A Brief History of I&R software

Throughout the 1980s, comprehensive I&R software was only available to organizations that could afford the development of a customized system. Most early development projects were funded by the state or county governments. From these well funded projects spawned design and function features that are just now being recognized as standards for I&R.

One of the most important designs from these early development projects was the ServiceSite database structure.  This database structure was selected over all other database designs because if its unparalleled ability to support sophisticated Information & Referral searching and resource data maintenance functions.

From the late 1980s to the mid 1990s, a truly comprehensive, generic and affordable information and referral/client tracking software system was unavailable to thousands of small to medium sized I&R call centers. The few vendors marketing I&R software at that time were generally small software programming companies who were initially hired by a local I&R organization to develop a system that would automate their in-house I&R functions or to automate their Rolodex.

In most cases, these vendors had little or no prior human service software development experience and developed I&R software without any knowledge sophisticated I&R functionality or previously designed database structures. The end result was the introduction of the infamous Agency/Program database, keywords systems, user-defined geographic systems as well as a host of other functions that have since hindered I&R call centers.

In the late 1980s, one of the first major advances in I&R was the introduction of the AIRS Taxonomy of Human Services. The Taxonomy provided the foundation for a national standard service classification system and offered a wealth of powerful searching tools.   

Initially, several vendors resisted including the AIRS Taxonomy into their software. Even when some vendors implemented the Taxonomy it was too difficult. Most users of these system continued to used an optional Keyword based service classification system. Some of these products are still on the market.

From the mid 1990s to the present, many I&R software vendors have come and gone.  Only a handful of viable I&R software vendors exist today.

The core products for a number of these software vendors are not Information & Referral. Their core products range from HMIS, Workforce, to funding software. In most cases, I&R was not a consideration in the original design of these system. In order to market to the I&R community, simple I&R components were added. Most Web-based I&R software fit this mold.

In 2006, there are fewer than ten viable purpose built Information and Referral software systems. Careful analysis will reveal which system is right for your I&R organization.