Explaining Software Purchases: How to Plan for Tech Approval

Explaining Software Purchases: How to Plan for Tech Approval

Plan how you will justify your next software purchase.

It’s difficult to overstate the positive impact of informed software purchasing on an organization.

Smart planning and implementation have become a vital part of the migration from dated legacy systems—a move that can pay dividends both now and in the future.  

Beyond simply fixing the security and operational issues of outdated software, a strategic outlook can dramatically increase productivity and help agencies gain even more value from their purchase.

Public safety stakeholders

First, these purchases need approval by stakeholders—a major consideration anywhere in the public sector, but particularly in public safety agencies.

Purchasers within police, fire, and EMS departments are subject to immediate superiors, higher-level personnel within the city or state, others within the chain of command, IT and security teams, elected officials, and taxpayers—not to mention the legal statutes and compliance standards affecting software.

Public safety stakeholders are less willing to accept software purchases that don’t scale than they may have been in the past.

Departments are increasingly expected to do more with less, and so they are leaning into technology as a force multiplier. Agencies are spending more than ever on digital tools—a fact reflected in the explosive growth of industry-focused software—but financial accountability is still a fact of life whenever tax dollars are spent.  

To ensure value, even minor purchases are subject to multiple layers of oversight.

Preparing for an Effective Sell

Because of this, persuasion and explanation are integral to a successful software purchase—a need that only grows in importance as an agency’s software budget grows.  

Sharpening these abilities—and tailoring your touch points to specific stakeholder concerns—is a must, especially when multiple stakeholders and layers of approval are part of the process. It is important to provide context on value and scalability so that all involved understand how the software can grow with the department as needs evolve.  

Painting the vision for the solution in both the near and long term is key in showing diligence has been done.

Pre-work: An Internal Needs Analysis

Whether you are explaining a purchase after the fact or seeking permission to cut the check, effective explanation comes down to identifying needs and finding products to meet them.

Consequently, you should research internal process shortcomings or inefficiencies before any substantial external fact-finding (i.e., searching for potential software solutions) occurs.  

This process of uncovering the root problems, most commonly called an internal needs analysis, is key to finding the correct solution and also hugely helpful in developing talking points to raise with decision-makers.

Most of the needs identified during the analysis will come from frank discussions with the personnel who will use the proposed software.  

If you are purchasing a new training management platform, for instance, you should identify all those who will be affected:  

  • Ground-level employees
  • Their direct managers
  • Current training personnel
  • Legal/compliance staff
  • And others

Either through formal interviews or a questionnaire, ask the identified staff members questions regarding relevant problems they face, such as:

  • What do they like best about the current system?
  • How does it make their job easier?
  • How does it make things harder?
  • In what ways does the current system impede productivity?
  • What other inefficiencies does it introduce?
  • In realistic terms, what functions would an ideal product carry out?

The answers, along with any figures you may collect—such as how much it costs to train a recruit from the start of academy to graduation—should form the basis of your research.

Agencies needing to explain an existing purchase, meanwhile, can follow the same general steps by speaking to relevant employees about problems the software has solved and processes it has improved.  

Approaching analysis with directed purpose makes it easier to elaborate on factors that add value to the upgrade, making it an important part of your effort to explain a software purchase.

Automation and process refinement are key to swaying non-financial stakeholders

The explanation process begins in earnest once you’ve identified a suitable upgrade. Your organization’s departmental structure, work division, and role duties will determine who you must query.  

Most stakeholders voice concerns from either a financial or practical standpoint.

Note: There will sometimes be crossover between these two camps. In situations where one stakeholder is concerned with both aspects, increased efficiency is most important. The cheapest solution is not best if it fails to meet baseline needs.

A relevant piece in Electrical Construction and Maintenance offers several useful tips for developing function-focused talking points, the most useful of which comes down to four words: Small upgrades aren’t enough.

Highlight the dramatic efficiency of automation

Without “significant improvement,” stakeholders are less likely to tolerate the disruption and cost of implementing a new system or process.

A growing trend in public-sector software platforms, the automation of core practices, underscores this idea.  

