// September 14th, 2012 // No Comments » // Affordable Housing, Cloud Computing, Document Management, Enterprise content management, Federal Government, Finance & Administration, Government, Health & Human Services, IT, Justice & Public Safety, Mobile, Public Works, Software as a Service, State and Local Government // Terri Jones
Next week, I’ll be attending the OnBase Training & Technology Conference (OTTC). During my time in government, I went to many users’ conferences, mostly out of self-defense. I viewed these events as a chance to lobby for the enhancements and improvements I needed for my department. Unfortunately, the process for discussing these needs was often missing or contentious.
When I reflect on these experiences, I realize it’s essential for government to have an avenue for asking software vendors about their processes for product development, enhancements and bug fixes before investing in an IT solution.
Knowing what I know now, here’s what I would ask vendors:
1. Do you have a users’ conference?
Users’ conferences are essential in order for you to develop an understanding about how much support you’ll receive once the sale is close. At OTTC, for example, users meet with colleagues to discuss trends and best practices. They can also participate in more than 200 sessions focusing on solutions and industry trends.
To ensure your vendor supports your solution after sale, ask these questions:
- If there’s no user conference, how can I network and discuss issues of common concern with other agencies?
- If there is a user conference, does it offer product and technical sessions for new features and functionalities?
- Is there a virtual community for agencies that can’t travel so users can still network?
2. What is the process for collecting customer-driven enhancements and how do you evaluate them for inclusion?
Enhancements are essential for government solutions, especially for those who have to respond to changing regulatory environments and own solutions connected to state or federal funders. You also need to discuss enhancements that are not regulatory in function to determine if they’re ranked for priority within the user community.
3. How often do you provide new versions of the solution? Is it included in maintenance?
Asking about the release schedule and the frequency of new versions is important for your future IT budget. Too often, you pay maintenance for technical support and still have to pay for solution upgrades – or both. This could potentially have severe budget implications for government agencies that may be faced with the choice of keeping their solution and cutting other funding, using an outdated system or eliminating the solution entirely. By reviewing the frequency of updates, along with the provider’s research and development investments, you’ll be able to evaluate whether the solution can service your agency today and in the future.
4. Do you have examples of government trends you’ve responded to in past solution releases?
Even though agencies don’t frequently make large purchases, that doesn’t mean they don’t need cutting-edge tools. Today, agencies are looking for process automation, easy integration of IT systems, mobile solutions, self-service features and web options as well as flexible licensing and cloud, or hosted deployments. Asking vendors this question will help you evaluate whether they can be a partner that helps you spot useful trends and tools or provide expansion options for your investment.
Overall, the latest and greatest IT solutions solve your needs now and in the future. By asking vendors these questions, you’ll learn how they think about their solution and how they’ll respond to your future needs. That, in turn, will help you make the wisest IT choice – one that will serve your agency beyond your current needs.