Think You're Ready to Buy Human Services Technology? Think Again.

By Michael Drabek    April 26, 2021

“It’s easy to make things hard. It’s hard to make things easy.”

This adage rings true for human services in many ways, especially when it comes to purchasing and implementing technology. The process can be complicated for anyone, but if your agency overlooks certain key steps or considerations along the way, it becomes that much harder.

I’ve spent the last 15 years helping large and small agencies across the country navigate their buying journey. In that time, we’ve identified several mistakes that agencies tend to make that can derail a project before it even starts.

So, think you’re ready to buy some new human services technology? Before you sign on the dotted line, ask yourself these questions to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything that could set you back or hinder your success.

How will you measure success?

Make sure you’ve thought through your goals for the project before the solution is in place. This may seem counterintuitive, but we’ve seen plenty of agencies fall into this trap!

Get specific—you should be able to name the specific indicators and return on investment (ROI) measures you’ll use to support each goal you’ve identified, as well as the anticipated timeline to impact.

This will save you from having to backtrack to defend your decision if stakeholders, the community, or a review board questions whether the agency is effectively spending taxpayer money and delivering on its promise to support citizens.

What root problem are you aiming to solve?

A successful technology project starts with getting crystal clear on the specific problem you’re trying to solve. It’s tempting to focus on surface-level, short-term issues, but you have to dig deeper and identify the root cause. Otherwise, you might invest in a band-aid solution that ultimately creates more problems than it solves.

Keep in mind that if these problems tie back to COVID-19 and the public health emergency, you may be able to receive federal funding through the Coronavirus Relief Fund for your initiatives. Reach out to learn more!

Is your timeline realistic?

Work backwards from your ideal date when end users are up and running to create a timeline of the key milestones you need to hit to keep everything on track along the way—When do we need a contract in place? How long will implementation take? When do we make the initial payment?

The goal is to create a blueprint to ensure you won’t get stopped by any unforeseen roadblocks that could send you back to the start line.

Do you need approval from other governing bodies?

While this question also relates to your timeline, it’s so important and often overlooked that it’s worth calling out on its own. Especially if your agency is buying technology for the first time, you may not be aware of all the various stakeholders who need to sign off on your purchase (e.g., board members, commissioners, legislators, etc.).

Learn the approval process—and, more importantly, how long each step will take—before you get started to avoid surprises.

Have you gotten buy-in from your staff?

If you make assumptions around what your staff will want or need without directly inviting them to share their perspective, you risk wasting money on a solution they won’t even end up using.

Survey your staff before you commit to anything to identify what they want (or don’t want) in a tool, as well as the potential barriers or risks you’ll have to overcome to ensure whatever you choose is successful and meets workers’ needs. Successful organizational change management starts early.

Have you considered moving to the cloud?

Cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) solutions can be especially attractive for small or medium human services agencies with limited IT staff and resources, yet many are still hesitant to make the switch.

Before committing to a traditional perpetual solution because that’s what you‘ve always done in the past, consider that a cloud-based solution could help simplify your infrastructure and reduce the long-term burden on IT. 

Is the tool flexible enough to support your agency’s long-term vision for technology?

The right technology (especially if it’s cloud-based) will grow with your agency. It should be built to adapt with your business processes and keep up with ever-changing policies and requirements, while aligning with your long-term vision or roadmap for technology.

That way, you know you’re investing in something that will continue to provide benefits over time instead of just providing a “quick win” in the short term. Otherwise, what’s the point in buying it?

Get the Guide: Human Services Technology Toolkit

Buying and implementing technology is a big undertaking.

08-06-2020 Buyers Guide Overview Feature

We created a toolkit written specifically for human services to help you make an informed decision that's right for your agency and community.

Whether you’re searching for a solution, preparing to release an RFP, or getting ready to award a contract, we hope it helps answer your questions and identify the areas where you may need to focus a bit more time and energy to make sure your project is a success—now and in the future.

About the Author

Michael Drabek

Vice President of Sales for Local Government

Michael Drabek, vice president of sales for local government, thrives on knowing Northwoods offers solutions that empower the human services workforce to provide holistic benefits, treatment, and services to the people they help. Michael knows the challenges of government buying and uses this insight to provide agencies with the information they need to make technology decisions that support their mission and position them to achieve long-term success.

Think You're Ready to Buy Human Services Technology? Think Again.

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