7 questions to ask before implementing new technology
There are a range of challenges agencies face when implementing new technology, from vendor lock-in to speed to launch. Each IT department faces a slightly different equation, based on current technology, processes and resources.
Whatever the starting point, ask the following seven questions before deploying new solutions:
1. Are there any installed tools that could solve for some/all of the problem at hand?
Sometimes the answer is already in at hand. Before implementing something new, look at the existing stack to see what could be applied more broadly. Many local governments pivoted their existing technologies to handle the recent shift to working from home and digitizing citizen services. Messaging tools like Microsoft Teams were used for file sharing and email reduction, and PayPal accounts were considered as a way to pay taxes.
Working with applications that are already available can bypass the purchasing and onboarding processes, saving valuable time — especially during a crisis.
2. What security measures are needed to protect agency networks, and who owns the data?
As IT managers well know, cybersecurity is a top priority when assessing new technology. It’s important they dig into how the vendor stores data and who actually owns it. When data about the public or government is involved, it’s critical that all parties — the IT department, the vendor providing the product and the public or users of the product — understand who owns the data and how it will be used. Local governments must make sure they have access to the data, even if they’re not the outright owner.
Besides confirming that their own systems have layers of security, agencies should do a deep dive with vendors on those firms’ security protocols — and if they don’t have any or can’t describe them, that’s a red flag.
Understanding that human behavior is greatest cybersecurity risk — and it’s harder to manage with a remote workforce – IT managers should assess their risk factors exist and be sure to train and educate staff accordingly.
3. Will people use it?
It doesn’t matter how groundbreaking a piece of technology is — if people can’t or won’t use it, then it’s not a good solution. Be sure to understand what training and ongoing support the vendor will provide, what costs (if any) are associated with that and what additional resources, like remote hardware or a helpdesk, will be required.
One way to test whether employees will adopt a new product is to pilot it with a small group or over a short period of time to gain insights before committing to a contract.
4. If a product or service is being offered for free right now, what will it cost when it’s time to renew, and will our budget accommodate it?
Many vendors are offering their services for free for a limited time, whether in response to a crisis or as an entry point for users to try out the product. IT managers have mixed feelings on this. For some, it’s a good opportunity to quickly onboard a new tool — especially if the local government has an existing relationship with the vendor. Others avoid these deals.
Those who do take advantage of “freemium” offers should be sure to map out the budget impacts down the road. If the agency budget can’t accommodate the full price come license renewal, it may not be worth the effort to implement while the product’s free.
5. What is the realistic timeline to launch, including staff training?
Say it with us: Things ALWAYS take longer than expected. Agencies should ask the vendor for implementation timeline and milestones and discuss how the product is being built and what happens if things get delayed. Extra time should be built in for testing, troubleshooting and training. Having contingency plan if things launch a month (or multiple) later than expected is always a good idea.
6. What’s the exit strategy if this solution doesn’t work?
Failure is part of innovation. To prepare for this, agencies should always have a Plan B in case the new product doesn’t work out as expected.
Part of this plan includes considering exit strategies: What happens if the agency doesn’t renew or cancels the agreement? Is the de-installation process difficult? If there’s no easy way to extricate a local government or its data from a product, agencies risk getting locked-in with the vendor, which can result in more inefficiencies and cost down the road.
7. Will citizens be affected by this change? How will information be communicated to them?
Always consider what and how things should be communicated to citizens when implementing new technology. Agencies should lean on their vendors — many of them offer educational and marketing materials available as part of their services.
Ultimately, every new technology a local government implements should always either improve citizens’ lives, save them money or both.