ability to increase its productivity, achieve its objectives, and add value. For example, using project management software to manage the operations in the various projects of NGOs can create a huge difference in the outcome and effectiveness of these projects.
Central to digital transformation is Data. Data provides organizations with the ability to recognize and influence trends, as well as take meaningful steps to achieve increased efficiency and cost-saving. According to a 2017 study by the Economist, data is the most valuable asset in the world today. So, any organization not taking advantage of data is missing out on tremendous opportunities to expand and create a more significant impact globally.
What is digital transformation in NGOs?
It is the integration of modern information and communication technologies into the day-to-day operations of NGOs. Most NGOs still use traditional tools for recoding keeping, project management, collaboration, and most of their other operations. However, NGOs can become much more efficient and productive if they replace these tools with advanced digital technology tools.
Why do NGOs need Digital Transformation?
1. Lowers operational costs
One of the main benefits of using digital technology tools is reducing operational costs. Using technologies like automation will reduce the number of tasks that have to be done by humans hence lowering human resource costs. Although the initial investment in these tools and the training needed may be costly, in the long run, these tools can significantly reduce the operations costs of an NGO if there are well utilized.
2. Boosts productivity
Another core benefit of using modern digital technology tools is that they enhance your human resource productivity. For instance, an accountant using SaaS tools like Xero or Freshbooks will accomplish way more work in less time than one using traditional tools like Excel. So, if all departments of an NGO, including HR, accounting, procurement, and IT, can take advantage of the advanced digital tools, more work will be done in less time.
Through digital transformation, organizations can utilize technology to improve services, increase productivity, reduce friction, develop new funding sources, and facilitate collaboration by allowing inputs and ideas to be gathered from every part of the organization.
3. Digital tools ease collaboration
One of the major aspects of any working environment is collaboration amongst the employees. Working on projects will require getting input from various team members who may be from different departments or geographical locations. With digital tools, it is much easier to collaborate and seamlessly work on projects together.
Collaboration platforms like Slack, Microsoft 365, or Google workspace make it much easier for an NGO team to communicate, share files, and share progress on their tasks. These tools also make it possible to collaborate remotely. So, even when the team members are in different geographical locations, they can still collaborate thanks to the robust communication tools built within these platforms.
4. More effective internal and external communication
An NGO, like any other organization, needs to have effective communication amongst all stakeholders (internal and external). Advanced communication tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams make communication amongst team members and other internal stakeholders of an NGO much more seamless.
Other digital platforms like social media, email, and podcasts sites can be used to communicate with external stakeholders such as the government and the communities that the NGO is serving. The good news is that most of these communication tools are free or cost a fee that is way less than the potential impact they will create if well utilized.
4 Ways NGOs Develop an Effective Data Strategy for Digital Transformation
An organization’s drive toward digitalization should be backed by a well-developed data strategy that is aligned with its overall organizational goal. Insights from data are powerful, especially when aligned with a broader vision for the organization. An effective data strategy begins with this understanding to inform the data collection type, data storage locations, data access and use, and responsibility.
Individuals within the organization must be empowered in their roles as collectors and consumers of data. Let’s discuss some of the ways NGOs can develop an effective data strategy for digital transformation;
1. Have a reliable data storage solution
Any NGO needs to have a central place where all its data is stored and accessed by all the relevant stakeholders anywhere and anytime. Using cloud storage is the most viable solution for effective data storage and sharing. There are several cloud storage solutions that NGOs can use.
However, choosing which one to go with should largely depend on the other platforms and services the NGO is using. For instance, if the NGO mainly uses Google tools for communication and collaboration, choosing Google drive as their cloud storage solution will be a better alternative since it seamlessly syncs with the other Google tools.
2. Have a data analytics solution
NGOs frequently collect data from the communities they serve, and the way this data is handled and used will have a significant impact on the decisions and direction the NGO will take in its operations. Using advanced data analytics tools can help an NGO to make sense of the raw data collected.
These tools use raw data to generate visual outputs like graphs and pie charts, making it easier for the relevant stakeholders in the NGO to make decisions. This data can also be used to compare the progress made by the NGO in serving the community and meeting several other objectives.
Most data analytics also take advantage of technologies such as AI and machine learning to make predictions based on previous trends. An NGO helping a community overcome a particular disease, for example, can use historically collected data to predict the longevity of the project and the impact it will have on the community.
3. Identify and improve outdated processes
Simply throwing digital solutions at all processes in an NGO won’t solve these processes’ inefficiencies and limited productivity problems. It may even lead to more problems instead. The way to go is by identifying the inefficiencies and other challenges in the various operations of the NGO and coming up with the most relevant digital solutions to fix them.
Just imagine a scenario where the HR department of an NGO still uses paperwork when it comes to capturing and storing information about their employees. They may also be using MS Word for documenting and then printing out the hard copies of the documents used in the department.
In such a scenario, the main problem that needs to be fixed is the use of manual methods to store and capture data. This wastes a lot of time and is also challenging to find the data if someone urgently needs to use it. In this case, the digital solution that can fix such problems has to reduce the time taken to capture the records and make it easier to access the data whenever needed.
Using cloud HR management software would be the ideal solution. A SaaS HR management tool will make it much faster to capture the records as some of them can be seamlessly imported from other digital platforms. It will also make it much easier and faster to access all the records on multiple devices and locations by all the authorized stakeholders.
4. Integrating data from different departments of the NGO
One of the most common causes of inefficiency in NGOs is having scattered data between various systems used by different departments to capture and store data. Finding a way to integrate data from all departments can significantly impact the efficiency of the NGO’s operations. Having seamless integration of data may at times require changing some of the systems that are used by different departments.
For example, if you use a tool like Xero in your accounting department, it would be ideal to choose Google Drive for cloud storage since it seamlessly integrates with Xero. This will save your teams a lot of time they would have wasted in manually transferring files and data from Google Drive to Xero.
Digital Transformation Examples in NGO
1. Beneficiary engagement
One of the common examples of digital transformation in NGOs is how they use social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook to engage more with their beneficiaries and other external stakeholders. This is true for popular NGOs like the UN and WHO and less popular ones such as Ape Action Africa. These NGOs use social sites not only to communicate but also to get feedback from the beneficiaries of their operations.
2. Remote collaborations
The covid19 pandemic further taught everyone, including NGOs, that it is possible to work and collaborate with your teammates without being in the exact geographical location. The World Health Organization was at the heart of the fight against covid19. It used modern digital tools to continue its operations and ensure all its teams across the world collaborate without any significant hiccups.
3. Logistics and operations
NGOs like the International Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam International, and Care International support victims by distributing physical goods such as food, clothing, and many more. These NGOs use digital tools to manage their logistics and distribution operations effectively. Some of the popular digital tools these NGOs use to manage their logistics include; GoFreight, Soloplan Carlo, Linbis, and many more.
Digital transformation is the way to go for any organization that wants to operate more efficiently and effectively in this era. There are so many benefits that come with the digital transformation movement that no NGO should afford to miss out on. Yes, an initial investment has to be made while buying the tools and training the teams on how to use them. However, the long-term benefits of going digital outweigh this cost by a huge margin.
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