In the rapidly evolving landscape of technology, finding the right solution for your aging and disability agency can be a daunting task. You may be transitioning away from an existing system or looking to implement from the ground up. Either way, this article offers a step-by-step guide to streamline the process and equip you with some tools and questions that will help your organization choose what’s right. We are not here to recommend what may be the right solution for your agency. Instead, this article offers a framework that others have used to successfully evaluate and select a software solution.
This article was written in collaboration with Brandy Lamb, consultant with InfoWorks, a business consulting firm focused on technology management.
Step 1. Discovery and analysis: Establish your baseline
Embarking on the journey to choose the right technology for your aging and disability agency begins with a critical examination of your existing software systems or processes. Even if you do not have a software system in place, it is still important to examine the current workflows and ways in which users are getting work done. This assessment serves as the foundational step to understand the current state of affairs, establishing a baseline that is crucial for informed decision-making.
Involving Stakeholders: Fostering Inclusive Decision-Making
The involvement of various stakeholders in this discovery phase is instrumental. Key voices from different departments or across various sub-agencies should actively contribute to the assessment. This inclusive approach ensures that the diverse needs and perspectives of each stakeholder are considered. By incorporating these voices early in the process, you lay the groundwork for building buy-in for any future changes. One way to do this is to conduct interviews across various stakeholders with a common set of questions for your business and data analysis (more below).
Building Buy-In for Change
Engaging stakeholders in the analysis not only captures their insights but also fosters a sense of ownership and involvement in the decision-making process. When stakeholders see their input reflected in the assessment, they are more likely to be receptive to subsequent changes. This early buy-in becomes a cornerstone for successful implementation, as the foundation for the chosen technology is laid with the collective understanding and support of those who will be directly impacted.
In essence, the Discovery and Analysis phase is not just about understanding where you currently stand; it is about creating a collaborative and inclusive environment that sets the stage for a successful technological transformation. By involving stakeholders and building a solid baseline, you not only identify areas for improvement but also cultivate the buy-in necessary for a smooth transition to a more efficient and effective technological landscape.
So what should be included in this analysis?
The first step involves a thorough examination of current process flows, software usage, and future data requirements. Talk to your end users across different stakeholder groups to understand how they conduct their work using current systems, workarounds, or other processes. Not every system is broken, and you want to make sure you identify what’s working in addition to what’s not. From there, you can identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. Some questions you could incorporate into this process are to ask your stakeholders:
- What really helps you accomplish your work? What do you like about the current system?
- What are the barriers to accomplishing your work? What do you dislike about the current system?
- Where have you created your own methods or workarounds to accomplish your work?
- If you could pick anything for a software to do, what would you want?
Next, you might create a feature matrix of functionalities your current software provides. Use this feature matrix to conduct interviews across user groups, departments, or agencies to illuminate the specific features that are actively used or those that remain untapped. Through this process, not only do you gain a nuanced understanding of current capabilities, but you also identify areas where the software falls short or features remain underutilized. Armed with this knowledge, the business analysis becomes a powerful tool for discerning the features that truly matter, paving the way for an informed and strategic approach in crafting the future requirements essential for the agency's growth and efficiency.
Evaluate the state of your data, limitations of your current system for the type of data or data analysis you are looking for. Assess the state of your data for readiness for migration to a new system (is it structured or unstructured data? Does it need to be de-duplicated?) Address storage and security needs around privacy, data protection, and access to your data. Some things to consider are compliance requirements of your current or future work (HIPAA, HITRUST, SOC-2, etc) and whether you require multi-factor authentication.
Step 2. Requirements gathering: What is a priority?
Once you have a good understanding of your current workflows and what is working or not working in your existing systems, you can start to build the requirements matrix that will guide your software evaluation.
Engage with key stakeholders in each department or business unit to understand their specific requirements. Use the feature matrix as a point of discussion to understand what capabilities are required moving forward and what may be less important. Come back to your stakeholders to verify your final list of requirements.
Create a requirements matrix to categorize and organize identified needs. Include columns for priority, department, and a brief description of each requirement. This matrix will serve as a guide throughout the software selection process. Assign priority levels (must-have, nice-to-have, etc.) to each requirement and verify the final list to ensure alignment with organizational goals.
Do not rush the process of building out your requirements matrix. Done well, the requirements matrix provides a structured framework that all decision makers can use as common language to evaluate potential technology vendors. The requirements matrix stands as a compass to steer your agency toward a technology solution that aligns with the nuances of your agency’s operations.
Example Requirements Matrix:
Step 3. Software evaluation: A structured process to select a finalist
Now that you are armed with a requirements matrix that major stakeholders agree upon, you can proceed to evaluating solutions. It’s important to set up a structured evaluation process to make decisions, where all decision makers or evaluators understand and use the same criteria to advance options through the process. The process should also collect the right information to effectively evaluate the solutions against the criteria.
