Posted Tuesday, February 9, 2021 by Team Northwoods

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Roses are red,
violets are blue,
technology is sweet,
but is it really helping you?

You know that technology has the potential to modernize service delivery and drastically alter how you interact with clients. Too often though, human services agencies commit to technology that doesn’t end up delivering on the value it promises. 

Just as two solutions are never quite the same, neither are two vendors that provide them. Even if companies (or their tools) look similar on paper, dig a little deeper and you’ll find subtle nuances in how each one approaches their business. It’s these nuances that will have a significant impact on your project’s success.

Below is a list of questions that can help you separate a strategic partner who truly wants to help your organization grow over time from a run-of-the-mill vendor that’ll move on as soon as your transaction is complete. Note that some of these questions will apply to all technology/partners, while others are more specific to document and forms management providers (that is our sweet spot, after all!).

Checkmark Expertise: Does your partner have a background in human services? How many former agency workers or leaders are employed? How many hours have other employees spent in the field or observing today’s workforce? Do they truly understand your industry, your agency, and your needs? Can they help solve your current problems, plus anticipate future ones?
Checkmark Experience: Has your partner successfully implemented similar projects for your peer agencies? What’s their track record delivering solutions on time, within budget, and with proven ROI? What do the agencies that work with this vendor say about the quality of services and attention they’ve received?
Checkmark Tech Savvy: Do they understand both next-generation/cutting edge technology and legacy systems? Do they have experience integrating disparate county/state systems? Do they understand the complexities of large-scale, high-volume implementations? How much time will they spend learning your specific problems and processes to configure solutions around them?
Checkmark Alignment: What drives how your partner builds their products? What motivates them beyond meeting requirements and fulfilling contracts? Does your partner’s mission align with yours? How do they invest in the community or support like-minded organizations?
Checkmark User adoption: Does the technology fit within your daily processes or does it create workarounds, bottlenecks, and extra steps? Is it user-centric, intuitive, and flexible? Are there any factors deterring your workers from using it?
Checkmark Productivity: Do your tools enable your workers to actually save time and work more efficiently? Do they help you automate or streamline administrative tasks to simply increase work output or free up more time for workers to focus on clients?
Checkmark Service delivery: Are you able to focus on increasing service levels and client satisfaction? Can you quickly answer questions and address your clients’ concerns? Does the technology present information back to workers in a way that’s digestible and usable when making decisions?
Checkmark Mobility: Is the technology accessible and reliable anywhere work is done? Can workers access and manage important information and documents whenever and wherever they need them (e.g., on a home visit, at an appointment, in court, over the phone, etc.)? Can they easily collect content and data regardless of location? Does the system still work in a disconnected mode when internet and Wi-Fi aren’t available?
Checkmark Compliance: Can you meet timeliness requirements for mandated activities (e.g., processing applications/recertifications, filing court orders/motions, locating noncustodial parents, conducting investigations and home visits, etc.)? Can you find the information you need to prepare for audits without pulling your workers away from their job to help?
Checkmark Data quality: Are you confident your agency is collecting accurate, timely, and complete data? Are you able to efficiently share data with other programs, counties/states, or service providers?
Checkmark Visibility: Does your agency’s leadership have visibility into staff, cases, and outcomes? Are you able to view real-time data to understand community trends and determine how to best allocate agency resources?
Checkmark Change management: How will the solution be implemented? How will workers receive training? How will it be supported? How will the implementation and training teams help your workers feel comfortable adapting business processes? Will they help establish a roadmap for the future? How will you know your workers feel successful?
Checkmark Maintenance and support: How much IT support do you need to keep your system running? How does this impact total cost of ownership? When something goes wrong, how quickly can your partner help you solve the problem? Are you constantly having to ask the same support-related questions or does your partner provide documentation to help you fix things on your own if needed?
Checkmark Optimization: How often will this partner proactively check in to see how things are going and what they can do to support your agency initiatives?  Do they focus on customer success and providing best practices, resources, or services to use your tools to their full potential and achieve maximum ROI? Will they help you uncover hidden potential to further increase efficiencies and outcomes?

You wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who wasn’t committed to meeting your needs. As an agency leader, the same should go for your technology partners.

That’s why our human services technology toolkit has an entire section dedicated to finding a partner that will meet your evolving goals and mission-driven objectives. Download it for more insight on asking the right questions to unlock insights that will point you toward the right match.

We know breaking up is hard to do (especially on Valentine’s Day!), but if you’re not feeling the love from your current vendor, it might be time to move on.


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