Tuesday, August 03, 2004

When should an organization consider outsourcing a system selection project?

It makes sense to seek help with system selection when:

1. The organization lacks the time and/or technical expertise to evaluate vendors.
2. The organization wants to draw on the experience of someone who has matched similar organizations with systems in the past and already knows what's available.
3. The organization needs help choosing between competing options.
4. The organization needs impartial help in evaluating and prioritizing its needs.
5. The organization lacks experience with other systems or ways of working.
6. The organization wants guidance that is free from office politics.

What should be included in an outsourcing project?

A system selection project can include any or all of the following:

1. interviewing key staff, board members, and volunteers to understand long-term goals and daily operating needs

2. identifying and prioritizing mandatory and optional features

3.creating a qualified vendor list

4. assembling a request for proposals (RFP) and evaluating responses

5. identifying technical infrastructure requirements

6. specifying integration requirements

7. developing scripted scenarios so all vendors show comparable features; for instance, when comparing fundraising databases, each vendor might be required to create two donor records, merge them and add some joint gifts, then separate them and show the effect on the gift records
8. identifying required resources, including budgets, staffing, policies, procedures, and training

Who from your organization should be involved in the project?

Begin by appointing a respected, neutral staff member to oversee the project and serve as liaison to the consultant. The liaison could be a knowledgeable staff member who does not have a vested interest in any particular outcome. The liaison should have sufficient stature to make recommendations to senior management. The liaison does not need to have a technical background. However, it's critical that this person be given the time to oversee the project (which may require shifting duties temporarily), and have a personal interest in seeing the project through.

Next, convene a selection committee representing each of the major groups that would enter data or receive reports from the system, such as fundraising, membership, marketing, finance, client intake, and information technology. When you hold software demonstrations, invite all interested staff and volunteers. They should be given an opportunity to provide comments to the selection committee, preferably in writing. The selection committee's job will be to evaluate the demos, check references, compare costs, and make a recommendation to management. The internal liaison should oversee the decision-making process, though the consultant may facilitate the process. Under no circumstances should the consultant make the final decision -- the organization must control this.

Expertise required from a outsourcing partner:
1.experience helping comparable organizations solve similar problems

2.objectivity and communication skills

3. experience assessing business processes, database requirements, and organizational effectiveness
4. experience turning business needs into scenarios for software demos

5. experience working with committees and facilitating group decision-making
experience with a variety of database solutions

Benefits of outsourcing a system selection project:

1. getting it done: organizations are frequently not able to allocate the necessary time, or they lack the skills to manage the project and compare options

2. creating a sense of urgency: paying a consultant tends to make the project a priority for everyone, particularly senior management

3. getting access to expertise that the organization lacks

4. having an objective facilitator run the project

5. getting an unbiased assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the systems under consideration and how well they'll meet the organization's needs .