One of the most important decisions you will make as an organization is which software you'll use to streamline your operation. There are so many options, at all different price points from free to tens of thousands of dollars. So what is the best way to make sure you end up with something you can afford...and something you'll actually use? Ask yourself these questions to establish a solid basis for decision-making.
1. what are your short- and long-term goals?
Setting out your goals as an organization is a good way to figure out what you need in an animal shelter software system. Your goals might include things like reducing your euthanasia rate, greater public transparency, and streamlining your scheduling processes. For each goal, ask how the software will help you achieve it. Make a list of the minimum set of requirements you need in order to run your organization efficiently right now, what you'll need to meet your future goals, and what's on your "wish list." This will give you a solid basis of comparison between the software packages you evaluate. Your software should grow with your organization, and you should be able to add and remove features as you need them.
2. will you need a data conversion?
If you're migrating from software that's no longer serving your needs, you'll have a set of legacy data that will need to be brought in to your new software. Data conversions can be time-consuming and very expensive, so make sure you factor these costs into your decision. Shelter Boss has a built-in set of import programs that allow you to bring in animals, people, licenses, vaccinations, cases, dispatch, enforcements, and addresses - with zero additional cost! Some of our imports even allow repeated imports that refresh data from another source (like a GIS system).
3. do you need web-based & mobile-friendly software?
Because so many of us now work from home or out in the field, web-based and mobile-friendly software should be considered a requirement for every organization. This allows sharing of data between multiple facilities, users, and sites, no matter which device - phone, tablet, laptop, or computer - someone is using. Shelter Boss includes live data feeds that display adoptable animals, lost and found, licensing, and more on your public website so that your critical information is always showing in real time.
4. isn't free software good enough?
Many low-cost or free software packages harvest data from the people you enter into your software and contact them without permission. Others charge per adoption or require purchase of microchips and other items, making the true cost of the software...well, not exactly free. Select software that fits into your budget and financial goals without penalizing your organization for adopting more animals or adding data or users - and doesn't surprise you at billing time!
5. does the software save you time by automating repetitive tasks?
If you spend time registering microchips or posting your adoptable animals to various sites like Petfinder and Adopt-A-Pet, look for software that automates those processes for you and lets you concentrate on other tasks. Additionally, if you run similar reports regularly, look for software that lets you save and rerun and/or automatically e-mail those reports to your choice of recipients.
6. can you get your data out?
Will your software let you create reports and download search results and other data based on criteria you set? Can you get a list of contact information for all of your adopters? Can you show your adoptable animals, forms, and lost and found listings on your public website in real time with no intervention on your part? How about financial transactions? There are myriad reasons that you'll need to export data of one kind or another, so be sure your software system accommodates this need.
7. is everyone's privacy protected?
Some software companies provide their software for free or at a reduced cost in exchange for the ability to market to your adopters and others you've entered into your software. Most of the time, this will be unwelcome. Ensure that the software system you decide on either does not do this at all - or at the very least provides a specific opt-in.
8. do you have someone who can spearhead the project?
With any new software, a learning curve is involved. Assigning a primary "point person" - an employee or volunteer tasked with getting to know your new software and putting it into action - is typically the most efficient way to ensure a successful transition from your old system to the new. This person should have a thorough understanding of the processes within your organization. S/he will work with the vendor to get questions answered and to determine the best way of implementing your procedures within the software, and will be the "go to" person for questions from staff.
9. are you ready to make a commitment?
Making the time to train your employees and volunteers, and ensuring that the data they enter is accurate and complete, is critical to a successful implementation. If you want your data to be reliable and useful, you have to make sure it's done right the first time. If you've established a point person, s/he will be in charge of reviewing data entered and making adjustments to procedures or training when necessary. The need for this will lessen as time goes by, but these steps are essential to capturing usable data and being able to act on it. Keep in mind that your data is also a powerful tool for educating the public about your day-to-day operations: who you help, how, and why. The better your data is, the better your ability to be a transparent and collaborative member of your local community.
10. can you engage your employees, volunteers, and community?
The best way of making sure your data is collected accurately and completely is to involve the people actually working with the animals on a day to day basis. They'll be more likely to enter data consistently and thoroughly if they understand how and why it will be used. Additionally, shelter staff will usually have valuable insights about data collection and use in their areas of responsibility. For the community, shelter software gives you a great way of gathering data and showing it to the public, along with a platform for explaining the "whys" behind it. The more familiar you are with your data you collect, the more effectively you'll be able to address concerns and answer questions.