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Of Mice and Men: Simple, Practical Approaches to the Build vs. Buy Software Question

adminim : August 30, 2016 6:33 am : 3Boxes, Blogs, email, Investigation Management, Investigation Management Lead Story, Side_menu, SIU, Task Force Management, Testimonials, top_posts, Uncategorized

August 30, 2016 • Rick Shepherd, CFE

If you’re weighing whether to build or buy case management software for your investigation unit or company, remember, “The best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.”

Perhaps if the Scottish poet Robert Burns were alive today, he’d be telling the cautionary tale of the field mouse and the plough in lyric form to managers wrestling with software “build vs. buy” questions.  His famous verse, though, would probably be redundant in this day and age; the corporate landscape is full of debris left from failed, high-profile IT projects that started with the best intentions.  Recent examples like Avon’s $125 million write down for their abandoned CRM/ERP project.  The Los Angeles Unified School District’s $1.3 billion technology initiative debacle, and the $600 million lawsuit Bridgestone Tire brought against IBM for a system implementation Bridgestone claimed put their “entire business operation into chaos,” have become familiar admonitions to managers having to make software decisions.

And yet, with all these warnings we still see these scenarios played out in everyday corporate America; software that becomes shelf-ware, massive cost overruns, project delays, scope creep, poor architecture choices, etc., continue to plague managers. Separate studies by IAG Consulting and the Harvard Business Review show that some 68% of IT projects are considered failures, and that one in six have an average cost overrun of 200% with a schedule overrun of 70%.  Why, then, if there are so many examples of these failures do we continue to see them? 

When it comes to the choices inherent in building vs. buying software, much of the answer to that question lies in the analysis done at the start of the process.  A practical and realistic reflection on your organization’s core competencies, the development of a seriously thought-out risk plan, and the proper search and scoring of alternative choices when it comes to software can help you avoid disasters and put you on the right track toward a successful outcome.  When asked by investigation managers whether I think they should build or whether they should buy their case management software, I’ve used this simple matrix to illustrate a good approach to making the decision:

2016-08-29_22-50-56

Essentially, the decision to build or buy comes down to how unique your needs are, (i.e. is there buyable software available that will meet most of your needs), and your level of expertise when it comes to software development.  This second factor, (software development expertise), is an important consideration for anyone hiring a third party to develop software for them.  If your core competency is not software project management, you might consider hiring an independent consultant who has expertise in software systems architecture and project management.  They can review architecture and language decisions, keep the project focused and on task, review code, and make sure goals stay aligned.

The Evaluation Scorecard

Giving yourself the ability to score competing alternatives helps in the final decision process by providing an overall objective analysis.  These scores can be weighted if desired.  Ultimately, much of the emotional aspects of the decision can be eliminated.  For example, a manager may fall in love with a feature in an off-the-shelf product that skews the decision toward that product.  Likewise, an IT manager may be pushing for a build decision because of pride factors.  Creating a scorecard like the one below can help allow rational thought to prevail.  A simple scoring system of 0=feature does not exist, to 3=feature exceeds requirements, makes the evaluation easier.

2016-08-29_22-51-28

 2016-08-29_23-29-32

Risk Analysis

Having a real plan to analyze risks and to deal with future threats to the project can go a long way in helping you attain a successful implementation of your case management system.  Along the way, there will be mitigations to deal with, and if you anticipate and have a plan of action for them, you have a better chance of keeping your project on track.   The key elements here are:

1)     List all potential threats to the project,

2)     Judge the impact of those risks and whether they warrant a consideration of alternative project choices, (e.g. buy instead of build)

3)     Plan your response to those threats, the points that must trigger actions, and the people who will be relied on to take the corrective measures.

An independent third party professional can help you evaluate your risks and come up with a detailed plan for them.

