Typical information systems
Information systems in an organisation tend to develop independently from one another and are often a mix of manual (paper-based) systems and electronic (computer-based) systems. Using both these features together will reduce the ease with which information can be retrieved and limit the usefulness of the information that is retrieved.
Community sector organisations typically have the following information systems:
- Client data: Information collected on each individual client on intake and then during the period of service use that provides statistics about numbers of service users, demographic data on service users, type of service sought, type and duration of service provided, referrals, et cetera. Typically, this information is collected manually on hard-copy forms, and then may be transferred to an electronic database (sometimes using a prescribed database provided by a funding body). Often data about service provision (duration and outcomes of service) is collected on a separate system (e.g. case files) from intake data.
- Service data: Information collected about service provision, such as sessions of direct service (e.g. phone calls received, counselling hours provided, group activities run, meals provided, cash assistance given). Data about the quality of service provided, such as client feedback, complaints and critical incidents is usually kept in separate hard-copy systems.
- Staff data: This often consists of several different systems collecting information about employment history and work performance (personnel records), staff development and training, hours worked and how time is used (time sheets), and occupational health and safety incidents.
- Finances: The financial accounts are usually a self-contained system using an electronic accounting package. Often these are managed by a bookkeeper, and the manager or coordinator uses a separate spreadsheet system to maintain budgeting and forecasting information.
- Decisions and plans: Most of the decisions that guide the activities of the organisations are generated in meetings and/or planning sessions. The records of decisions made are usually kept in minutes of meetings or in documented plans.
- Operational and other activity information: The type of information kept on general activity within an organisation varies, but most organisations keep records of correspondence, meetings with external agencies and other actions of staff (usually recorded in staff reports), and databases or listings of other agencies and contacts. However, often individual staff persons (or teams of staff) keep their own information system, with duplication occurring across the organisation.
- Records, resources and files: These are the documents (electronic and hard copy) that an organisation stores usually in a series of hard-copy filing cabinets for paper files and a computer filing system for electronic files. Often these do not match, with the categories used for filing in hard copy being different to the categories used for electronic filing.
The effectiveness of an information system is measured by:
- how easy it is to find an item
- what information can be retrieved and used in planning, decision-making and accountability reporting.
Separate, unrelated information systems limit the information that can be retrieved, particularly where information is kept in manual or hard-copy form rather than stored electronically.
Information technology in the form of electronic databases enables integration of information systems to bring related sets of information together so that more - complete information can be retrieved.
Integrating information systems, and moving to electronic systems, can also reduce duplication of effort and reduce staff time taken to enter and retrieve information.