Resource spotlight: Idealware’s software fieldguide

Cover of Idealware Field Guide to softwareEven as a smartphone/ mp3 player/ laptop toting digital denizen, I’m still a fan of printed guides and manuals.

There’s something about printed resources being self-contained and complete. After getting to the final page it’s almost like a statement rings out: there’s nothing more you need to know. Unlike reading online where links lead in all sorts of directions, and nothing seems definitive.

That’s part of why like Idealware’s compact “Field guide to software for nonprofits”. It suggests online applications useful to community organisations fit within an ordered universe.

I liked the fieldguide so much I’ve bought copies to share around. You can enter a draw for a one of five copies of the fieldguide by signing-up to my (irregular) email newsletter by 6 April 2012.

I’ve been dipping into the fieldguide for a while now, so I thought my views are somewhat biased. To address this lack of objectivity, I invited a couple of independent minded community folk to share their thoughts on the fieldguide.

(NB The 2012 version is due out any day now.)

Review by Peter Mitchell, Communications & Fundraising Manager, Wesley Community Action

This handy 139 page guide targets useful software information for the not-for-profit sector covering topics such as; accounting, office management software, case management software, social content websites, event management, donation management and much, much more.

Based on the Idealware web-site the information is up-to-date and current, however it is its origins from a web-site or from blogs that is to my mind the book’s downfall. Put simply, the inter-connectivity of an on-line web-site version would be much better than this rather one-dimensional book version, (and it hurts this book loving reviewer to say that!)

If the reader/viewer was able to click on all the many web-sites and links detailed and highlighted in the book and instantly explore the options mentioned, then the experience would be much richer. The printed version left me having to absorb names and take a note of web sites for a future ‘on-line’ session in order to explore them further.

Another shortcoming is a heavy bias to USA based software options, for example the discussion of accounting software (a key need for the not-for-profit sector,) mentions the USA favoured Inuit software, but fails to mention worthy Australasian alternatives such as MYOB and Xero. The absence of the later is particularly sad, as this NZ ‘Cloud’ based service is widely thought of as ‘the next best thing in accounting systems,’ not just for NZ, but internationally.

So, a handy guide, yes, but not as handy as an on-line version could be.

Review by Julian Apatu, FiveStroke Web Solutions

I’m going to start this review with a couple of cautions.

This book doesn’t set out to be comprehensive in terms of depth, with its single page descriptions and lists of software in many categories. However, it will be very useful for many NGOs looking at organisation wide technology integration as it has a very broad scope.

With guides of this nature, it will always be impossible to keep up with the latest and most popular software in each of the areas covered. I noticed that many of the current and recent software applications that I have personally used and am interested in are not mentioned.

As the Field guide is written for the North American non-profit market, some software options mentioned are not available here. Nonetheless, a fair amount of the concepts can be easily transferred to apply to New Zealand situations and conditions.

Where this book does well is covering the breadth of applications available and describing how they can be used by organisations. There is also advice on how to go about introducing new technologies. Organisations are encouraged to be very clear on what they want before introducing new technology.

So, who should read this book? The book is aimed more at Information Technology managers and similar decision makers, but can still provide useful insights to end-users as well. Decision makers will find some good background into each of the categories and what solutions are on offer (even if the products lists only provide a starting point).

As well as product listings, there are case studies that provide a more practical approach and real-life issues. Take note of the (large) budgets available to the organisations featured.

The software applications that are mentioned in each of the main sections have been covered in varying degrees of detail, but are generally described to a level where comparisons could be made. I do like how the five main sections are started with headings “Strongly consider”, “Keeping ahead of the curve” and “On the cutting edge…”. These sections summarise things that need to be considered when making a decision on software.

I wouldn’t rely on this book alone when making a decision on software or applications. As the book is written for a US market there may be significant differences or subtle issues with how some of the terms of the software can be used in New Zealand. You’ll need to find other sources of information.

If possible, find someone who has implemented a solution for the same problem and see what real life issues they have had. Use online search engines to do some research on options. You could also ask friends and colleagues if they know of any useful technologies that might be worth considering. Keep an open mind, but have a core list of requirements for the system you need.

All in all, I feel that the book provides a great baseline for any decision makers in NGOs who are considering an investment in software to support their organisation. Use the book as a reference and seek additional advice to rationalise a decision.