Posted by James Ha on May 11, 2015 6:00:00 AM
When I talk to public sector leaders, the subject that comes up most often is the need for sustainability. Transparency, accountability, and more efficient government are important goals, but they are diminished if solutions to achieve them cannot be sustained. So, truly innovative technology solutions must account for sustainability. Local government leaders often ask me what they should look for in technology solutions. Based on my experience in grants management, I share with them three attributes that define what I call sustainable software.
Support. I don’t mean technical support. When working with technology partners, look for dedicated support. Grants management is not a widely understood process. I have yet to meet someone that graduated with a degree in grants management. Also, consider how many certified accountants there are versus certified grant managers. This gap in expertise also highlights a key reality about the level of experience among grant management personnel in the public sector. That is, most are new to grant research and administration. And because many of these same people are also managing other duties, support and training are critical.
Look for partners with dedicated support staff that will get to know your team and processes. This allows new and transitioning personnel to share critical policies, procedures, and files with someone who understands and can bridge the knowledge gap. If there is a sudden change in personnel, for example, dedicated support teams can make an organization aware of critical timelines and missed activities. I’ve had dozens of conversations with leaders who tell me that their grants manager retired before a replacement could properly be identified. The end result: Grant funds are not spent, and reimbursements are not requested. In many cases, the cost of such oversights is in the millions. Roughly $100 billion in federal funding is mismanaged yearly in the United States (1 out of 6 dollars). Dedicated support should be a requirement, not an option.
Collaboration. To be a truly innovative solution, your partner must seek input and feedback from other innovators and thought leaders. You want a technology partner who is committed to transformative solutions through collaboration. Otherwise, a solution can easily miss the mark. Innovative partners that gather meaningful input from customers create long-term value. By working with innovators and thought leaders within their customer base, technology partners can create forward-thinking solutions that drive sustainable value. Collaboration also leads to product development that aligns future functionality with your organization's long-term challenges. This type of partnership pays for itself. Having a collaborative, innovative partner on your side is like having your own research and development team.
Focus. You want an innovative partner that does one thing well. That’s the way of the technology world today. Truly innovative solutions are focused on making one thing incredibly easy for the end user. They start small with a singular focus and create a truly exceptional solution and then build from there. Here’s a personal example: eCivis was started with input from a focus group at ICMA about 15 years ago. That focus group advised us to start by making the grants research process easier for local governments. We listened and started eCivis by creating the best grants research product on the market. Since then, we’ve added a couple of other areas of focus. Focus has allowed us to build smartly, which has translated into ongoing innovation and sustainable value for customers.
The other benefit of working with a focused partner is that they work with other focused innovators to create an incredible suite of services. This is one of the reasons that innovative state and local governments are moving away from custom IT solutions and expensive ERP systems to converged infrastructures made up of many focused services that deliver more efficient, optimized results. Oftentimes, by the time government entities implement traditional systems, they are already obsolete and the return on investment can take up to 10 years. ERP systems also fail to provide dedicated support and collaboration after implementation.
With fewer resources, a transitioning workforce, and budget constraints, innovative technology means more than just making things easier for local government. It means that sustainability must become a part of the development formula. So what does that look like? How do you make things easier for public sector organizations who have people wearing multiple hats and working with limited budgets? By finding innovative partners who build technology solutions that address these challenges.