As a group of victim service providers with no significant technology expertise, VS2000 staff found planning and implementing a major technology initiative were daunting tasks. One of the most critical decisions made during the development and funding of the project was to obtain the services of a technology project manager, whose expertise was essential to project success. Regardless of the domain in which they are built, all information system projects benefit from having a project manager oversee their execution.
Technology Project Manager
The VS2000 technology project manager organized and oversaw the development of the entire VS2000 system, including analysis of requirements, project planning and implementation, and pilot testing at user sites. The technology project manager performed many tasks during these phases of development, including meeting with potential system users to determine their needs; designing the system based on those needs; planning and estimating the project; analyzing risks; scheduling resources; allocating budgets; and facilitating discussion among staff, users, system developers, and contractors. Given the complexity of the VS2000 information system, one person maintaining consistent oversight throughout the development process was crucial to successful implementation.
The technology project manager developed several documents critical to the success of the project, including requirements specification and design documents. The requirements specification detailed all functions required by users, all data that had to be collected and processed by the system, and all reports that the system had to produce. User security requirements, data confidentiality requirements, and special processing functions, such as backup and recovery of data, also were included in this document. The design document was created to assist the software development team during the implementation of the information system. It describes in detail each of the system functions, such as "open a case" and "close a case." The design document also includes rules, data to be processed, process flow, user input, and system output. These two documentsthe requirements specification and the design documentwere critical in the development of a Request for Proposals (RFP) and the subsequent selection of a vendor to develop the VS2000 system.
Hardware Assessment and Acquisition
For ProviderNet members to successfully use the system being designed, the capacity of ProviderNet agency computer equipment had to be assessed to determine if it could access the system. The long-term, complex assessment gave agencies an opportunity to take stock of their technological capacity. In addition, the prospect of new computer equipment motivated agencies to become involved with the project.
A technology survey was created and conducted twice during the development process. Administered first to obtain a baseline of the types of equipment existing at each site, the information collected was then included in a technology profile for each site. Minimum hardware specifications were developed as part of the system design specifications, and this information was distributed to ProviderNet agencies for use in their own grant applications. Agencies requested and were granted computers from the state VOCA board, making a second survey necessary. Administered 6 months later, the second survey updated the technology profiles before project management ordered equipment for installation at the sites. Two sets of site visits were necessary to complete this assessment. These visits to ProviderNet agencies resulted in several added benefits. VS2000 staff and contractors were able to meet individually with agency staff, get to know them, and help them clarify their technology goals and needs. ProviderNet agencies reported that the discussions during these visits were tremendously beneficial. In addition, VS2000 staff helped install and explain the use of other computer equipment in many agencies and provided training on the use of Windows 95/98, the Internet, and e-mail. These experiences helped build agencies' trust in the project and the project staff.
Several manufacturers and methods of obtaining computers were considered prior to the decision to purchase equipment. The high operational costs associated with maintaining a lease program throughout the year for all sites was not within the scope of the project. Therefore, computer equipment was purchased from a vendor using several criteria, including price, service agreement, and quality of equipment. A total of 13 workstation computers and 3 server computers (one central server and two SQL servers for stand-alone agencies) were purchased for the project. The technology project manager and the system administrator installed the computers. The system administrator also installed Local Area Networks (LANs) within each of the community-based ProviderNet agencies that use CMS. ProviderNet agencies found this to be a tremendous benefit.
Selection of a Vendor
After the requirements for the system and hardware needs had been determined, VS2000 staff began the process of finding the best possible vendor to customize and build software to meet those needs. VS2000 staff developed an RFP that included the system requirements and design specifications. This RFP was distributed to software developers around the country. A panel of local technology experts and VS2000 staff reviewed the seven responses received and made their selection based on adherence to design specifications and system requirements, experience, and affordability.
The motto "pilot and refine" has been the mainstay of VS2000 technology development. Every effort has been made to meaningfully involve end users in the development of the information system for two reasons. First, involvement of end users will result in a more successful system. An information system designed by its end users is much more likely to meet their needs and be an effective tool when they use it. Second, involvement of end users will help psychologically as these end users make the transition to the new system. The introduction of technology into victim services represents a huge cultural change that cannot be underestimated. End users who have had a meaningful role in developing the technology they now must use are more likely to feel comfortable with it.
Each component of the VS2000 information system underwent rigorous pilot testing by end users. From the planning stage to the end, the VS2000 Technology and Automated Systems Team oversaw all technology development. This team reported directly to the steering committee, the governing body of VS2000. As each component was being developed, agencies willing to pilot test the applications were solicited. An effort was made to ensure that these agencies varied enough in size, service complexity, cultural orientation, and staff and volunteer makeup to accurately represent all end users. Based on recommendations from the project manager and system developers, the Technology and Automated Systems Team oversaw the development of pilot processes, including the selection of sites, duration of testing, development of test questions, and analysis of collected data.
The online Resource Directory was subjected to pilot testing by five victim service agencies and ongoing testing by the Resource Directory system administrator. The online Training Center was tested in two phases by a group of 29 service providers representing 20 agencies in group sessions, and again by the VS2000 Web site administrator during its later development.
The CMS pilot-testing plan involves three phases. In phase one, five agencies reviewed the standard intake and assessment screens. Phase two allows all 20 ProviderNet CMS agencies to review their customized intake and assessment forms and the general case management activities. In phase three, seven agencies will test the three kinds of reporting (shared, standard, and customized), client evaluation, and remote data entry functions.
Denver VS2000 staff knew that it was far preferable to automate procedures that already exist rather than create new procedures. However, due to the complexity of the VS2000 information system and the timelines imposed by grant funding, this was not possible. Therefore, it was critically important to create operational procedures to solidify the relationships and procedures implicit in the information system and to employ a quality system administration. The operational procedures will be completed in a parallel process with CMS development and will be available December 2001. These procedures will be developed by ProviderNet agencies and will include the specific and necessary use of applications, policies, and procedures within each agency to support appropriate, effective system use. The procedures will also delineate the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved.
As discussed earlier in this bulletin, the Resource Directory is a powerful tool because it is maintained daily by a skilled information specialist who understands technology, knows the dynamics of victimization, and is familiar with the agencies that serve victims of crime. Similarly, the system administrator understands both the technical aspects of the system and the critical human factors involved in its use. The system administrator is responsible for the installation, maintenance, and repair of system hardware and for training end users on software applications. The system administrator oversees and keeps current the collection and security of all user information, including e-mail accounts, passwords, levels of access, and security restrictions. While serving as a single point of contact for all users, the system administrator also performs important security functions. If a victim service provider is no longer employed by an agency in the ProviderNet, the system administrator can immediately lock that person out of the system, preventing access to confidential victim data.