1: Create a list of vendors to assess
Start broad and create a list of 5-10 or more vendors that your organization might consider. How do you find vendors that might be a fit?
- Consult your peers to ask what solutions they use or have evaluated
- Consult a third party consultant that conducts IT reviews to help you build a list or conduct a search
- Do your own research by using search terms related to your work (e.g. case management software, database for aging & disability, etc) via Google or sources like Gartner
- Meet vendors at industry conferences
- Visit vendor websites to gather information about their products, clients, and get a sense of the overall user experience
- Find relevant contact information in order to invite to participate (see step 2)
2: Initial screening: Written evaluation from invited vendors
Based on your initial assessment above, invite any vendors (~5-10) that you’d like to learn more about to participate in a written self-evaluation exercise or proposal to address your organization’s needs.
In your request, you should lay out background information about your organization and the requirements matrix. This may include:
- Information on your agency: the programs and services you provide, size of agency, history
- Description of the needs or pain points the vendor should be addressing
- Goals of the organization
- Project overview including timeline for selection and steps in the process
- Workflow diagrams or use case scenarios
- Requirements matrix
- Cost considerations
In your request, you may consider asking for the following information to help in your assessment of the initial vendors:
- Company Information: Date established, history, number of clients, etc.
- Responses to requirements matrix
- Description of implementation and data migration process
- Description of ongoing customer support
- Data and security questions (consult your IT department for requirements)
- Estimates of costs or cost methodology
- Videos or screenshots of the user experience
From these materials, each person on the project team should conduct an independent evaluation of the vendors based on the abilities of the vendor to meet your priority requirements. You might establish a rubric to assess, for example:
- How well the vendor meets the priority requirements
- User experience
- Ease of set up
- Customer service experience
- Documented experience with agencies like yours or similar implementations
3: Show, don’t tell: Live demos from a short list of vendors
From the initial screening, you should have narrowed down your list of vendors to 3-4 that you choose to invite for a live demonstration (demo). Live demos are one of the best ways to assess a vendor’s ability to meet the provided requirements and the user friendliness of the system for your users. Ideally, users of the system would be able to join the demo to help evaluate a vendor’s ability to meet their needs.
To make the most of the demo, you should consider preparing prompts or scenarios for the vendor to walk through in their product. This allows you to get a sense not just of the general software capabilities but specifically how they would apply to your workflow.
Examples of scenario prompts:
Client intake: Our agency receives calls from potential clients, who we must intake and assess via standardized assessments to determine their eligibility. Once determined eligibility, we enroll them in the appropriate programs. Show how your system would handle a client intake flow.
- Reporting: Show how data is collected, compiled, and run in order to generate our necessary monthly report (note: You may choose to share a report template and ask to see how a report could be auto-generated by the vendor system)
4: Final Selection
From the demos, you should have a clearer idea of who your ‘strong contenders’ are. From here, you could request additional information, conduct additional references, and go through a detailed analysis of vendor information. Review the compiled results from each phase to make an informed decision.
Congratulations, by now, you should have selected the vendor that best aligns with your agency’s needs!
Additional tips and lessons learned
Create a dedicated team internally to run the process. Project success relies on a dedicated project team with a deep understanding of data and technical requirements. The process can take considerable time and effort, and it’s important to allocate the appropriate time and resources. To build your internal project team, consider the following roles:
- Project manager to shepherd the process
- Data & technology expert: especially around security requirements
- User stakeholders who understand the programmatic elements
- Leadership representative who understands the data and reporting requirements
- Consider a third party consultant to conduct the assessment. A third party can help you navigate the process and avoid bias. They ideally will have done similar IT reviews with similar organizations, bringing with them the experience and rolodex to get a head start.
- Do not skip the live demos! Live demonstrations are critical to showcasing a vendor's ability to meet specific requirements and can be a much more accurate representation than written responses alone. It allows your team to view and ask questions in real-time to get a sense of a vendor’s knowledge base and compatibility to your needs.
Consider professional compatibility. Evaluate vendor behavior during the process as well to understand how they react to challenges, what their communication style is, how prepared they are, their organizational skills. By choosing a vendor, you are entering into a long-term relationship that hopefully is mutually beneficial. You want to make sure it is a vendor that you feel comfortable working with and have high confidence in.
In conclusion, choosing the right technology for your aging and disability agency requires a systematic approach. By following this comprehensive process, your organization can make informed decisions, ensuring a successful transition to a technology solution that meets current and future needs. Of course, this is just the start of your agency’s technology transformation journey as next you will have to transition out of your old ways of working and implement a new system, which we aim to cover in a separate article soon.