Buying new government software is a big investment. After the work of researching, evaluating, and selecting the product, the last thing you want is a difficult implementation process. As many governments have found out the hard way, successful implementation can make or break an entire project. So before you start searching, here are a few tips to ensure you’re successful.
Agile vs. Bulky
You may be thinking “agile” and “bulky” describe ballerinas and baggage–what do they have to do with software? To answer simply, agile software lets you quickly launch the system and improve on the go, while bulky software is not useable until all the pieces are in place (think the Great Wall of China).
Wait, but doesn’t every piece need to be in place before you launch? No. In fact, agile software is designed so you can launch incrementally. It’s an iterative process that allows users to build on previous work and flexibly adapt to unexpected changes.
Agile software projects are successful (meaning: on-time, on budget, and with all planned features) three times more often than non-agile projects. It’s the best way to ensure a successful project, and here’s why:
1. You get off the ground much faster.
Ask the City of San Francisco. It took 2 years past the scheduled completion date and 3+ million dollars above the initial contract price to install their bulky permitting system. Bulky software takes much longer (and usually a lot more money) to get your system live.
“Instead of $4 million, it’s almost $8 million. It’s four years later, and we are no closer to resolving this. In my mind, this is a crisis.”
-Debra Walker, Building Inspector Commissioner, San Francisco, CA
as quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle
Installing bulky software is like trying to read a 500-page book with no paragraphs. Agile software breaks up the book into logical, bite-sized chunks that are easy to understand and manage.
You can see right off the bat what’s working and what’s not, then adapt your system and processes accordingly. This follows industry best practice to use a continuous improvement process (CIP or CI)–an ongoing effort to improve products, services, or processes.
Servicing three different state agencies in Rhode Island, ViewPoint Cloud was running within 11 months, from start to finish. The agile nature of the software allows for incremental implementation at different levels of government and for different uses. As implementation spreads to other departments, agencies, and municipalities, the process will benefit from previous iterations, becoming even smoother and faster.
2. You can experiment before you set up the entire system.
There’s nothing worse than spending years and precious budget dollars on software, just to find out that it doesn’t work how you thought it would. There are too many stories of governments (with the best intentions) drowning in past due dates and blown budgets, only to find it wasn’t worth the investment. PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2012 Digital IQ Survey found that IT initiatives are often late, over budget, or incomplete:
With agile software, you can figure out what design works the best for you in real time. From the beginning of the project you have a gauge of how the new software will work and how to maximize its effectiveness. This dynamic implementation structure means mistakes are caught earlier, and the process becomes more efficient as time goes on.
3. You minimize day-to-day disruption.
Agile software allows you to get your system off the ground while prioritizing the most important parts of your day-to-day work. Maybe your major workflows get organized right now, while the parts you rarely use can wait until you have a little more time. Agile software gives you control of your implementation process, which will mean less disruption for you and for the people you serve.
Train the Trainer vs. Contractor
Hiring professional help is smart when you need it, and a waste of time and money otherwise. If software is simple enough, you can set it up using a “Train the Trainer” (TTT) model, where the vendor trains a few key staff members who then continue the implementation process with the rest of their team. This avoids the costly hassle of hiring an outside contractor to implement the software. You may ask, but if we can afford it, why not hire a contractor? A Train-the Trainer approach doesn’t just save you money, it also gives you control over your project.
1. You have control over the implementation timeline.
You’ve gone through all the trouble of selecting and approving the new software, now you want to get things up and running as quickly as possible. When you rely on an outside contractor, you are tied to their ever-changing deadlines. Portland, Oregon learned this the hard way after hiring a firm to install new ePermitting software. At the end of a three-year contract, only 50% of the promised work had been completed. The contractor was dropped, and the system is now expected to launch a full 3 years behind schedule.
“It is my opinion that while the vendor possessed the capabilities at the time the project was awarded, they have since lost that capability–along with the entire team, 17 people.”
Ken Neubauer, City Committee Oversight member, Portland, OR
qas quoted in GovTech magazine
Quite a different story in Lomita, California, where one city intern took charge of implementing ViewPoint Cloud, and the system was running in 75 days.
“We were able to add forms, workflows, and documents quickly using the provided guides and with the help of support staff. ViewPoint automates much of the application process for both applicants and for staff members, helping us to be more efficient and consistent in the future.”