Other Considerations

Some additional things to consider when you are evaluating building vs. buying a system:

Maintenance: IT professionals who manage software development projects may expect maintenance costs to be around 35% of the development cost during the first year, 30% in the second year, and 25% in the third year. After three years, the cost usually goes up again to 30-35% every year.   They also expect some re-engineering of the application after 5 or 6 years.  This is rarely discussed when people are planning development projects, but the truth is, it’s an enormous expected ongoing outlay that needs to be budgeted.  The cost of adapting, preventing, correcting and fixing the software can be substantial. This often points to an advantage to buying over building in the area of maintenance.  With off-the-shelf software, these costs are typically fixed in the contract, and the underlying burden is spread out over many customers. For software that is built, only one customer is there to absorb the burden, and that customer is you.

Building a Security Model.  How will this fit in with your client’s data security requirements?  Unchallenged new software development must be strenuously penetration tested and certified.  If you are housing personal, protected, or medical-related data in your system, you are at risk for a potential breach, and it would be an excellent idea to protect yourself from potential hackers.  Depending on what the requirements are, this can get expensive.  As a rule of thumb, allow an additional 2.5% of the original development cost per annum.

Documentation.  Building a case management system is not like building a house or an automobile.  In those examples, methods and outcomes are usually standardized and defined.  With software development, targets are often moving, and unknowns are tough to anticipate.  Methods vary widely, languages, architecture and platforms are diverse, as are approaches to executing and managing the project itself.  Documentation is critical, and while it won’t allow you to avoid the potential anguish of changing a software developer or software development company, it will provide you with a critical starting point. Good documentation can also help reduce support costs overall, make for more efficient onboarding, and boost user acceptance.  It’s costly up front, (allow 20% of total development cost and 5% per year to update for new features, etc..) but it’s worth the investment.

Testing.  This is an element of the process where thoroughness is essential.  Software is a series of interconnected codes that give you desired functionalities.  If testing is not done thoroughly and comprehensively, unraveling new layers can be expensive and time-consuming when bugs and gaps are later found.  It’s important to remember that the bulk of the testing burden generally falls on your shoulders. You should also know that it’s a task that is amongst the least-loved by anyone who has ever been through it. By necessity, testing is cumbersome and time-consuming, but it is important that this task is assigned to someone who can be dedicated to it and has an understanding of the overall vision for the project.  Figure the cost of unit tests, integration tests, and manual user tests to add somewhere around 5-10% of the development budget.

Designing system models.  This is an area fraught with dangers, as a wrong step in design means money sunk into a choice that needs to be undone or redone.  Because of this, the design and architecture, the language chosen, etc., should be reviewed by someone who has independent expertise on system programming and architecture prior to the commencement of the engagement. Over the years, we’ve observed quite a few engineers head in the wrong direction, and it was costly for their customers. In general, if the main engineer on the project has less than 15 years of good experience, there is a high probability that mistakes will be made in some critical areas.

Timeframe for going live.  Like every other aspect of business, time is money, and this is especially true with software development.  Even if you assume you’ll be lucky enough to hit your hoped-for live date, consider too your investment in time and effort, and the lost opportunity of an earlier live date that other alternatives may provide.  Delays often occur, and they are costly in terms of development dollars, management time, lost productivity and lost opportunities for productivity improvements.  Very often these delays spill into 20-50% time blowouts and cost blowouts. When considering requirements, huge gaps often exist in what’s actually needed vs. what the original briefing with the developers scoped. A lot of elements that are “assumed to be in it” by the managers writing the requirements are likewise NOT “assumed” by the developers. If they don’t see it on paper, they don’t do it. A good software engineer can catch some of this up front with lots of extra questions, but most won’t realize the gaps until it’s about to go live and someone says, for example, “How are we handling forgotten passwords?”

Availability of resources. If you undertake a software development project you have to commit seriously to staff being available extensively to sit through meetings, give input, do user acceptance and application testing and to make sure everyone is on track.  Training is often a factor in unstandardized software, whereas most off-the-shelf solutions come with a training program or module. This can be an enormous drain on time, but it’s important that you are willing to commit to it. If this area is underfunded, that will result in a product that won’t work for the user base. Even if people come along to the first few meetings, they often quickly tire of the slow progress and tune out. Things get missed this way, and the final product becomes insufficient.

Summary

When making the decision whether to build or buy case management software, many factors come into play.  The key is corralling those elements into a real and objective analysis that can help you make the right decision and avoid common pitfalls.

