Defining Total Cost of Ownership of Government Software – Part II: The “C”

Last time, I wrote about the quest for finding the real “total” in total cost of ownership (TCO). As you consider the “cost” of TCO, I would like to offer some thoughts that might be useful as you evaluate document management projects and cost proposals.

Failed deployments

During my time at my housing agency, it took me three times to get one line of business application right. I am not proud of this. When the prices came in, I was told to pick the lowest price and I did, despite my knowledge that the product’s low price meant that I wouldn’t get updates. Also, I knew my users would hate the interface. But the worse part of the failed deployment was that users had months of discomfort as they transitioned to a new system, only to have to do the same thing again when we brought in another system.

How do you estimate this “cost”? Ask around to other document management users in government. Find out which products were the easiest to deploy and which products have a track record of keeping up with new technology, operating systems and government needs. And, make sure you know the true depth of their presence in government.

Integration costs

In my opinion, integrating systems in government is one of the most critical yet difficult tasks. It’s critical because while we have a wide range of databases helping us track, count and report, so much of that data is still stored on physical paper documents. Therefore, staff must constantly consult paper to update data, slowing productivity.

When I deployed document management, I created a very conservative estimate of saving 20 minutes of staff time per person per week, attributable to the walk to the file cabinet to get project files that they needed to consult to update our data. Using just this cost calculation, my initial ECM investment was paid for in 18 months. But it wouldn’t have been possible without easy and working integration capabilities.

By picking an ECM product with a proven integration to my databases, I could provide staff with a hot key tool that would automatically retrieve the required document they needed to consult, without walking to the file cabinet. And, I checked into the ECM integration tool and found one that I could maintain and support myself. Therefore, when my database vendors changed screens or one of my funders changed my tasks, I could respond without costly custom code changes.

So, to manage the long term “cost,” evaluate integration tools because just eliminating something as simple as the walk to the file cabinet will re-capture time and savings. And, be sure to find out which ECM vendor has the best integration tools or your cost to integrate will be hard to estimate and hard to support financially going forward.

The cost of not automating

I think we’ve passed the day when a government document management solution is simply a replacement for microfilm or physical paper. This is the new normal where we have to use automation, online services, electronic forms, etc. to survive the staff reductions to keep up with and improve our constituent service.

So, as you evaluate cost, remember, once the transition to document management solution is underway, the need to find automation will follow. Lower-priced solutions simply do not have workflow that is sophisticated enough to help government. Workflow is more than “routing” documents, and it’s certainly more than the ability to send a digital document to a colleague. If the document management solution you choose doesn’t have the right workflow tools, you’re costing your agency money.

To summarize, the “cost” of total cost of ownership may be more specialized in government than it is in the private sector. We have struggled to stay ahead on technology, but we have often been forced to choose applications based only on price. But it’s a new day and as I put it, a new normal. We now must integrate and automate to survive and meet the service expectations of our directors and our constituents.

Next time, the “ownership” of total cost of ownership.

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