How technology can help increase the good you do in the world
Mark Hambleton, AIS founder and senior analyst
22 years after starting AIS, it broke my heart to realize that my company had evolved into the very type of business I’d set out to avoid – successful, yet working so hard on profit that ethics took a back seat sometimes.
Back in the 1980s, personal computers were in their infancy and I was drawn to the new opportunity of programming. It’s democratic and creative. It allows small businesses and nonprofits to leverage what used to be available only to the Fortune 500.
This aligned with my belief that all aspects of our lives, including work, can be designed to reduce harm and suffering, and nurture well-being for ourselves, others and the planet.
I want to help companies thrive, in health
I worked hard to build a client base, talking to thousands of potential customers one at a time. Winning a new customer meant I could afford to remain in business and pay the rent, while using customizable software to make company workflows and processes run really well.
Caught up in the busy day-to-day operations of a fast-paced, growing business, I was slow to notice that the companies that had the profit margins to best afford the high-end software that allowed in-depth customization—those companies were largely in industries that tend to value profit above the well-being of humanity.
My client list included a gun distributor, retailers of cheap consumer products that quickly end up in landfills, a multi-state funeral home business responsible for putting toxic chemicals into the soil; and more. Industries that I didn’t want to work in.
My client list included old-school managers who routinely prioritize short-term cost savings over long-term well-being. Like the operations manager who wouldn’t spend $5,000 to automate a project approval backlog, even though the backlog created daily extra work that frustrated his employees and a monthly $500M cash flow problem that increased the company’s financial risk. Or the nonprofit director who wouldn’t allocate enough time to ensure all staff were trained properly, thereby frustrating them (i.e. lower productivity) while losing much of the potential value benefit of the software.
It was disheartening to work with owners who don’t trust their employees or treat them kindly. Like the company president who asked me to hide the cost of his products in the software so that his people couldn’t determine how much profit he was making.
I decided to shift my business and look for companies that valued ethics as much as the bottom line
Even if it meant scaling things back for awhile as I shifted the direction.
I want to work with innovators who are running organizations that prioritize sustainability, who measure their community impact, and who care deeply about worker well-being. I want to work with nonprofit directors who strive to live the values of their organizations at every level. This shift is incredibly re-energizing.
Happily, there’s a growing trend of such leaders today. More entrepreneurs are founding companies that are purpose-driven to disrupt toxic industries, support social justice issues, or deliver environmentally respectful products. Innovative structures abound, like employee-owned companies and cooperatives, and business models that prioritize the health and sustainability of the supply chain.
In family-owned companies, when the younger generation takes over the business, more often they want to modify company practices to do more good in the world while still creating wealth. And more nonprofits are reassessing how they want to work and how their day-to-day actions add up to maximize their total impact.
Not only that, today’s low-end and mid-tier programmable software tools can do far more than the original expensive systems could do when I first started my company. That means that custom programming is now truly democratic. The creativity it allows is accessible to anyone.
The best part is that what I’ve done with my own business—flexibly changing it to align with my beliefs—is the same thing I’m helping others do, too
It brings me joy to work with innovators who value these things as I do, and to design and build software solutions for them that help amplify their positive force in our world.
7 ethical ways to use accounting software
Innovative accounting isn’t about designing more creative P&L statements. It’s about using your software to help your people, your customers, your supply chain. When you automate something – for example, giving employees easy “one-stop” information access for complete awareness of the customer relationship and status – it brings pragmatic results like higher quality service and greater customer retention, which directly improves net profit. At the same time, it supports your commitment to treat people well and ethically.
1. Do no harm
This is the first priority. Ensure that you’re not using technology to support products or practices that exploit people; that lead to degrading or unfulfilling work; that hurt the community or environment; that deny responsibility; or that lead to suffering rather than health.
2. Create well-being
Ask wide-open questions. How could life be better? How would the ideal day be? How do you want to live and work? How can profit be generated with ease so that more money is available to fund good initiatives? Then, ask how could you automate that to run easily and facilitate your workflow? Leverage software to add lightness, kindness, balance and the capacity to make things function well.
3. Assess often
Use your software to look deeply at what’s actually going on, to make it easy for your team to stay flexible and resilient. Set up alerts to signal changes in sales volume or to validate quality. Automatically monitor your inventory flow, your computer usage, your people’s suggestions—so you can tune things and put systems in place to have what you want to occur, occur. Be informed so you can shift in response to brilliant ideas and external changes.
4. See the whole
View the system as an interdependent whole. If you focus on optimizing one department and ignore another, then the other can break when weight is put on that area. Deploy software tools and data to foster opportunity, responsibility and problem solving among people at all levels. This level of care also makes it easier to hire solid people and keep them with you.
5. Be accountable
True accounting goes beyond finances, profit, taxes and earnings. Use your software to track values-based metrics. Things not normally on the books can become traceable assets and liabilities to monitor and improve. For example, your preventative maintenance, your service call response time, or the amount of non-renewable resources you use.
6. Be transparent
Use your software to facilitate open communications about what’s important. In the old days it was confidential ledgers. Today it’s open accountability, “What lot number is that from?” “What’s our response time for order fulfillment?” “What’s our environmental footprint?”
7. Build self-reliance
When you add software, consider what independence, flexibility and community resources are built in, versus dependence on the vendor. Get all you need and only what you need. Use its full capacity; keep it up to date with your needs. Maximize the value you receive over time, just as you would from a car that’s built to last.
Getting a financial ROI is ethical too
Use software to achieve higher results
When software is used well it brings better stability, ease, productivity and underlying financial health.
Even if you have a powerful entrepreneurial or social impact dream – while helping you create that vision, we’re talking about facilitating your operations in a responsive way.
We’re focusing on high return on investment areas, automating accounting, service dispatch, customer relationship management.
- Get your problem areas quantified so you can easily prioritize next actions
- Get a clear vision and scope in hand to move to a new system efficiently
- Get technical guidance from experts in workflows, accounting and software
Technology and ethics are intertwined
That’s why we’re designers and builders first, not software sales reps or consultants in suits.
The use of flexible source code software as the platform to control the software to serve your needs gives you the ability to take ownership and responsibility for your technology and account for that to your stakeholders.
We’ve been doing this for as long as anybody. These functional choices are as critical to receiving a return on technology investments
as anything else.
Find out how much your business software can increase your social and financial results
A Technology Impact Assessment from AIS is a personalized strategy that shows how your business can get more benefit from technology. It’s a working document that explains how technology can best support your organization’s goals.
Use it as an ongoing road map of how software can guide the optimum workflow in all your departments – and as a tool to help you manage risk, prepare budgets, address problems and manage change points in your business.
We interview people in all of your departments and walk your facilities with you.
We assess your workflow and technology and share industry best practices.
We overlay your goals for profit, growth and social impact.
In ranking opportunities, we consider your high-impact areas and mitigating factors.
We consolidate strategy, options and recommendations, and review them with you.
When you’re facing a technology issue, turn to a trusted software expert
It’s exciting to work with technology experts who understand your business processes, accounting, and software, and can brainstorm innovative ideas with you. A common comment from our clients is, “Now we really understand what’s going on in our departments!” We enjoy helping innovative managers bring their visions into reality.
Our assessments come with a 100% satisfaction guarantee
Our Technology Impact Assessment is $7,500 for nonprofits and companies under $100 million in size, and $10,000 for larger companies. If you feel your assessment delivers less value after we’ve reviewed it together, just say so and we’ll change your price to whatever amount you judge the assessment’s value to be.