Prioritizing Technology Isn’t Just for the Private Sector
by Abe Lee
For many non-profit (NPOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), technology solutions are not always seen as a priority to achieving the agency’s mission, and they are often relegated to “back-burner” status. However, the reality is that the right technology solution will help NGOs move closer to their mission in three important ways: 1.) providing critical data needed to improve results, 2.) enabling operational efficiencies needed to better serve clients and 3.) automating mundane tasks and processes to help retain NGO workers. This article details some of the features Diona has prioritized to provide the right mobile technology solutions to help NGOs better deliver on their missions through affordable—and achievable—technological innovations.
Define and Capture Structured Data
In an earlier post I shared the importance of creating a data culture for the non-profit sector, a business imperative embraced by the for-profit world. But what would that really look like for an agency with limited funds and resources seeking to help vulnerable people? To start, let’s consider a couple of definitions:
Structured Data: Simply stated, “structured data” is data with a high degree of organization that can be categorized into a database, or spreadsheet, and easily searched and analyzed. For example, when you purchased your mobile phone, the store likely captured the make, model, size, and price of that device. The store may also have captured your name, billing address and mobile number in the process. All this information is considered “structured data.”
Unstructured Data: In contrast, unstructured data does not conform to pre-defined data models or organization; it is typically text-heavy with irregularities and ambiguities that make it difficult to interpret and analyze. For example, digital conversations via SMS or email, driven by human conversation, language, and relational interactions typically cannot be easily categorized or defined into a spreadsheet or database.
The promise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to provide insights and effective interventions based on analysis of unstructured data will become ubiquitous in the near future. In some cases, it’s already a reality. Therefore, tools that support the ability to easily and quickly capture and analyze qualitative information (like interview notes or video) while in the field from a mobile device is essential to fully realize this future state. In the meantime, NGOs and NPOs need to serve the needs of their beneficiaries and clients now. Providing mobile tools that allow agencies to easily configure and define structured data capture and analysis (such as forms and assessments) is essential to building a foundation for the future—and delivers rewards for NGOs today.
Diona Mobile Solutions for NGOs and NPOs include the ability to easily configure data needed to capture and complete a form (e.g., an application or intake) or assessment (e.g., an educational assessment or vulnerability scale). These tools are immediately accessible to users from their mobile devices, regardless of Wi-Fi or cellular data connectivity. With this level of configurability and accessibility, Diona solutions like Diona Mobile Visits for NGOs provide the data required to not only monitor, but also evaluate a program’s effectiveness, optimize delivery, and improve the quality of life for beneficiaries. For Diona, our forms and assessments are not simply surveys—our mobile solutions provide the means by which data collection is not only structured but also uniquely contextualized to NGO beneficiaries or the organization.
Data Privacy, Security, and Access
The cloud has changed everything. Cloud computing, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), allows anytime, anywhere access to critical data. It has streamlined efficiencies and increased automation of workflow processes. Moving to cloud-based strategies has made IT accessible and affordable to NGOs and NPOs, allowing for a level of technological sophistication previously inaccessible to all except the largest international NGOs. However, with this opportunity comes the responsibility to select a cloud-based solution that considers data privacy, security, and access.
Privacy and Security
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union strictly regulate the collection, sharing, and management of people’s personal information. This means that wherever data is stored, organizations must have the ability, at a fine level of detail, to identify all data associated with a person and remove it upon request.
As more organizations adopt SaaS solutions, they will need to understand whether their data is secure—both physically and in cyberspace. Risk assessments must become part of daily operations, along with the ability to monitor impacts and mitigate data breaches. Today, many cloud platforms provide robust security and privacy controls as part of their core offering, taking the onus off of customers and leaving it with the experts.
All Diona solutions come with a dedicated and private cloud platform for each customer, thus ensuring complete data privacy and access control. All data is encrypted at rest and in motion (over the network between the mobile devices and the cloud server). By leveraging the secure cloud platform provided by Microsoft Azure, we ensure that established security standards and best practices for privacy and data sovereignty are strictly adhered to.
Speed and access to information are essential, so it’s important to understand that the location of cloud data centers has a direct effect on both. Though the term “cloud computing” typically conjures the abstract concept of data streaming through the air and flowing into mobile devices, in reality, data resides in, and is transferred between, real locations, not abstractions; securely maintained server farms store data and information. Access to that information occurs over secured internet connections, which means the greater the distance between locations, the greater the time it takes to access the data. In other words, latency (the time interval between data being sent and received) is impacted by distance.
Diona mobile solutions utilize a combination of locally stored encrypted data (information stored on your mobile device) and the Microsoft Azure platform, which has more global data regions than any other cloud provider and ensures cloud data centers are local. Storing encrypted data locally enables NGO workers access to key functions, such as the ability to complete forms and assessments, access and input notes, and take and upload photos, regardless of access to a network connection. Leveraging the global presence and innate privacy and security policies employed by Microsoft Azure, connected users experience low latency as they access their data via local cloud data centers.
Determining the cost of technology solutions can be daunting for non-profits and non-government organizations. Implementation costs, consultant fees, hidden costs, data storage fees, add-on fees, and more are typically added on top of the base subscription price, making the pricing structure difficult to understand, predict, and control. At Diona, we take the pain—and risk—out of this process by offering a simple per user subscription price that is transparent and affordable, and a one-time setup fee.
Technological innovation for NGOs and NPOs can seem daunting at times, and it’s unsurprising that technology solutions are often prioritized lower than initiatives designed to provide direct services to beneficiaries and clients. Yet, enabling technology are drivers of for-profit business success, and NGOs can benefit from the lessons of the private sector—and at lower risk. For-profit businesses drove innovation and carried the burden of testing and perfecting new technologies. Now, NGOs can leverage tested and proven solutions within their organizations and reap the same benefits. With Diona, NGOs and NPOs across the globe are doing just that—and improving how they operate, provide services to vulnerable populations, and deliver on their missions.
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