Information Systems

A citywide information system involves a complex web of sophisticated products and services. It consumes significant resources, has an impact on every, department in a local government, and can change the way a person does things.
But buying a system need not be an intimidating task. The fundamental decisions are managerial, not technical, and should be made by civilians. This is not to minimize the role of technical staff but to stress that the process is driven by established goals and expected results, rather than by technical merits.
You buy an information system, not a computer. The difference is more than semantic. Knowledge of computer technology is helpful but not essential to decision making, which entails performing fundamental management tasks without succumbing either to technomania or technophobia. Both roads lead to dubious results.
The procurement process has four distinct phases, each of equal importance: definition of objectives, process engineering, request for proposals, and vendor selection. (The fifth phase, implementation, deserves separate treatment.) A core project committee should steer the process, with a larger interdepartmental committee to coordinate departments and ensure adherence to overall priorities. But be careful: A camel is a horse created by a committee. It is important to involve staff to the maximum extent but not to let committee-made decisions dilute goals. Place a decision-empowered individual in charge of the project.
Define the Objectives
The first, too-often-neglected step is definition of operational objectives. Determine what the organization wants to achieve in functional, not technical, terms. A system is a tool used to achieve a goal, not a goal in itself. This is not the time to debate brands of computers, operating systems, speed, or capacity. That is defining inputs. On any project, decisionmakers should define outputs.