The benefits are certainly hard to ignore: supervisors are time-strapped, which gives immediate value to such features as automated compliance checking and instant recording of test scores.

Explore benefits of centralized data/processes

Cross-functional interplay is another point that appeals to supervisors with an operational focus.

The more functions a system can group under a single umbrella, the easier it is for appropriate people—namely, supervisors—to view all relevant data in a single place. A supervisor in a non-technical role may not understand exactly how cloud technology works, but they can undoubtedly appreciate the ease of viewing records from multiple interrelated sources in a single place, using a single login.

Explain how the upgrade will specifically improve that stakeholder’s job

To that end, do not be afraid to approach functionality conversations from a “what’s in it for you” standpoint.

People tend to view work and conceptualize performance from their own perspectives, putting themselves at the center of their own professional universe.  

Since most first response work is built on chain-of-command, explaining the group benefits (such as, “everyone will be able to take tests from a computer”) and the individual ones (“you’ll be able to view range scores and POST requirements from a single system”) with equal gravity is a smart move.

With financial gatekeepers, mention current costs—but keep the discussion on the future

Conversations with financial stakeholders will naturally take a more objective, concrete tone than talks with performance-minded gatekeepers.

Present current costs alongside the projected purchase

Points from your own research—costs of current operations and financial inefficiencies resulting from outdated systems or manual processes—should come alongside capital costs (hardware, servers, etc.) and operational costs (monthly/yearly licensing, added warranties).

Come prepared to discuss, in detail, anything that may cost your agency above its current expenditures.

Highlight the return on investment  

Potential financial benefits, such as consolidation of multiple systems and efficiencies gained, should be raised as counterpoints to any costs an upgrade might carry.  

Software vendors routinely publish this information on their websites or in industry whitepapers. They may be able to furnish data points more tailored to your specific needs at your request. Per-user, per-action, and per-year savings are three common figures a vendor may offer.  

Going the extra step and putting these in the context of your office’s current operations is an effective way to drive the benefits home clearly and concisely.

Explore the long-term financial benefits

Long-term costs may be harder to define but will be every bit as important to your argument. Flexibility and scalability are essential talking points.

Consider the methods used to build your current collection of digital systems. Tools were likely purchased as needed in the past several decades, with little regard for upgradability or interplay with future systems.  

Multiplied across the whole of the industry, it is easy to see why digital perimeters in responder organizations tend to be piecemeal affairs, and how modular, cloud-based platforms offer numerous benefits in contrast.  

Built to work together, modules tend to reduce siloization, eliminate costly “middleman” software, and cost far less than full-blown, stand-alone software products for each purpose.

Discuss the benefits of cloud

Cloud-based tools are built for continual refinement and optimization. Unlike the old days, a tool you buy today can remain on the cutting edge indefinitely, eliminating the need to buy upgraded software for the same purposes five to ten years from now.

Cloud’s scalability and ease of access make it easier to adjust your purchase to future hiring and personnel needs. Using our training example, sending your entire roster to a daylong seminar across the state is an incredibly costly and logistics-heavy affair. Doing the same thing in an online learning module represents significant savings and can support a staff of tens or hundreds.

Combined, these factors position cloud technology as a great value to financial gatekeepers, undoubtedly a reason agencies and governments have consistently increased their investment in the technology despite upfront costs, per Washington Technology.  

They also make cloud an excellent benefit to pitch to taxpayers, who tend to focus on the financial over the productive: A tool that results in long-term financial efficiency is likely to gain widespread support.

Conclusion: For a successful explanation, tailor your message

Understanding your audience and the points they are most likely to appreciate is essential when asked to explain, defend, and justify a purchase.  

Executing requires a deep understanding of your agency’s inner workings, its needs both near and long term, and the ways your proposed solution can improve the former by addressing the latter.  

Be sure to make this knowledge a focal point of your research. By preparing yourself to pitch realistic benefits and field any questions that come your way, it will be that much easier to protect your purchase from internal questioning or public scrutiny.

Plan how you will justify your next software purchase.

