Child Care Centres and Software – An Absolute Sine Qua Non? “The future is not something we enter. The future is something we create.” • Leonard I. Sweet, Writer, Teacher & Preacher.
"Software in our creche? But of course we use software," I hear you say. "After all – we use Microsoft Office, e-mail, and we even have a financial management and invoicing package!" In fact, if you are sufficiently large and successful as a Child Care Centre you may even be using some modules of a more sophisticated (and expensive!) ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, like SAP, or Oracle.
Is this sufficient? Well, to answer that we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Firstly, you can probably run a Child Care Centre without any software at all. I mean – that’s how it worked 20 or 30 years ago, right? Especially if you’re running a small setup it should be quite possible. Difficult, but possible. We’ll return to this a bit later.
Second, we are right in the throes of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, or then 4IR for short. What exactly is the 4IR? The Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, succinctly elaborates on this concept in his recently published book on the subject. He defines the four industrial revolutions as follows:
- The first industrial revolution took place between about 1760 and 1840, triggered by the invention of the steam engine.
- The second started in the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, triggered by electricity and the assembly line.
- The third industrial revolution began in the 1960s with the computer/digital revolution, culminating in the Internet.
- The fourth industrial revolution started within the last ten years or so, and is characterised by mobile Internet, the IoT (Internet of Things – everything is connected), smaller and more powerful (and cheaper) sensors, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.
It is within this new, and sometimes scary, world that most Child Care Centres find themselves operating in nowadays.
Furthermore, as Schwab states towards the end of his book: "The fourth industrial revolution renders technology an all-pervasive and predominant part of our individual lives, and yet we are only starting to understand how this technology sea-change will affect our inner selves. Ultimately it is incumbent upon each of us to guarantee we are served, not enslaved by technology. At a collective level, we must ensure that the challenges technology throws at us are properly understood and analysed. Only in this way can we be certain that the fourth industrial revolution will enhance, rather than damage, our well-being."
So this is an exciting and challenging time to live in, but also a time where one has to ensure that one is not overwhelmed by all the changes coming at one, especially as far as the management of information and data is concerned (not to mention fake news!).
And this is where the proper application of software is so important, especially within the Child Care environment. It is a tool, or as the heading of this article states – a sine qua non for effectively and efficiently running our Child Care Centres within the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (sine qua non is just a fancy Latin saying for something that is essential/that we cannot do without).
Let us therefore take a closer look at the concept of software (and management information).
The aim of this article is to provide an overview of the importance of utilising proper software to optimise the productivity of your Child Care Centre.
Productivity refers to the rate of output per teacher, capital or equipment. Children's learning opportunities in the years before especially kindergarten have an important effect on their performance in school and ultimately their ability to contribute to society as adults. In our case productivity relates to the extent that we can provide school-ready children.
Management Information and Software
To start with, let’s quickly look at two words in the preceding paragraphs that you may just have quickly glossed over, perhaps without even noticing them – effectiveness and efficiency. For the rest of this article to make sense it is important that we get a good handle on what these two terms really mean.
Effectiveness, in short, means doing the right things. In other words, it is having a good strategy and pursuing the correct objectives to make your organisation work. For a Child Care Centre it means, for example, having a proper health and safety approach in place, well-trained teachers, and a proper management information system. There may be many other objectives for your centre.
Efficiency, on the other hand, means doing things correctly. So – you may indeed have a proper management information system in place; you may indeed have well-trained teachers; and you may have a proper health and safety approach in place. BUT – are these "things" working properly? How do you know whether they are? How do you measure and track performance? Do you have proper management information (that you can trust in terms of accuracy) that you may access in real-time to see where the gaps in your establishment are, or in people’s performance? And what about the parents? Are they happy, or do you manage them by exception – in other words, you accept they are happy until somebody complains?
Many companies over the last century have gone out of business because they ASSUMED their customers were happy, just because they did not receive complaints. Silence does not equal a satisfied customer! At best, it equals a complacent customer, or one who is scared to disturb the status quo because he/she has no other option (nowhere else to take their child, for example).
It is especially with ensuring efficiency that we need proper management information in our Child Care Centres. So, what then is a Management Information System (MIS)? Management information systems are tools used to support processes, operations, and IT. MIS tools (software) move data and manage information.
MIS produce data-driven reports that can help Child Care Centres make the right decisions at the right time. The concept includes what computers can do in this field, how people (teachers and other role-players) process information, and how best to make it accessible and up to date.
The earliest forms of management information software were usually spreadsheets, like Excel or the old Lotus 1-2-3, and many organisations still rely on only that. The environment has unfortunately become too complex to manage by spreadsheet only. It (managing data) has become a science in its own right, with many categories and associated software.
In fact, it is our contention that to maximise the total value eco-system (within which the Child Care Centre operates), software within the Child Care Centre environment must deliver better management of child care processes, experiences, personnel and relationships with parents and other end-users. Such systems need to offer proactive, service-centric approaches that reflect, support and improve the organisations’ strategic objectives, brand, culture, and workplace productivity across the entire range of the Care Centre’s activities.
Categories of Management Information Systems
The major categories of systems include the following (this list is not exhaustive):
- Executive Information System (EIS):Management use an EIS to make decisions that affect the entire organisation. For your Child Care Centre this may involve tracking the extent of your strategy implementation, using perhaps a tool like Balanced Scorecard (strategic planning for Child Care Centres is a topic by itself, and one which we will address in future).
- Marketing Information System (MkIS): Marketing teams use MkIS to report on the effectiveness of past and current campaigns. Child Care Centres may use this to market their services to prospective parents – there are many software packages available.
