Key Questions When Planning a Computer System

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

About the Need for (or Problem Solved by) the Computer System

1. What is the overall purpose of the proposed system?
2. What major problem(s) does it address in the organization?
3. How was the problem identified and/or determined?
4. Is the problem well understood and described in the proposal?
5. What key personnel were involved in defining the problem?

About General Requirements for the Computer System

1. What are the required functions of the system that will solve the problem? (This question is often responded to by describing the technical characteristics of an already preferred computer system; however, this approach may result in poorly conceived requirements and an inadequate system. One should first identify all of the requirements of a new system, and reference these requirements when selecting the hardware, software, peripherals, networking, etc.)
2. What planning went into defining these requirements?
3. Were the end-users of the system involved in determining these requirements (they should be)?
4. Were the general plans for the new system (particularly if the system is quite costly compared to the budget of the agency) included in the strategic plans of the agency?
5. Does purchasing the overall system to address the problem have the support of key leadership in the agency?

About the Proposed Solution to the Problem

1. What are the technical specifications that will meet the above-explained requirements? Include reference to hardware, software, networking, training, maintenance and ongoing internal/external support.
2. How was the system selected to meet these requirements?
3. Was a sound cost-benefit analysis conducted? Were all costs and benefits considered? Consider direct, indirect and ongoing costs.
4. Were all major alternatives for obtaining the system considered, such as leasing, outsourcing, etc.? The larger the investment, the more important that alternatives be investigated.
5. What system was selected to best meet the functional requirements?
6. Are all key requirements met by the system?
7. Describe the system, including key specifications of the hardware, software, peripherals, networking, etc.
8. Is the technology appropriate for current market trends and end-user environments, for example, selecting menu-driven interfaces rather than command-driven, using generally mainstream vendors, etc.
9. Is a budget included in the proposal that includes all costs associated with the purchase, maintenance, and ongoing support of the system?
10. Are all aspects of the system included in the budget or accounted for by other means/reports in the proposal?
11. Are item specifications listed sufficiently to assess the reasonableness of budgets costs for the items?
12. Was attention paid to low-cost solutions? Is it possible to apply volume discounts in any way? 13. Do all staff and/or volunteers listed in the proposal, really need computers?
14. What's being done with any old systems?
15. Is the budget approved by key leadership?
16. Has collaboration been considered, either for cost savings and/or for the good of the community?

Implementation Plan for the Proposed New System

1. What is the timeline for the project, in particular for the funding, purchase, implementation, testing of the system and for evaluating the project?
2. Are the times reasonable?
3. Might funds be dispersed in a staged fashion and associated with certain benchmarks/milestones to assess the success of the project?

About Outcomes and Evaluation of the Project

1. What are the benefits and/or outcomes from usage of the proposed system?
2. How will the project personnel evaluate the progress to the proclaimed benefits and/or outcomes from the project?
3. What follow-up activities are planned?

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For the Category of Information Technology:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

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The following books are recommended because of their highly practical nature and often because they include a wide range of information about this Library topic. To get more information about each book, just click on the image of the book. Also, a "bubble" of information might be displayed. You can click on the title of the book in that bubble to get more information, too.


The Accidental Techie - Book Cover The Accidental Techie: Supporting, Managing, and Maximizing Your Nonprofit's Technology
by Carter McNamara, published by Authenticity Consulting, LLC. This hands-on guide walks you through five projects that, when completed, will give you a comprehensive and usable support system, including for 1) conducting a technology inventory, 2) assessing and supporting staff, 3) assessing and buying technology, 4) protecting your organization from disasters and data loss, and 5) managing your role. Includes ready-to-use templates, worksheets and sample policies, and also 135 resources on topics such as funding, discussion groups, application service providers, web site development, donor management software, and a security policy checklist. Also explains steps for creating a database that gives you the reports you need. Includes a glossary of terms every techie should know.

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