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What is Software?

Software is a set of instructions, data or programs used to operate computers and execute specific tasks (Source: TechTarget). Microsoft Excel, QuickBooks, Shopify, Slack, ADP, and Salesforce CRM (Customer Relationship Management) are examples of different types of software that some ESEs use. 

Why is it important?

Software is important for employment social enterprises because it: 

  • Impacts the organization’s ability to function efficiently: Without software support, organizations tend to spend more human resources on activities that are more quickly and accurately executed by software. By thoughtfully deploying software to support functions that don’t need to be performed by team members, employee time can be focused instead on activities that are more value-add to business or employee success outcomes.
  • Is important for good data management and monitoring of organizational performance: Nearly all of an organization’s data is inevitably tied to a software system. Additionally, software can serve an important function of facilitating the aggregation, analysis, and visualization of data in order to deliver insights on organizational performance through metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs).    
  • Can be complicated and time consuming if not optimized: Not all software is alike – even software that performs the same function may be unique in its interface or integrations. It’s important to consider and select software thoughtfully so that the combined whole of all systems and software that support an organization result in increased efficiency.  
  • Becomes increasingly important as growth occurs: Any organization that undergoes scale or growth will require a suite of software solutions that support critical functions. This is because the optimal set of software for an organization enables growth in production or service delivery at lower marginal or additional cost when compared to growing without software. 

Self-assessment checklist

Employment social enterprises should consider revisiting how they invest in software if: 
  • They want to explore ways in which operations can be made more efficient
  • There are specific functions (such as job scheduling, time tracking, or metric management) that have either become too complex or time-consuming for the organization to manage
  • The organization is growing or is considering growing soon

Best practices 

  • Getting started with the basics
    • Understand your needs and determine where software can help: Most organizations have a need for word processing tools (e.g., Microsoft Word / Microsoft PowerPoint) and data aggregation and analysis tools (e.g., Microsoft Excel). Start with ensuring your organization has these tools if it needs them. Reach out to team members and staff to get input on any job functions or tasks that could be facilitated with a software solution. Consider which organizational processes are most critical, are repeated most frequently, or have different information/data flowing through them on a regular basis. For example, if the same team members are deployed to the same job site every week at the same times, then it may not be necessary to invest in a schedule or job management software in the near term. However, if team members receive different assignments regularly, then it may be worth investing in a software solution that helps communicate updates easily through automatically generated text, voice, or email messages (depending on your participant workers’ preferred communication method). 
    • Evaluate potential software solutions:  For any need where software can help, it’s important to thoughtfully evaluate a potential software solution. Questions or topics to consider include:
      • What functions are essential? What functions are nice to have? Begin with the “use cases” for this software (i.e., the situations or processes this software is intended to support) – much of this will be informed by your assessment of needs. From these use cases, make a list of the functions that are absolutely needed and the functions that are nice to have. 
      • What is the reputation of the company that produced the software? What do other customers say? Often, it is wise to select a software that is produced by a company with a good reputation and a number of years in business. Additionally, review what other customers, particularly other nonprofits and employment social enterprises, have said about the software. Avoid software that is produced by a new company or one with a poor reputation, or software that has few or poor customer reviews. 
      • Does this provide the data security and storage we need? Depending on what function the software will be used for, there may be different security or storage requirements that the software must meet. 
      • Is the software mobile-friendly, or is there an app? If the software’s functionality must be accessed by staff or team members through their mobile devices, it’s important to ensure that this function and interface meets their needs.
      • Does it have the needed integrations? Many software solutions offer “integrations” with other apps or software, which refers to the two applications or software solutions automatically sharing data so that certain critical sets of information are uniform throughout the organization. For example, a job scheduling and invoicing software may integrate with a financial management software so that the two systems have a common set of data related to customer records and invoice status, allowing for an update in one system to be reflected automatically in the other systems. Your organization should ensure that the software solutions you are considering offer integrations you need in an “off the shelf” manner (i.e., without further customization). The integrations that your organization needs may be informed by your data management practices and your approach to reporting key metrics. (Note: In instances where needed integrations aren’t offered in any of the software solutions you are evaluating (i.e., “off the shelf”), there may be an option to utilize application program interfaces (APIs) to assist with communication and data-sharing between software systems. This option should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as some APIs can become complex and costly).
      • What is the total cost of ownership? It’s important to factor in the upfront implementation and monthly/annual costs as well as costs for any add-ons or additional features that may be needed in the future.
      • Is it scalable? Does the software offer expanded features, functionality, storage, or users if needed? Make sure that the software solution can grow as the organization grows.
  • Keeping momentum with high-performance practices  
    • Integrate software considerations into planning discussions: Investment in software systems is an important component of an organization’s growth. During leadership and planning discussions, consider how investment in software can be a strategic component of growth and reinforce the organization’s positioning in the market. 
    • Utilize software training as an opportunity for job skill development: Familiarity with and fluency in using different software and applications can be part of team members’ skill development and contribute to an ESE’s overall mission. As you acquire and integrate new software systems, consider how the training on these new systems can be a part of the development of current and future team members.  

Additional Resources

About Emerging Market Enterprises

Emerging Market Enterprises (EME) is an advisory firm based in Washington, DC, that works with startups, scaleups, and intermediaries in the impact ecosystem. EME provides a variety of services to its clients and partners to include market strategy, operations improvement, and leadership coaching.