Improved FMSS still requires due diligence

On Sept. 30, the procurement process for financial management software inthe federal government will change with the expiration of the General ServicesAdministration's mandatory Financial Management Systems Software schedule.FMSS will be replaced by an improved financial software testing and certificationprocess and the use of nonmandatory contract vehicles to support the acquisitionof new agency financial systems.

The new system will provide buyers with more information about the capabilitiesof various financial management systems software than ever before, enablingagencies to find the product that best fits their needs. But the additionalinformation does not mean the process of choosing a vendor will be any easier.It will require more due diligence.

The Joint Financial Management Improvement Program (JFMIP), which overseesthe software testing process, has taken steps to significantly improve theinformation available about vendor financial system products. Federal financialmanagers will have access to more information about tests performed on certifiedsoftware and how well the software is suited to meet their financial applicationneeds.

There will be a lot more choices. Several federal financial managementsoftware packages already have been certified under the new JFMIP process.In addition, the GSA's Federal Technology Service has created a new programthat would give agencies the option to outsource their financial servicesor combine themsuch as credit cards and purchase cards are introduced, will the software still meet agency requirements?

Each agency has unique characteristics making it unlikely that the software solution can be a one-size-fits-all package. Also, even if that solution seems to fit today, an agency's needs will change in time and it could become boxed into a business model that no longer works.

Financial managers need to know the technical architecture of the system being considered. Is it set up for easy customization and alteration? Does it have the kind of interoperability and open architecture that allows it to dynamically interact not just with other vendors' products, but with an agency's homegrown systems and other products?Managers should learn if they need a product that supports heterogeneous structures such as plug and play, different databases, multiple operating systems, a range of reporting tools and more than one network protocol.

Does the agency need an enterprisewide solution that incorporates operational elements in addition to financial management? Remember that when making a purchasing decision, the heart of all enterprisewide software has to be a financial management package that can link together all the critical elements needed to manage an agency's resources.

So what's the bottom line? Does JFMIP make the decision-making process easier? Of course it does. There is a level of information about product capabilities that just did not exist before. But the end of FMSS this week does not remove the need for federal financial managers to exercise due diligence to find software and solutions that best fit their agency's unique needs.

Brown is a vice president with American Management Systems Inc. She can be reached at zip_brown@amsinc.com.

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