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Defining Total Cost of Ownership of Government Software – Part III: The “O”


It’s a beautiful word in government. “Ownership” exudes control over technology in a sector where control is often hard to come by. There are always new laws, new elected officials, new mandates and new needs.

While technology is often purchased to address these needs, sometimes the technology isn’t able to be controlled by the folks in government either. Sounds pretty counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

The good news is that if owning the software is something that’s important to government today (in my humble opinion, how can it not be important?!), there are options out there that work. Because the software vendors won’t always share your idea of ownership, here are some ideas that may help you to pick a solution that you can “own,” ultimately allowing you to meet your goals to decrease the total cost of ownership (TCO) of your software.

A new definition of ownership – “Ownership” used to mean software disks, hardware servers, server rooms, etc. Today, document management solutions can be delivered in the cloud or shared among government entities. Given reductions in government funds and staff, we need to transform our sense of ownership from where software is installed, to getting the best solution for the best value in whatever way that solution is installed. When it comes to ECM software, the SaaS alternative is tried and true with some vendors, making it a real option, especially if you’re facing limited resources and staff.

“Owner training” – Vendors will always offer an option for you to pay them to design, deploy and expand your document management solution, but the days of funding for unlimited custom services are over. So, as you evaluate TCO for document management or any other software investment, consider whether your vendor offers training options that let you learn to configure and expand your solution on your own. If training options are not available, consider it a clue that solution configuration may be very custom and thus, unsustainable.

By having this training up front, even if you choose to hire out to manage, design or deploy your solution, you are in a better position to manage the scope of the project and ensure it meets your agency’s needs and budget. And, if changes need to be made, you will be empowered to make them, instead of having to pay for custom services later on – a cost that’s not included in the original proposal price.

Expansion and flexibility – Especially when it comes to a document management solution for government, it will likely start small. But, as you expand it to other departments to include more people and processes, its TCO will continue to drop.

Being able to expand a solution on your schedule says a lot about “ownership” in and of itself. It implies the flexibility of the solution to accommodate many types of users, integration options to link to your other applications, and a product roadmap that adds features, upgrades, and updates to change as technology changes. In other words, while you might purchase a document management solution today to help you keep up with the overload of work due to reduced staffing, the same solution should be able to create and offer new services to constituents in the future.

The only certain thing in government is that it will need to continue to change to meet its constituents’ needs. And, to do this, it needs to OWN its solutions through the flexibility to configure the solutions, the availability of training to truly know the options and the ability to use the same investment that offers enhancements year after year.

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Jim Townsend

Excellent points. Car ownership implies you should be able to drive the vehicle without bringing a mechanic along for the ride, and true ownership of government software perhaps should not create permanent dependence on vendors, except perhaps in the case of cloud computing where this is inherent to the model.


O&M can be a killer especially with certain tech that becomes out of fashion. I’ve heard you can make a killing if you learn some of older languages like COBALT (sp?) because gov’t still needs them for O&M and nobody has that skill

Daniel Daughtry-Weiss

Even if a solution is custom built, so that the government “owns it,” it can be difficult to extend it later or in in other parts of the government. Developing on an open source platform, with open source protocols means more practical accessibility for future developers, developers in other agencies, etc., right?

Of course there are savings in ownership costs for liscences as well for all the supporting platforms as well…

Terri Jones

Daniel, open source is certainly an option! I am very interested in being sure that when I move forward on a technology that I can change it without serious costs or being held hostage to an expensive upgrade path due to mergers and acquisitions.

Terri Jones


I love your car and mechanic analogy, I may be using that in future but I promise to quote you! thanks for the post!!