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Chris Holt [opinions]

Where's the missing link on non-profit case management [development] [case-management] [non-profit] [collaboration] [collabnet]

I still haven’t found a free software case management framework for non-profits emerging on the horizon. If you search SourceForge or Freshmeat, you find legal case management systems, but nothing oriented to the general non-profit market for client management. There are electronic health records, CRMs and ERPs... all of which have elements that would be useful, but none alone can do the trick.

I guess that means the field is open to start that free software project. So, with that in mind, I’ve been poking around and thinking about how to approach the development of this idea.

I have looked at free software solutions and investigated blogs and wikis, Joomla, PHProjekt and others... .

Given I am not a developer it’s somewhat second hand knowledge that drives me forward here, but I have found CollabNet who produce a community based on line collaboration system for managing the code base and the distributed development process. Go figure that some group would have come up with a free framework for developing free software projects!

CollabNet’s Community Edition looks pretty cool and may be just what I’ve been looking for.

What was interesting was simply finding CollabNet itself. This is a strong indication as to the direction of the software development business.

Now my next step is to find an existing framework, i.e., what’s really needed is a combination of Pentaho, Medsphere, SugarCRM.

These three products cover the basics of what a case management system needs to be with the demographics and client profile portions, the health information recording and the analysis and reporting. However, the ideal case management system must be able to be adapted to various business processes—organizations shouldn’t have to reorganize the way they do business to adapt to a technology.

If you have a mental health program, the case management system should be able to respect the clinical assessments that you perform and have the ability to have those assessments built into the framework. If you have an employment assistance program, or a clinical counseling program, or a shelter, a sufficiently well designed case management system should be readily customizable to all those programs and enable the transfer of information on unique clients between those organizations, within a shared clinical context.

For example, a shelter will need a bed registration system and an employment service will need an employment placement component. Both may need activities tracking and demographics, but the shelter will need less demographic info than the employment service. This level of feature development can get pretty complex with the addition of more and more types of non-profits. However, it is less efficient, and more prone to error, if you are having to use more than one system to account for client activities across multiple programs within your agency.

So, obviously, the addition of features: assessments, new data collection forms, custom reporting, and changes to existing fields and forms should be a primary consideration in the development of a case management application.

The social services field is undergoing significant changes and will continue to undergo changes as public sector reform initiatives continue to play out throughout governments. These changes will effect the processes, policies, accountability and the reporting requirements of agencies involved. A hard coded application that is not straightforward to change will be out of date quickly. I also believe it should be ASP based so that it facilitates multiple agencies sharing relevant client information.

Much discussion will also need to be had on the security model. So, with all the above necessity of extensibility, wide implementations, and multiple features a CollabNet type environment for distributed development is essential. It may be that it's possible to take a legal case management framework and work with that; but that will take some investigation as well. I'm sure a framework is available out there somewhere that may form the basis for an open system...I'll keep looking.


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