 

About Rick Shepherd
Rick Shepherd, CFE is the president of Polonious Case Management Systems and has 25 years of experience in the investigation industry. Mr. Shepherd specializes in working with clients to incorporate technology into their business and improve their work processes. He helps firms implement solutions that improve their results, save money, deliver faster, and improve internal and external client relationships.

Contact Rick at 888-650-POLO(7656)
email rick@Polonious-Systems.com

 

 

 

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Growing your PI Firm?

adminim : August 21, 2013 2:41 pm : Blogs, Investigation Management

The Challenge:

Admin is a business killer – particularly in the investigations industry. It’s a necessary evil that we all must deal with. Compliance, SLAs, reporting needs, paper signoffs, filing, reviews, requests for information, etc, all destroy chunks of your profit.

As your business grows, client complexity increases, this inevitably leads to the admin overhead eating more of your bottom line as you react by adding layers of people and steps to cover off these requirements.

It’s great practice as a PI firm to regularly review and improve your methods and operations but these attempts are often thwarted by un-integrated and old information technology, lots of little subsystems in spreadsheets, email accounts and files. All you can do is add to more of the same.

“You get into a history of doing something and though the original reason for doing it has long disappeared, you continue to do it because you have always done it”

–Mark McCormack on Managing

The solution:

Our whole-of-business solution will streamline the whole process of running a case. The fancy term for this is ‘business process re-engineering’. For us, it’s a by-product of our software, our installation and our training. Our industry experts (both Alastair Steel and Rick Shepherd have 25+ years of experience in the Investigations industry) provide unique insights into how to take your business to the next level using our industry best-of-breed software solution PiMS.

In all of our clients to date, this streamlining reduces several steps and saves significant administration time. The software itself is full of productivity features, for example – we provide click-of-the-button retrieval for case reports, client updates, invoices, requests for information. Pretty much anything you can type in a word processor, we can automate. You are going to love the savings.

So the two step plan for dropping 20% of your admin costs is:
- Get the most capable software you can use for this industry (that would be PiMS)
- Get Industry veterans to implement and train you to take best advantage of it’s productivity savings. (this comes standard in our rollout plan).

The Proof:

Don’t take this from us, listen to Patrick Carroll, CEO of Horsemen Inc. a significant player in the West Coast. He will tell you how in the first year of PiMS operation, we enabled him to re-purpose 4 individuals on his team (about 8% of his team). That’s a lot of efficiency that’s produced a workforce for other parts of his operation. His client’s are also reaping the benefits of these changes and Horsemen are rewarded in kind with a bigger share of the market.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMg8E0S4lJA

Certainly it’s made a huge difference as far as what we were doing.. you certainly don’t ever want to sit down and say an individual’s obsolete but we’ve been able to take individuals who’s job descriptions were based on our old method and that’s freed them up to do other things now. So I would say from a stand point of, “has it decreased..?” I’d say it’s probably 20, 25% decrease in the amount of administration costs we’ve seen as far as the number of people required to do our old system as opposed to now. Patrick Carroll, CEO of Horsemen Inc.

Our product and our rollout method are proven in the field to deliver real savings to small to large PI firms just like yours. 20-25% efficiency frees up your people’s time to accomplish other missions and needs such as closing more business, talking to clients to understand their challenges, improving quality of report, scheduling better. Your business cannot help but benefit from this freed up resource.

What can you do about it?

Talk to Rick, our President of US Operations. Before he joined Polonious, Rick was a senior executive at a nationwide Private Investigation firm. His ability to understand your business quickly will provide you with list of hard and soft savings this unique product provides.Rick’s number is 888-650-7656

Alternatively, fill out our contact form, and we’ll be in touch:

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Management Reports and Building Client Relationships.

adminim : August 19, 2013 8:11 pm : Blogs, Investigation Management

Because the rigors and daily challenges of running an investigation agency can be quite demanding, managers and owners often find themselves neglecting some of the fundamental aspects of client relationship building. As an agency owner or manager, your focus is rightly to provide an excellent product in a timely manner. But do your clients really know how well you’re doing for them? Are you making it clear that you’re striving toward their best interests? Do they see that what is important to them is also important to you? Believe it or not, it’s unlikely that your client will let you know they are unsatisfied until it’s too late, and even then the reason for their departure may be unclear to you. In fact, it’s likely that you’re missing out on opportunities to grow your business through retaining and developing clients to your best potential.

