Rethinking Budgeting

When Technology Can Be An Impediment To Change

a walk signal light that says "wait"

Recently, an Assistant County Administrator said to me: “Y’all make great software, but I can’t use it.”

Needless to say, this comment stopped me in my tracks. What was behind a statement like this? What was I missing? In what scenarios would our software not benefit a local government?

In the technology space, we set out to solve real world challenges by developing solutions that streamline processes. An underlying assumption is that automation will always be an improvement over a manual process. However, as I pondered this Assistant County Administrator’s comment, I began to wonder:

What if the underlying process is broken? Or to take it a level further: What if automation ends up hard coding a process that is inherently faulty?

A statement that our CEO Mike Bell once said to me began to resonate: “If you add software to a process problem, now you’ve got a process problem AND a software problem.”

Viewed through this lens, the answer to these challenging questions almost seems too obvious:

Technology in and of itself is not always a solution.

Before implementing a new technology (for the purposes of this dialogue; a new software solution) it is critical to first assess the core processes that will be performed by the software.

Innovation requires process change as much as new technology

Over the past 18 months, I have had the privilege of collaborating with some peers on an initiative to re-think the budgeting process for local governments.

At the core of this dramatic process change being spearheaded by the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), is a call to integrate both community engagement and strategic planning with the budgeting process. In a nutshell, the priorities of the community should inform a city/county’s strategic plan which should then inform the budget.

As you can imagine, when significant new policy guidance is released by an industry authority like GFOA, many take notice. This includes technology vendors who want to be the first-to-market with a solution that helps local governments solve this “new” process challenge.

Not surprisingly, we have witnessed an onslaught of vendors now touting “fully integrated budgeting and planning solutions.” However, a question every local government team should be asking is: Are our current budgeting processes sufficient, or is there a risk that implementing a new software will simply hard code faulty processes?

With all of this in mind, here are five potential pitfalls to consider when implementing new software.

5 potential pitfalls to consider when implementing new software

  1. New software can lull organizations into a false sense of progress. If underlying processes are not addressed, organizations may think that they are leapfrogging into a technological future when in fact they have frozen themselves in the past. In the Rethinking Budgeting example, organizations may in fact be limiting themselves from using the full functionality of their new software if they haven’t undertaken the core process changes being advocated for in the GFOA guidelines. Elected officials can brag that they “accomplished” Rethinking Budgeting, but at the staff level, nothing has changed and there is still no tangible integration of the planning and budgeting functions.
  2. New software is sometimes used to avoid the hard work that is needed to make meaningful process changes. Progress towards an initiative like Rethinking Budgeting will often involve hard work that is not glamorous, and can only be achieved in increments. Implementing new software is the attractive alternative that can often be achieved more quickly and create the perception of a quick win. This approach can also lead to the horror stories that most can relate to of failed implementations that actually set an organization back several years from achieving meaningful change.
  3. Failing to address core processes along with software implementation can short circuit the change management that is needed for fostering user adoption. If the staff that are intended to use the new software can’t connect the dots to understand how it is going to help achieve better outcomes, they will most likely continue to do their work in the way they always have. All too often, the end result is expensive software collecting dust on a shelf, or equally disappointing, just a fancy way of housing data and reporting on the same outcomes as before.
  4. Implementing meaningful process change can be an opportunity to bring people together and enhance corporate culture, which can get overlooked by the introduction of technology. If new technology is implemented too hastily, this opportunity for culture change can be missed completely, and in extreme cases can actually contribute to an “us vs them” mentality between staff and management. Involving cross functional teams in finding solutions to process challenges—prior to layering in new software—can help to foster collaboration and cohesiveness.
  5. Premature software implementation can inhibit the creative thinking required to tackle the challenge at hand. In my opinion, this is the most significant risk of new technology. When a challenge like Rethinking Budgeting is brought to the forefront, it can attract many great thought leaders whose ideas need time to germinate. However, when new software is introduced too quickly, it signals to the market that the problem has been solved and squeezes out the thought leaders from staying engaged. In this scenario, everyone loses, because a great initiative like Rethinking Budgeting can become an uglier version of its true potential or simply die on the vine.

Asking the right questions: of your organization and your vendors

By this point, you’re probably thinking that I’m a glass ½ empty kind of guy. Maybe you’re wondering how in the world I can work in sales for a software company?

Don’t get me wrong–there are many brilliant people out there designing wonderful software. It’s just that bleeding edge software is not for everyone. At least, not until an organization has invested the resources needed to enhance their core processes to achieve their desired outcomes before layering in new software.

And the question that local government administrators should be asking of their technology providers is: How are you going to assist us with assessing process gaps and implementing process change? If the vendor can’t answer that question, then move on until you find one that can.

Stefan Baerg

Stefan is Envisio's Chief Revenue Officer and has deep experience in SaaS, govtech, and public sector sales.

Prior to Envisio, Stefan spent time leading sales organizations at Questica Software, eCivis, Amex, and TD Bank, as well as founding his own HR Consulting firm. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce Degree with Distinction from the University of Alberta, and currently resides in Burlington, Ontario, with his wife Teresa and their red lab-retriever Roxy. Together, he and his wife have three university-aged children, and when not working, you can be sure to find Stefan riding his bike.

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