It’s difficult to overstate the positive impact of informed software purchasing on an organization.

Smart planning and implementation have become a vital part of the migration from dated legacy systems—a move that can pay dividends both now and in the future.  

Beyond simply fixing the security and operational issues of outdated software, a strategic outlook can dramatically increase productivity and help agencies gain even more value from their purchase.

Public safety stakeholders

First, these purchases need approval by stakeholders—a major consideration anywhere in the public sector, but particularly in public safety agencies.

Purchasers within police, fire, and EMS departments are subject to immediate superiors, higher-level personnel within the city or state, others within the chain of command, IT and security teams, elected officials, and taxpayers—not to mention the legal statutes and compliance standards affecting software.

Public safety stakeholders are less willing to accept software purchases that don’t scale than they may have been in the past.

Departments are increasingly expected to do more with less, and so they are leaning into technology as a force multiplier. Agencies are spending more than ever on digital tools—a fact reflected in the explosive growth of industry-focused software—but financial accountability is still a fact of life whenever tax dollars are spent.  

To ensure value, even minor purchases are subject to multiple layers of oversight.

Preparing for an Effective Sell

Because of this, persuasion and explanation are integral to a successful software purchase—a need that only grows in importance as an agency’s software budget grows.  

Sharpening these abilities—and tailoring your touch points to specific stakeholder concerns—is a must, especially when multiple stakeholders and layers of approval are part of the process. It is important to provide context on value and scalability so that all involved understand how the software can grow with the department as needs evolve.  

Painting the vision for the solution in both the near and long term is key in showing diligence has been done.

Pre-work: An Internal Needs Analysis

Whether you are explaining a purchase after the fact or seeking permission to cut the check, effective explanation comes down to identifying needs and finding products to meet them.

Consequently, you should research internal process shortcomings or inefficiencies before any substantial external fact-finding (i.e., searching for potential software solutions) occurs.  

This process of uncovering the root problems, most commonly called an internal needs analysis, is key to finding the correct solution and also hugely helpful in developing talking points to raise with decision-makers.

Most of the needs identified during the analysis will come from frank discussions with the personnel who will use the proposed software.  

If you are purchasing a new training management platform, for instance, you should identify all those who will be affected:  

  • Ground-level employees
  • Their direct managers
  • Current training personnel
  • Legal/compliance staff
  • And others

Either through formal interviews or a questionnaire, ask the identified staff members questions regarding relevant problems they face, such as:

  • What do they like best about the current system?
  • How does it make their job easier?
  • How does it make things harder?
  • In what ways does the current system impede productivity?
  • What other inefficiencies does it introduce?
  • In realistic terms, what functions would an ideal product carry out?

The answers, along with any figures you may collect—such as how much it costs to train a recruit from the start of academy to graduation—should form the basis of your research.

Agencies needing to explain an existing purchase, meanwhile, can follow the same general steps by speaking to relevant employees about problems the software has solved and processes it has improved.  

Approaching analysis with directed purpose makes it easier to elaborate on factors that add value to the upgrade, making it an important part of your effort to explain a software purchase.

Automation and process refinement are key to swaying non-financial stakeholders

The explanation process begins in earnest once you’ve identified a suitable upgrade. Your organization’s departmental structure, work division, and role duties will determine who you must query.  

Most stakeholders voice concerns from either a financial or practical standpoint.

Note: There will sometimes be crossover between these two camps. In situations where one stakeholder is concerned with both aspects, increased efficiency is most important. The cheapest solution is not best if it fails to meet baseline needs.

A relevant piece in Electrical Construction and Maintenance offers several useful tips for developing function-focused talking points, the most useful of which comes down to four words: Small upgrades aren’t enough.

Highlight the dramatic efficiency of automation

Without “significant improvement,” stakeholders are less likely to tolerate the disruption and cost of implementing a new system or process.

A growing trend in public-sector software platforms, the automation of core practices, underscores this idea.  

The benefits are certainly hard to ignore: supervisors are time-strapped, which gives immediate value to such features as automated compliance checking and instant recording of test scores.