Business experts almost universally agree that the key to customer relationship building lies in good communication. Without it, you don’t know what your clients’ needs are and your client doesn’t know how well you’re meeting those needs. By improving your communication with your client you can identify your client’s “hot points” and discover what it will take to exceed their expectations. This gives you a clear competitive advantage over other agencies.

One way to build communication with your clients is by using management reports that convey a summary of the results you’ve been able to achieve over a period of time. By compiling these reports for your clients on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis, you’re able show the benefits of using your agency over others based upon your clients’ needs. It gives you an opportunity to open up a dialogue and lets them know you’re thinking about them. Graphical and statistical recaps of metrics, return on investment, types and quality of evidence obtained, and unbilled work help you convey the message that you are looking out for your clients’ interest.

Users of the Polonious Case Management System have access to over 80 automated management reports that not only help them manage their business, but also give them productive inroads in building client partnerships. Our customers have reported excellent results from this type of analysis with clients. Typically they send these to the client on a periodic basis and then follow up with a conversation to discuss what they’d like to see. It’s likely that few competitors have access to these types of reports so quickly, and our customers have been able to grow their businesses by using them. Their clients know they are staying on top of their accounts and they show it through their loyalty.

About Rick Shepherd
Rick Shepherd, CFE is the president of Polonious Case Management Systems and has more than 24 years of experience in the investigation industry. Rick specializes in working with clients to incorporate technology into their business and improve their work processes. Rick has been able to help firms implement solutions that improve their results, save money, deliver faster, and improve internal and external client relationships.

Contact Rick at 888-650-POLO(7656)
email rick@investigation-management.com.

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Zen and the Art of Investigation Management – Out of Order

adminim : May 16, 2013 11:48 am : 3Boxes, Blogs, email, Investigation Management, Investigation Management Lead Story, Side_menu, SIU, Task Force Management, Testimonials, top_posts, Uncategorized

It doesn’t matter how enticing the gumballs in the machine look, any child will tell you that after putting a coin in and turning the lever, the failure for a gumball to fall out is the end of the attraction. It is clearly ‘Out of Order’. Are you?

Many of the Special Investigation Units and Investigation Firms we work with don’t particularly like it when we compare them to a gumball machine but the analogy is fair. Your customers, whoever they are, expect that they will get a timely investigation that will facilitate a better decision making process.

If you don’t they will stick an ‘Out of Order’ sign on you and find another gumball machine.

There is one exception that comes to mind and that is when they use you to justify a delay. You may be adding some value, but is it the lowest and most replaceable value you could aim for.

I know some readers are thinking ‘high quality investigations take time’. Yes, some do, but any time that is not directly attributable to actually investigating is simply a waste of time. There is often more benefit in delivering the majority of a case early and tidying up later. Face it, investigations are never really exhausted, they are an endless return on investment decision. If you show the value early, getting extra budget or an increase in staffing becomes a much easier position to support.

For any investigation organization faster product delivery will improve client relationships, reduce work in progress and free up resources from administration tasks proportionally.

For investigation firms there is another real reason to reduce their product delivery time and that is that delivering early will significantly reduce their working capital. See this prior blog re exactly that.

Lastly information is most valuable now and becomes less valuable in time.

How do you achieve that with Polonious Investigation Management Systems?

Lets start by breaking down the process into its three most basic phases;
1. Intake
2. Investigation
3. Delivery

The goals are;
* Shorten the time from intake to investigation.
* Identify investigation features that lead to an early close of the investigation, then close it.
* Shorten the time from the completion of the investigation to delivery.

1. Accelerate intake.

Spend the time to review your current process and what can be improved, how can you reduce the people invoiced, how can you make it more linear so there is less movement back and forth between involved parties prior to allocation and action.