- Customer Relationship Management System (CRM): A CRM system stores key information about customers, including previous sales, contact information, and sales opportunities. It is very important for a Child Care Centre to manage its parents’ information, but some modern Child Care Management Systems (CCMS), like ParentTM, incorporate this within their suite of offerings. Other centres may just use a package like Excel.
- Human Resource Management System (HRMS): This system tracks employee performance records and payroll data. Some Child Care Centres use this, but in general the staff complement is not big enough at most centres to justify the expense.Supply Chain Management System (SCM):Manufacturing companies use SCM to track the flow of resources, materials, and services from purchase until final products are shipped. Not really suited to the Child Care environment, although can be used if the organisation is sufficiently large.
- Transaction Processing System (TPS):An MIS that completes a sale and manages related details. Employees can use the data created to report on usage trends and track sales over time. This is not generally used by Child Care Centres but can be done.
- Financial Accounting System (FAS):This MIS is specific to departments dealing with finances and accounting, such as accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR). Most Child Care Centres use some software package, like Sage, FreshBooks, QuickBooks, etc.
- Child Care Management System (CCMS) – Sometimes also called School Communication Systems: There are many variants on this, ranging from pre-school systems which are optimised to link teachers, principals, administration staff and parents together to enhance everyone’s situational awareness regarding the progress of the child (like ParentTM), to systems that monitor babies, and systems optimised for tracking performance of school-going children right up to Grade 12.
In the next section we look at specific advantages of management information systems within the Child Care Centre environment.
Advantages of Management Information Systems
There are many benefits that come with applying MIS. Some of these benefits help make work easier for principals, while the rest of them help the organisation and other stakeholders, like teachers and parents.
Let’s take a closer look and see what you stand to gain from having a MIS.
- All stakeholders in the centre – teachers, principals, admin staff, and parents (if it is a CCMS) - have access to one single database that holds all the data that will be needed in day to day operations. Running the centre will be smoother because information will always be readily available and data collection methods like forms or questionnaires will be standardised.
- Teachers and other stakeholders in the centre will be able to spend more time doing productive tasks.Ttime is saved thanks to the more efficient information system. This time would have otherwise been spent setting up or retrieving traditional information recording systems such as forms and files. This is after all what we as parents really want – more teacher facetime with our children!
- Owing to the flexibility that is brought using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, MIS ensure that teachers have easier interaction with information about the progress of any process within the centre. This also ensures a higher degree of accuracy in data collection since it will be possible to record the progress in smaller milestones throughout the day on mobile devices as opposed to recording once at the end of the day.
- Inputs and modifications are logged, and the authors noted.The time when the change has been made is also recorded for future reference. This means that the centre can achieve a higher degree of accountability since all the actions can always be tracked back to the individuals who initiated them.
- MIS help reduce the amount of paperworkthat Child Care Centres must deal with thanks to the central database that’s accessible from the network (nowadays cloud-based, to ensure redundancy).
- Reports make it easy for Child Care Centres to easily identify their strengths and weaknesses in carrying out various tasks.Management Information Systems provide revenue reports, performance reports for teachers, expenses tracking reports and many others.
However, with introducing new technology within your Child Care Centre comes new challenges, not least of which may be some level of resistance to change by some staff members.
Overcoming Resistance to Change
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome when implementing any new system, but especially new software, is resistance to change by employees. And hey – even by parents, where relevant! After all, we are not all equally PC-literate. This is of course becoming less of a problem nowadays as we are all immersing ourselves deeper and deeper into the 4IR.
The noted Belgian author and speaker, Jeroen de Flander, elaborates on this to a large extent in his book, The Art of Performance. Now, the aim of this article is not really to talk about overcoming resistance to change – perhaps that may the focus of a future article, but there are some important pointers that we get from De Flander in this regard.
The one thing that De Flander says, and which he firmly believes in, is that talent – knowledge and skills – are developed. So, as far as the nature versus nurture argument is concerned, he firmly believes in nurture. It therefore means that ANY skill can be learned! This includes software. And to do this he promotes a scheme that focuses on three areas: Developing your passion and purpose; persisting in learning this skill always; and practice, practice, practice. When all three these elements are adhered to, as indicated in the below schematic, it leads to Greatness!
So, how do you overcome this resistance to change? Firstly, by developing the passion and purpose in your people, and let’s face it – most pre-school teachers have this passion and love for their calling. One only must illustrate how much easier an MIS will make their lives, allowing them to focus primarily on their first love, i.e. interacting with children.
Then it is just sticking with it (persistence), and practicing. The reason why most people are loath to try new software is because they think (a) it is complicated, and (b) that they will break something. By telling them that they cannot break the software by practising, and by also taking the lead (as the principal) in adopting the software, they are likely to come around quickly. Most MIS systems are actually very simple and intuitive to operate nowadays.
In the opening paragraphs of this article we posed the question of whether you can run a Child Care Centre without the use of any software at all. Or then, without any sort of MIS.
I think we have illustrated throughout this document that, yes, it may technically be feasible if you are a small setup, but even then, considering the demands that the 4IR places on us, the demands to be competitive with other centres, the demand to satisfy our primary stakeholders, i.e. parents optimally, and quite frankly, based on the demand to continually improve on our own levels of productivity and the need to provide a society with children that are school-ready – all these factors make for an increasingly cogent case for using proper MIS and related software within your Child Care Centre. In fact, we see this as a non-negotiable imperative within the next five years for ALL Child Care Centres (yes - a sine qua non).
Maybe you need to keep to a tight budget when you begin, but you should eventually invest in some quality tools as soon as you have the funds. If this is where we are all heading anyhow, why not get in on the action as early as possible?
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