Local government wants beauty and brains in same software package too

Buying software for local government-specific business functions often presents the kind of challenge that is likely faced by NASA and the military on a regular basis. Like these organizations, our needs are often unique. No product on the market is ever exactly what we want and thus some kind of compromise must be made. When the military wants a truck, their buyers probably go looking at cool and high-end rigs like the Chevy SSR or the Dodge Rumble Bee. Both trucks are comfortable, fast and comparatively affordable. Unfortunately, neither offers armour plating or a machine gun mounting point as a factory option. A compromise has to be made and thus when function is given all the priority and form is given none, products like the HMMWV (Hummer H1) truck are the result. It is only by chance that this all function and no form design caught on with the masses and found its way into upper class driveways around the world.Hummer-like software?
Now imagine a piece of software with all the function of a Hummer and pretty much the same kind of attention to eye appeal. When it comes to software for local government-specific business functions, that’s sometimes what we are facing. For certain applications, we find that general industry software is better-looking and will, with compromise, meet our needs. The compromise can be a real catch, however, and sometimes the size of the compromise isn’t fully understood until after the software is installed. The hard fact is that the market for local government-specific software is limited and a developer has only so much money to invest, if they ever want to see a return. Spend too much of the budget on form, there’s nothing left for function. If all the money goes into function, it can be hard to get prospective buyers to see the product for its Hummer-like qualities.
Maintenance management systems for local government are probably the best example of where this dilemma is most evident. There are some pretty snazzy packages on the market, with all the bells and whistles of a state of the art Microsoft application. Unfortunately, most of these were designed with the maintenance of large plants or facilities in mind. For local government, the linear infrastructures found in road networks, drainage networks, street features, water utilities and sewer utilities present the biggest maintenance headache.
Few of the maintenance management systems on the market do a good job maintaining these types of assets. Even those that claim they do never quite seem to fit our needs closely enough to satisfy everyone. Fewer still offer a practical solution for integration with the financial systems in common use in local governments. The products that meet the majority of these goals are few and far between. It could be argued that the user base of a maintenance management system would be small in even the largest local government when compared to the number of users for a product like a word processor.
Unsuccessful maintenance management system implementations are fairly common in the local government setting. This is probably due in no small part to the fact that the need for integration with other systems is extremely high and the difficulty of implementing such integration is always underestimated.
To be effective, maintenance management systems need to have integration with the general ledger, budget, supplies inventory, payroll, property records and GIS at a minimum. Integration with accounts payable, accounts receivable, utility billing and human resources is also desirable. If this list sounds like almost everything, then you are starting to get an idea of the challenge.
Clearly there is a lucrative opportunity here that has been overlooked by software producers. In North America alone, there are probably thousands of local governments seeking the ultimate “killer” maintenance management application. Each has already demonstrated a willingness to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the ideal system. All we ask is that it look acceptably pretty and talk to all of our other applications right out of the box.
Picture Hummer H1 utility with the beauty of a Ferrari F430.
This shouldn’t be too hard to do. Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, David Dobson: Are you listening?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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