If you are manually intaking cases then consider using a webform so your clients can enter some if not the majority of the case information and attach documents for you. Secondary benefits are the customer immediately gets a case number and knows action has started.

If you can consider the benefits of using web services to enable users to send referrals directly form their system to yours. There is an investment here depending on the third party systems but the gains are substantial and the ROI significant. Some of the largest investigation firms in the US have gained significant business by following this path.

If you receive your instructions in a consistent format consider importing it directly into Polonious so the data is auto populated. Again think investment and ROI.

Next break down all the processes that need to be completed prior to the investigation commencing.
Confirmation, additional information, searches, research, scheduling and allocation. If possible make it linear and group actions so that one particular person’s or division’s actions are completed together so they need to action the file as few times as possible. If it is not linear and there are several processes then consider splitting them into related processes so one does not delay the other.

2. Accelerate Investigation.
Identify the steps to be taken. Make it linear and reduce passing responsibility back and forth

Manage investigator workload, they are your little gumball machines and each can handle different case loads. Monitor your investigator quality reports and note variations based on case loads. In time you will find the correct case load not only for most investigators but individuals.

Identify case end points or events and when one occurs close the case out. One of our longest standing customers introduced systems to close out investigations of genuine claims in half the time they had previously which greatly improved the relationship with their claims department and lead to better customer service and more referrals.

Identify delays early and if possible report at this point. Deliver to your client everything you have that will assist them now and inform them of the delay and your plan to complete the investigation once that delay is over. If you are 80% done then invoice it, put it on hold and follow up later. Do not delay the delivery of 80% for a possible 20% that may never be available.

If you have identified a wealth of evidence that will help your case, deliver what you have now and continue on with a client that is excited to be involved.

Build reporting into the investigation process. If you collect what you need for your final report during the investigation process then reporting can be the press of a button away. No need to review it all again and collate the evidence. It’s done, proofed and ready to go. See this blog for ideas of how to do just that.

3. Accelerate Delivery.
This can be one of the most unnecessary delays in the investigation process. Identify the steps to be taken. Make it linear and reduce passing responsibility back and forth.Collect the data you need to deliver during the process.This should be the shortest phase of the process. If it isn’t review the first two phases.Start again and work through it until delivery is right.

Run your milestone reports and identify where you are spending your time, where the bottlenecks are and focus on those areas until they are no longer a constraint.

Automation is a great ability that we bring to the table but if it is more people you need in a particular area then hire them.

Nothing will constrain you and your organization more than slow or late delivery.

If you are a Polonious user information on all these configuration abilities are available on our user group and if you are not a member please join us.

email: support @ poloniouslive . com

About the Author
Alastair has more than 29 years of experience in the law enforcement and the investigation industry and has guided the rollout of the Polonious Investigation Management System to over 50 organizations across the globe. Our customers have varied business processes and requirements from large insurance carriers with hundreds of investigators and adjusters to small forensic teams. Each now has a customized solution to meet their needs.

Alastair Steel, Dip.Crim. is the co-founder of Polonious.
Find Alastair on LinkedIn

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Investigation Management ‘Unplugged’ ‘Offline’ ‘Remote’

adminim : May 16, 2013 10:36 am : 3Boxes, Blogs, email, Investigation Management, Investigation Management Lead Story, Side_menu, SIU, Task Force Management, Testimonials, top_posts, Uncategorized

Polonious Investigation Management Systems has released an offline version that allows investigators to sync case data to their laptops and then work on their files remotely when disconnected from the internet.

Once they are back in range they can simply sync their case updates and documents with their Polonious Investigation Management System.

All data is fully encrypted and only accessible via the application.

If you are a Polonious user information on this feature is available on our user group.

If you are not a member please join us.

email: support @ poloniouslive . com

About the Author
Alastair has more than 29 years of experience in the law enforcement and the investigation industry and has guided the rollout of the Polonious Investigation Management System to over 50 organizations across the globe. Our customers have varied business processes and requirements from large insurance carriers with hundreds of investigators and adjusters to small forensic teams. Each now has a customized solution to meet their needs.

Alastair Steel, Dip.Crim. is the co-founder of Polonious.
Find Alastair on LinkedIn

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