Kamille Parks, City Intern, Lomita, CA
Managing projects this efficiently is the kind of thing that gives citizens faith in their government.
2. You save big.
It’s as true as it’s always been–doing something yourself saves you money. Implementation costs can skyrocket when you hire an outside contractor. Portland knows this all too well. After purchasing permitting software for $3.9 million, they are now projected to exceed their $11.8 million project budget, largely due to implementation costs. Almost half of this money has gone to travel and management expenses.
A TTT setup comes with a much smaller price tag that’s integrated into the initial cost of the software. ViewPoint Cloud customers spend a small fraction of the software cost on implementation. These savings are then compounded by the efficiency of using the new software.
3. You design the way you want.
No one knows your workflow better than you do. Setting up software yourself helps maximize what the product can do for you, because you build it to your specific needs. Just as importantly, you get to learn how to use the program as you design it. This way, the software is not a static product for you to use by the book, but an evolving tool that will adapt to your organization’s changing wants and needs (think Tesla).
In Orange, Connecticut, government officials used ViewPoint Cloud’s Train the Trainer process to reorganize their workflow and achieve greater efficiency.
“By building our applications and workflows in [ViewPoint Cloud], it gave us the opportunity to review our current applications and streamline them to fit the new system.”
Tim Smith, Fire Marshal, Orange, CT
The best kind of software doesn’t just automate tasks, it improves the process.
Intuitive vs. Complex
Setting up software that’s hard to use is kind of like building a tree house without knowing how to climb the ladder. A successful implementation process includes learning how to use the product, and intuitive software makes this process so much faster. Here’s why this matters:
1. You increase efficiency from the get-go.
A complicated system means a long learning curve for department employees and applicants. When the City of Denver, Colorado implemented their complex permitting software, the city warned users they may experience longer wait times in the days and weeks leading up to the launch. The initial upgrade caused 38% longer wait times at the counter while employees learned the new system (online applications won’t be available until 2017).
“Three months ago, I was waiting about four weeks for a permit. And now they’re telling me 10 to 12 weeks, maybe.”
Dave Ellena, Developer, Denver, CO
as quoted in the Denver Post
Government officials in Quincy, MA, who found ViewPoint after a year struggling with another permitting system, were able to setup ViewPoint software in a matter of months during peak application season.
“We felt that ViewPoint was easy enough to use that we could pull the trigger at the busiest time of the year.”
Jay Duca, Director of Inspectional Services, Quincy, MA
Intuitive software is designed for human brains, so it makes the learning process natural. A quick learning curve is essential for improving efficiency from the get-go, especially for software that will immediately undertake heavy workflows.
2. You get more freedom.
When software is intuitive you understand it better, giving your more freedom to use it in the way that works best for you. It presents opportunities to use the software in ways you might have never imagined or needed when you first bought it.
The month before Rhode Island was set to launch ViewPoint Cloud, an emergency caused the State Fire Marshall to suddenly assume responsibility for foster home inspections statewide. Because officials were able to fully understand ViewPoint Cloud’s intuitive interface, they could adapt and use the software to handle the inspection workflows.
Intuitive software means you have more choices about how you want to manage and integrate your current systems. Whether or not you have to handle a crisis, fully understanding the tools you have at hand means you can use them more effectively and creatively.
3. You don’t have to invest in training your citizens.
Successfully implementing a SaaS product means both government employees and the public must understand how to use it. With the advanced state of consumer software, most people expect websites and digital tools to be user-friendly. Government software that matches the intuitive design of consumer software will smooth transitions and governments will avoid the hassle of confused or upset citizens.
Intuitive software will likely give public users a more positive experience with government services and improved perception of their government. Officials in Quincy, MA found that citizens were immediately able to use ViewPoint’s intuitive interface, so much so that they decided to go completely paperless.
“Everyone was really happy about it [because] it’s very fast. One guy had six [permit applications] and completed them in ten minutes.”
Mike Webber, Facilitator to the Electronic Document Initiative, Quincy, MA
Bringing innovative technology to governments is about improving their ability to serve the public, and strengthening the role of the public sector in our communities. Good tools help people do this better.
So the next time you start shopping for new government software, remember these 3 product keys to successful implementation:
With the right software, your government can hit the ground running so you can focus on the important stuff.