Professional licensing agencies that need new or updated software systems usually take one of two paths: the slow path and the fast path. The traditional slow path is often appropriate, even necessary. But the benefits of the fast path – primarily, a quicker go-live – can be significant. Before picking a path, it’s worth checking with software vendors. You may be surprised by what can be done with a small budget on a tight timeline.
The Slow Path
The slow path typically involves the state procurement office, which solicits bids from vendors by issuing a request for proposals (RFP). The development of the RFP can take up to a year. Choosing and negotiating with a vendor can consume several more months, after which the system itself must be developed and tested. In all, the process can take more than two years.
There are good reasons to take the slow path. The request might be tied to a six- or seven-figure funding request, and most states set a spending threshold beyond which procurement must be involved. And because it’s difficult to secure significant one-time funding from lawmakers, issuing an RFP can turn into a “kitchen sink” exercise. An RFP can describe, in detail, a system that will meet every identifiable need an agency has.
The Fast Path
An agency pursuing the fast path engages a vendor up front, then works with the vendor to design a system that meets the agency’s needs. A vendor that has installed many licensing systems is usually better attuned to the agency’s needs than a state procurement office. And vendors often can leverage their expertise to install software within spending thresholds that trigger procurement.
The fast path can be particularly useful to agencies that are dissatisfied with their current systems – or some parts of their current systems – but unsure how to proceed. By contacting vendors, an agency can engage – for free – experts capable of diagnosing problems and suggesting solutions. Because experienced vendors have seen many systems over many years, they’re almost always able to make suggestions agency officials hadn’t considered. Often, these are relatively inexpensive.
Reaching out to vendors can be particularly valuable to state human services agencies transitioning legacy case management systems to meet comprehensive child welfare information system requirements. A vendor might be able to provide cost-effective replacements for troublesome system components, increasing the likelihood of a successful system transition.
When in Doubt, Call
Officials with licensing and child-care agencies can hesitate to call vendors to discuss system shortcomings and frustrations. Some want to avoid follow-up calls by salespeople. Some are too busy doing their day jobs. Others may not realize that a cost-effective solution to a nagging problem exists.
Suffering in silence is a mistake. Software vendors almost surely have solved similar problems for other agencies and could help yours as well. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask.