Information Technology and small-scale food organisations: Is IT a nightmare?

This paper aims to share the experience that Sustain has had in working with community-run enterprises that trade in local and sustainable food, to develop Information Technology (IT) systems to support their work.


Information Technology and small-scale food organisations - is IT a nightmare?This paper aims to share the experience that Sustain has had in working with community-run enterprises that trade in local and sustainable food, to develop Information Technology (IT) systems to support their work.

Our interest in this area grew from our observation that some of the community food organisations that we were working with were struggling with their administration and that this was becoming more acute as they grew.

At the same time, many were nervous about introducing IT systems to help manage their administration and were worried about the implications of this both in terms of money and staff time.

Sustain started to explore whether it might be possible to build a common IT system that could be adapted to meet the needs of many different community food organisations by adding on modules. In the process we also looked at adapting an existing software package and also worked with developing some simple systems from scratch. This paper documents how that work developed and the conclusions that we have drawn.

"We have witnessed first hand the positive effect that using IT can have on an organisation’s effectiveness and ability to grow. One of the local community projects (producing nutritious school meals using local ingredients) developed a web-based ordering system. The resulting control that they had over their operation in terms of understanding their costs put them streets ahead of most other community-run food projects with similar social and environmental aims."

Report contents

Summary

Introduction

IT is important

  • IT helps manage costs
  • What sort of system?

Round 1: Adapting an existing system

  • Organisations 1 and 2
  • Organisation 3
  • Shared concerns
  • Software assessment

Round 2: Commissioning a modular IT system

  • System A pilot project
  • Food co-ops supplier
  • The organic vegetable supplier
  • The view from the software developer
  • Conclusions

Round 3: The customised system

Conclusions

What we have learnt

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08/03/2012
Making Local Food Work

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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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