New strategy for financial software takes shape

A government group last week outlined changes being considered as part of the long-awaited overhaul of the government program for buying commercial financial management system (FMS) software.

The Joint Financial Management Improvement Program proposed changes to the list of core financial systems requirements that FMS software must meet to be approved for sale to federal agencies and also proposed changes to the certification process.

JFMIP, in conjunction with the Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Council, also announced the creation of the Program Management Office to take the lead in updating FMS requirements.

The list of requirements includes criteria set out by Congress, JFMIP, the Office of Management and Budget, the CFO Council and the Treasury Department.

JFMIP is proposing to expand the core financial systems requirements to include mandatory functional requirements in areas such as budgeting and electronic reporting.

JFMIP also proposed adding a list of value-added requirements, including financial planning, electronic signatures and integrated workflow— all of which are not yet mandated by law but are useful in agencies. Vendors often want to let agencies know the functions are available.

The requirements will not be tested by the PMO. Instead, the group will gather information on each criteria that a vendor meets and include that data in a report for agencies for possible future incorporation into the agencies' systems, according to Steve Balsam, director of the PMO.

"The value-added functions are extremely important because this gets to the fact that the core financial requirements are at the hub of the processes, but there are many other functions that could be met by off-the-shelf software," said John Greaney, director of the public sector center of expertise at SAP America Public Sector Inc., which is not on the FMS Software (FMSS) schedule but has begun the certification process.

"It may be, over time, that some of the value-added areas may become mandatory," said R. Schuyler Lesher, chairman of the CFO Council Financial Systems Committee.

It has taken JFMIP almost a year to develop this set of proposed requirements, but what has been released is a good first step, vendors said.

"This better defines the process," said Laura Glass, industry product strategy manager for PeopleSoft Federal, another FMS software vendor in the process of getting on the schedule. "The last couple of meetings [presented] ideas but not really anything concrete."

Now JFMIP is awaiting feedback, and the PMO is planning focus groups and meetings to provide an open channel for communications between the JFMIP, agencies and vendors. The PMO, with five full-time staff members, also will develop and administer the test and certification process for vendors to be included on the FMSS schedule.

"Everybody has to understand the process," said Karen Alderman, executive director of JFMIP. "We worked with as many of the key stakeholders as we could" to develop the proposed changes.

The government's process for certifying FMS software has been widely criticized for years, with several major vendors choosing to bypass the FMSS schedule rather than go through the certification process. As a result, a number of leading products in the commercial market have not been available to agencies that must purchase from the schedule.

Federal CFOs have said that quality FMS software is key to their ability to provide accurate and auditable financial statements.

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