Explore benefits of centralized data/processes

Cross-functional interplay is another point that appeals to supervisors with an operational focus.

The more functions a system can group under a single umbrella, the easier it is for appropriate people—namely, supervisors—to view all relevant data in a single place. A supervisor in a non-technical role may not understand exactly how cloud technology works, but they can undoubtedly appreciate the ease of viewing records from multiple interrelated sources in a single place, using a single login.

Explain how the upgrade will specifically improve that stakeholder’s job

To that end, do not be afraid to approach functionality conversations from a “what’s in it for you” standpoint.

People tend to view work and conceptualize performance from their own perspectives, putting themselves at the center of their own professional universe.  

Since most first response work is built on chain-of-command, explaining the group benefits (such as, “everyone will be able to take tests from a computer”) and the individual ones (“you’ll be able to view range scores and POST requirements from a single system”) with equal gravity is a smart move.

With financial gatekeepers, mention current costs—but keep the discussion on the future

Conversations with financial stakeholders will naturally take a more objective, concrete tone than talks with performance-minded gatekeepers.

Present current costs alongside the projected purchase

Points from your own research—costs of current operations and financial inefficiencies resulting from outdated systems or manual processes—should come alongside capital costs (hardware, servers, etc.) and operational costs (monthly/yearly licensing, added warranties).

Come prepared to discuss, in detail, anything that may cost your agency above its current expenditures.

Highlight the return on investment  

Potential financial benefits, such as consolidation of multiple systems and efficiencies gained, should be raised as counterpoints to any costs an upgrade might carry.  

Software vendors routinely publish this information on their websites or in industry whitepapers. They may be able to furnish data points more tailored to your specific needs at your request. Per-user, per-action, and per-year savings are three common figures a vendor may offer.  

Going the extra step and putting these in the context of your office’s current operations is an effective way to drive the benefits home clearly and concisely.

Explore the long-term financial benefits

Long-term costs may be harder to define but will be every bit as important to your argument. Flexibility and scalability are essential talking points.

Consider the methods used to build your current collection of digital systems. Tools were likely purchased as needed in the past several decades, with little regard for upgradability or interplay with future systems.  

Multiplied across the whole of the industry, it is easy to see why digital perimeters in responder organizations tend to be piecemeal affairs, and how modular, cloud-based platforms offer numerous benefits in contrast.  

Built to work together, modules tend to reduce siloization, eliminate costly “middleman” software, and cost far less than full-blown, stand-alone software products for each purpose.

Discuss the benefits of cloud

Cloud-based tools are built for continual refinement and optimization. Unlike the old days, a tool you buy today can remain on the cutting edge indefinitely, eliminating the need to buy upgraded software for the same purposes five to ten years from now.

Cloud’s scalability and ease of access make it easier to adjust your purchase to future hiring and personnel needs. Using our training example, sending your entire roster to a daylong seminar across the state is an incredibly costly and logistics-heavy affair. Doing the same thing in an online learning module represents significant savings and can support a staff of tens or hundreds.

Combined, these factors position cloud technology as a great value to financial gatekeepers, undoubtedly a reason agencies and governments have consistently increased their investment in the technology despite upfront costs, per Washington Technology.  

They also make cloud an excellent benefit to pitch to taxpayers, who tend to focus on the financial over the productive: A tool that results in long-term financial efficiency is likely to gain widespread support.

Conclusion: For a successful explanation, tailor your message

Understanding your audience and the points they are most likely to appreciate is essential when asked to explain, defend, and justify a purchase.  

Executing requires a deep understanding of your agency’s inner workings, its needs both near and long term, and the ways your proposed solution can improve the former by addressing the latter.  

Be sure to make this knowledge a focal point of your research. By preparing yourself to pitch realistic benefits and field any questions that come your way, it will be that much easier to protect your purchase from internal questioning or public scrutiny.

The National Decertification Index (NDI) is a national registry of police officers whose law enforcement credentials have been revoked due to misconduct.

For more than 10 years, the NDI has provided police departments, state agencies, and other organizations with decertification data about potential hires.