Avoiding fitful starts
Replacing a legacy computer system with a large enterprise resource planning or geographic information system can be challenging and time consuming. But, armed with a well-crafted plan that identifies organizational and end users’ needs, IT department officials can install a system that is widely endorsed by elected officials and staff.
To assess organizational needs, current business processes should be documented, identifying those steps that must be preserved. That documentation typically includes work flow diagrams that show tasks involved, who performs the work, and to what frequency and effort level. Next, IT staff can develop a list of current and future functional and technical requirements for the system.
That list then can supplement the request for proposals (RFP) document, which should create the system implementation framework. The RFP should include the organization’s goals; the need for a new system; the organizational structure; the desired environment; a scoring method for selection; questions to help evaluate the vendor’s company, people, services and products; as well as the technical and functional requirements for the new system. Shortcuts taken during the development of the RFP can increase the likelihood that the organization will purchase an unsuitable system.
During vendor demonstrations, city and county officials should ask specific questions about how the software works, how it will be implemented, the company background and future product development. They should compare their functional and technical requirements with the product’s and determine if it will satisfy their needs. Some local governments use a script that forces each vendor to demonstrate the same tasks and functions, which gives the end users a chance to see how the new software will be used daily. Using a well-defined script and a pre-established time for each demonstration makes it easier to compare products.
After system selection and contract negotiations are complete, the project focus shifts to implementation. Many projects fail from a lack of sufficient planning, risk identification, and timely correction of project or system defects. To prevent failure, particularly for large software projects, a growing number of cities and counties are contracting with independent verification and validation (IV&V) services to monitor the work of the vendor and the client. IV&V services can help identify project risks and develop mitigation strategies.
In addition, cities and counties need executive sponsorship to create an environment of staff buy-in for the project at all levels of the organization. They also need effective project leadership that will, at a minimum, help identify and minimize project risks, effectively manage staff time and involvement, and guide the project to completion. To manage any organizational resistance to change, local governments should assess departmental readiness and develop an implementation approach that minimizes risks and effects on staff.
The software and technology markets are ever changing, presenting challenges for local governments trying to replace software applications and upgrade to newer technologies. Using the preceding steps does not guarantee success, but it can help lessen many of the risks.
The author is a senior consultant for the Management and Information Technology Consulting Group at Portland, Maine-based Berry, Dunn, McNeil and Parker.