Management Information Systems
All managers and leaders need good information. This is true within the microenterprise field, where access to high-quality data about clients and programs will be critical to needed improvements in program quality, scale and efficiency. Recognizing this fact, in 2000 FIELD embarked on a project, funded by the Ford Foundation, to increase the capacity of microenterprise practitioners to generate key data on program performance and client outcomes in order to support both better program management and stronger accountability to donors.
The project was premised on the understanding that there is no single solution that will resolve the Management Information System (MIS) needs of all programs and stakeholders in this field. As result, the project purposefully focused on creating market-based approaches to the problem — approaching the issue from both supply and demand sides. In this vein, it worked systematically to increase the acumen of program managers as planners, buyers and users of information systems, and to stimulate better software and/or database design by giving software developers a clear sense of the microenterprise community's needs.
MIS Project Findings
FIELD’s starting point was a clear MIS definition and understanding that MIS refers to more than just software; actually encompassing:
the series of processes and actions involved in capturing raw data, processing the data into usable information and disseminating the information to users in the form needed to make appropriate decisions.
Part of FIELD’s work focused on helping software and database designers understand the needs of the microenterprise market more clearly, providing more tailored software products and updates. A large part of the work was geared however, to helping microenterprise programs become more informed consumers of MIS products and services. A comprehensive manual was written (see publications below) to guide programs from start to finish through the steps of understanding and evaluating a program’s MIS needs; assessing existing software options; selecting, integrating and implementing a new or upgraded MIS.
The first key step in the MIS development process is defining a program’s information needs. Ensuring broad-based participation throughout the needs assessment process can best be done by building a task force of representatives of the key components of the organization. The task force guides the process from initial needs assessment through the research, selection and implementation of a new MIS.
One of the most critical choices programs face is whether to design their own system “from scratch,” or to adopt (or adapt) off-the-shelf products. FIELD had the opportunity to review the experience of a number of programs that decided to develop a custom MIS. Although initial reasons for developing the custom system were valid, the overwhelming experience was that results were far from original expectations. Oftentimes, software failed to work and efforts were abandoned. In virtually all cases, software development takes far longer than planned. Costs also vastly exceed original estimates as development creeps.
Because of these experiences, FIELD strongly encourages programs to select from existing products (possibly with some customization) rather than embark on building a completely custom system.
Accepting off-the-shelf products is much more palatable when programs understand that in most instances, a program’s MIS will include several pieces of integrated software. These modules are tied together into a coherent system that meets the program’s overall information needs. The array of modules depends on the complexity, or depth, of a program’s information needs, but it is not necessary (and highly unlikely) that a program will find one MIS module to meet all its needs.
Software targeted at the microenterprise field has improved dramatically in recent years. Not only have the number of software products increased, but software offerings also more closely match a program’s information needs. FIELD published a software review in 2002, providing detailed information on each available product, to enable programs to more easily make their software selections.
The MIS project has produced several publications and products that aim to guide microenterprise programs in the selection of appropriate MIS systems for their organization.
MIS for Microenterprise: A Practical Approach to Managing Information Successfully
by Charles Waterfield, for the Aspen Institute
Written for microenterprise program staff and management, this 190-page manual is an accessible, thorough and practical guide containing the steps and processes that can be used to build an effective Management Information Systems (MIS). This publication is the culmination of a two-year project by FIELD designed to increase the capacity of program managers to improve their MIS. This manual describes the essential parts of an effective MIS and their relationship to each other, the organizational factors that influence how an MIS should be designed and managed, how to define information needs and assess the appropriateness of available software to meet them, and how to implement and use an effective MIS.
2002 FIELD MIS Software Review
This Software Review is a companion document to the MIS for Microenterprise manual and an outgrowth of the Findings Report first published by FIELD in 2001. It contains detailed reviews of 11 major commercial software products designed for use in the microenterprise field, applying the evaluative approach described in the MIS for Microenterprise manual. It was written to both clarify information needs and serve as a "consumers report," analyzing available systems so that practitioners can make more informed decisions about which MIS products to consider purchasing, including how to assess them in relation to particular information needs. The software review is expected to be updated periodically to reflect changes in the software available for the field. The following software is reviewed in the 2002 report:
|• Client Track||• MicroMIS|
|• DownHome Loan Manager||• Nortridge|
|• FAS Loan Service Plus||• PIDC|
|• GMS Revolving Loan Servicing System||• The Exceptional Assistant (TEA)|
|• Loan Performer||• VistaShare|