What are information systems?

Your organisation’s capacity to deliver services is supported by one or more information systems.
Overview of information systems capability

An information system is any network of hardware, software and the people using them that captures, transmits, stores, retrieves, manipulates and displays data.

While they support operations, management and decision-making, information systems are not the same as business processes. Rather, they are enablers of business processes.

Varieties of information systems

Different organisations use quite different systems. One might support the delivery of counselling services, another the provision of services to fee-paying members, and a third might assist an environmental organisation track endangered fauna.

In the not-for-profit sector, the most common type of information system is a client or case management system. Most not-for-profit organisations need systems to support:

  • Service delivery (to schedule, manage and track activity – and to report to funders)
  • Financial management
  • Human Resource and payroll or personnel management

Potential problems

Ineffective, inappropriate or unreliable systems can compromise service delivery and frustrate staff. Service delivery benefits from the use of reliable, coordinated systems that can be accessed from anywhere and capture comprehensive information regarding clients, stakeholders, services and interactions.

If you don’t have the right information system, your organisation may be challenged by one or more of the following problems:

  • information duplication and inconsistencies
  • difficulty of tracking service history for a single client because of multiple, incompatible systems
  • difficulty of tracking funding targets, workload and waitlists.

Information system categories

The Information Systems domain has six categories:

  1. Service delivery system
  2. Digital service delivery
  3. KPI reporting and business intelligence
  4. Impact measurement
  5. Human resources information systems
  6. Finance systems

The basic, intermediate and advanced capability levels across these six categories are described in the table below.


Categories of information systems



   Intermediate  Advanced
Service delivery system Staff often find the system (or systems) we use to deliver our services frustrating.

Staff use one or more systems to support service delivery.

Systems are reliable, can be remotely accessed and capture comprehensive data about clients/stakeholders and services/interactions.
Deficiencies exist, such as data entry duplication, multiple systems, difficulty tracking funding targets and/or workloads and waitlists.

Our system is intuitive and works well for clients/members, staff and management.
It's flexible enough to meet future needs.
Members/cients can access information online.
Captures all the information required to understand our services and effort for each client/member over time.

Digital service delivery We don't provide services online, or have only recently began holding some client meetings online because of COVID restrictions. Key elements of some programs/services are online, e.g. we receive referrals electronically, clients can book or change appointments online, staff can regularly videoconference with clients and are skilled at using these technologies. We've designed one or more important programs/services to be delivered completely online.
Staff and clients are very happy with our online services and we plan to deliver a greater proportion of our services online in the future.
KPI reporting and business intelligence We monitor our funding targets but not many other metrics (if any).
Manual analysis is required (likely using Excel) to monitor performance
We use online KPI dashboards to monitor key targets like service volumes, waitlists, client satisfaction.
Dashboards allow managers to filter, interrogate and explore relevant data to support service improvement.
We use a sophisticated KPI reporting and business intelligence system that managers find essential to achieve targets and manage services.
Impact measurement We monitor the services we deliver (number of clients helped, animals rescued, people supported, etc) but don’t regularly translate this to outcomes or impact.

We have a model (such as a Theory of Change model or similar) that describes our services and impact.

But there’s significant improvements to make - e.g. it doesn’t yet cover all our services, there are issues with our data quality or collection effort, or the model doesn’t effectively articulate the impact of our services.

We have a robust, proven model for measuring our impact that is easy to use and convincing. We regularly review the data to identify opportunities and refine our services.
Human resources information systems Our HR records are mostly kept on paper or in Microsoft Word files.

A reliable HRIS system is used to maintain personnel records, including annual/performance review documentation, leave, job descriptions and employees.

Our HRIS, payroll system and timesheet/client management system is linked so information is accurate and doesn’t need to be double-keyed.

Staff and managers are very satisfied with our HR systems, workflows and processes, including recruitment and onboarding.
Our systems and processes can easily evolve to meet our future needs.
Finance systems Our finance system is functional and allows us to manage our finances, but provides limited insights or management reporting.

Our finance system is appropriate for our current size and complexity.

The financial performance of our services/programs and projects are easily monitored, expense claims are easily processed, and payroll is seamless.

Our finance system can evolve to meet our future needs.
Automated workflows minimise manual effort and reduce processing time.
Sophisticated initiative management reports enable effective financial management across the organisation.