Choosing the Right Software Provider – 10 Key Questions to Ask

Ask any business owner – transitioning from one business model to another is challenging. The situation is no different for municipalities and other local government organizations considering their digital transformation. Working with paper-based systems for permitting, licensing, and inspections may have become overly time-consuming and no longer be effective.

But what about the alternative? Perhaps the transition will bring disruption. Perhaps some municipality employees are afraid of working with unfamiliar tools. And what if your community invests in the wrong product or partners with an unreliable supplier? All these questions reflect municipality leaders’ real concerns. So, how can your community ensure that you are choosing the right software provider? Here are ten key questions you should ask.

1. Is Your Business the Software Developer or a Reseller?

Resellers may be able to offer what looks like a more competitive price. However, consider all implications before making a final decision. Most resellers have limited influence on the software itself. That means their ability to customize the solution you are buying is limited.

Purchasing directly from the developer allows your leadership team to customize your software to your community’s requirements. It also means that you have direct contact with the people who can update your software as appropriate.

2. Where is Your Customer Service Team Located?

Outsourcing customer services may save money in the short term. But it also puts unnecessary distance between the people receiving your questions, problems, and inquiries and those who know the software best.

3. Who Will Support Project Planning and the Implementation Phase?

Some software solutions require nothing more than a download and an installation. Moving an entire municipality from paper-based processes to digital operations is a much more complex undertaking. To transition smoothly and successfully, you need an experienced project manager by your side.

At Mitchell Humphrey & Co., we pride ourselves on working closely with you at every stage of the process. We understand that municipalities differ in their requirements, and work with you to develop a solid project plan that is tailored to your community. Once the plan is in place, we ensure that our expert team is supporting your community every step of the way.

4. Who Provides the Training for Our Team?

Many software providers outsource training commitments. At first sight, that makes sense. The trainers focus on teaching your team about the software you purchased, while the development team continues to build solutions.

However, separating those two functions by outsourcing training often limits the amount and the quality of feedback that developers receive. Maintaining an in-house training team allows software providers to integrate direct client feedback daily. The result is visible – your team receives better quality training and a better software product.

5. How Do You Handle New Releases and Client Customizations?

Most software providers offer some degree of customization with their software products. New releases and updates are equally common. For those reasons, one of the most important questions to ask is how software providers handle the combination of new releases and customizations.

As a client, you benefit from updates and upgrades. However, those should never come at the cost of any customizations you agreed to when you purchased the product. Leading government software providers will be able to accommodate both – they will ensure that your software systems are updated regularly while also devoting resources to integrating customizations.

Buying off-the-shelf solutions does not always allow for this degree of flexibility.

6. How Can Your Customers Suggest and Make Changes to the Software?

This question may sound a bit strange at first. After all, would customers know more about the software than its developers? The answer is yes.

No matter how much developers try to put themselves into the position of clients, your employees are the ones who will first experience potential issues. Because your employees also know their daily tasks better than the developers, they often have some of the best ideas for potential solutions. Software developers then work on translating those ideas into code.

Having a dedicated forum or direct access to the developers or other decision makers on the software provider’s side makes it easy to provide suggestions and then make changes that improve the overall product. At the same time, your team’s productivity will grow.

7. How Easy Is It to Create Actionable Reports?

No matter whether an organization is operating in the private or public sector, reporting is a must. Collecting data is only the beginning of the process. What municipalities (and private sector companies) really need are actionable insights derived from the numbers.

The software provider you choose needs to understand what type of data you collect and how you plan to interpret it. Leading software products allow municipality employees to draw up these reports within seconds, requiring nothing more than a few mouse clicks.

Financial reports are among the most critical in this context. Municipal government departments handle taxpayer money and need to account for their spending. Transitioning from traditional processes to software increases transparency between local officials, residents, and businesses. The right kind of software allows your team to spot potential savings quickly and address them immediately.

8. Is the Software Capable of Accommodating Unique Organizational Structures?

Most municipalities offer similar services to businesses and residents, but that does not mean they have similar organizational structures. Different locations require different teams.

Picture a metropolitan area in New Jersey and a rural community in Tennessee, for example. Their differences are huge, and those differences will be reflected in the local government’s organizational structure. Community development software products need to be flexible enough to accommodate those distinctions without compromising functionality or data security.

In fact, potential suppliers should ask your purchasing team about any specific requirements your community might have.

9. Will the Software Help Our Team Monitor Compliance with Laws, Rules, and Regulations?

Communities across the United States need to comply with a great number of federal, state, and local laws as well as other rules and regulations.

That is where software excels. Not only is it perfectly possible to ‘feed’ community development software with all relevant laws and regulations, leading products will ensure that your community automatically complies with those requirements. Software products can do this by checking data that is uploaded from building inspections, for example, against existing laws and code books.

As soon as the software finds discrepancies, inspectors and other relevant staff members can be alerted to take a closer look and resolve the issue.

10. How Well Do You Understand the Needs of Municipalities?

Not every software product works well for every organization. To ensure your community transitions smoothly to digital operations, find out how well your shortlisted suppliers understand the needs of local governments.

Municipalities have unique needs that private sector companies do not have. A software provider that excels in the private sector may not have the right products to support local government employees and their needs.

The industry-leading community development software, FastTrackGov® has been developed with communities in mind. We understand the needs of rural and urban locations and how to help leaders and employees deliver the best possible services to their residents and businesses. This is our passion, our focus, and our specialty.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a software provider for your community is a big decision that should not be made in haste. Asking the questions above and making sure your team is satisfied with the answers goes a long way toward making the right choice for your community. To find out more about what Mitchell Humphrey software can do for your community, contact us today to schedule a demo.