Month: May 2016

Cost Cutting Managers in Government

Jeffrey Morgan

I have a love/hate relationship with cost-cutting managers. I love it when public sector managers are trying to cut costs but I dislike how all too many managers go about the process. Rather than reducing expenses by improving quality, customer service and productivity, many managers attempt to achieve their goal through parsimonious penny pinching.

MBA in Toilet Paper

I vividly recall one manager with whom I worked in a public sector organization during the late 1990’s. When he was hired, he immediately demonstrated his business acumen by cutting the cost of toilet paper, paper towels, soap and copy paper. The copy paper was so cheap and flimsy that it constantly jammed and broke the copiers. Employees in his office brought in their own bathroom supplies rather than using the stinky soap and sandpaper he was able to save money on.

Manager Clouseau!

While Inspector Clouseau was investigating the best deals on toilet paper, there were dozens of malingering FTE’s twiddling their thumbs and failing to make any sort of significant contribution to the organization’s mission and bottom line. Many of those worthless FTE’s worked under his supervision. While he was carefully counting pennies, thousand-dollar bills were flying out the window and floating away like autumn leaves. He made no attempts during his tenure to improve productivity through automation and good management.

Abysmal Personnel Management

The facilities department under Inspector Clouseau’s control was a textbook example of abysmal management. The maintenance staff ostensibly worked from 7:00 to 3:30 with a 30 minute lunch break. They would show up at their shop at 7:00, clock in, drink coffee, stand around and gab for 30 minutes and then head to their work site for the day, generally getting started at or after 8:00. The first break came at around 9:00. There was a high probability they wouldn’t have the required tools or parts, so they would have to run back to the shop or the hardware store to pick something up. At 10:30, they would break to go back to the shop so they could “wash up” and punch out for lunch at 11:00. At 11:30 they would return the shop and gab for a while longer, then arrive back at the day’s worksite by around 12:30. A 30 minute lunch break routinely consumed 2 hours. On a good day, the staff would get in 2 hours work in the afternoon before heading back to the shop for 30 minutes of gab time until they punched out at 3:30. They were all paid for 8 hours but likely only produced 3.5 hours of solid work at best. Even the simplest jobs required at least 2 employees.Cheap toilet paper was more important than productivity.

Deferring Maintenance and Automation

Another public sector manager with whom I worked a few years later was a much more competent personnel and project manager, but he also had a tendency to squeeze a nickel until the bull pooped. He and I had a lot in common: we were both army veterans and we got along well. When he came on board, he cut back on the process automation work I was doing and also deferred a great deal of public works maintenance. He looked like a hero for the first couple of years and then moved on. Pure cost cutters never last long – all the deferred maintenance catches up to them. That contract turned into an amazing bonus for me after he left. Three years of Information Technology and business process work that should have been performed routinely had to be caught up under the new manager. That poor sap ended up looking like a spendthrift.

1950’s Management Theory

My father was a cost cutting manager, which is what he was taught in Business School in the 1950’s. He is 86 now and we still engage in spirited arguments (fights) about the value vs. cost equation. From the 50’s until the 1980’s, American managers were focused primarily on controlling costs while Japanese manufacturers were slowly building a production juggernaut based on quality. They kicked the crap out of us in quality and productivity. W.E. Deming published Out of the Crisis in 1982 and described a new vision for American Management. In the preface, he summed up the situation pretty well:

The basic cause of sickness in American industry and resulting unemployment is failure of top management to manage. He that sells not can buy not. The causes usually cited for failure of a company are costs of start-up, overruns on costs, depreciation of excess inventory, competition—anything but the actual cause, pure and simple bad management.

Quality Comes First

Many manufacturers have adopted Deming’s approach to the improvement of quality in production and services, but few public sector organizations have taken the plunge. I have worked for over 200 organizations during the last 25 years and many are still in the 1950’s when it comes to business processes and customer service. While the rest of the business world has reengineered service delivery models, many government organizations seem to be focused on the convenience of their employees rather than the needs of their customer base. One still has to take time off of work to do business with a government agency since most of these agencies are open only from 8-4 or 9-5 on weekdays. Even the medical profession, a recalcitrant industry if there ever was one, has adopted new business models such as 7X24 walk in clinics.

Total Quality Management (TQM)

In 1992, a few years after getting out of the army, I was in graduate school at the University of Texas and working for a Fortune 500 company. It was there that I was able to see how Deming’s concepts were implemented in the real world. The company was revamping all their processes and retraining staff in order to improve quality and productivity. The results were impressive and the project had the complete support of executive, senior and middle management. It worked.

Cutting Expenses by 35% through Quality Management Alone

A few years ago, I worked with an amazing executive who undertook a project to improve business processes in her public sector organization. She was a committed manager who worked closely with her staff to examine every aspect of the operation in order to identify workflow problems. Rather than setting arbitrary targets for FTE reduction and concerning herself with irrelevant costs, she focused solely on process and quality improvement. By the end of the project, she had reduced staff by 35% (almost entirely through attrition) while improving productivity significantly. That’s what good management looks like.

Is your organization performing at its best? Please e-mail me at if you would like to discuss modernizing your business processes, or if you just want to talk about anything else.

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Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016


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Choosing a Behavioral Health EHR System

by Jeffrey Morgan

As a Mental Health Commissioner or Director of Community Services, purchasing the right EHR & Practice Management System will be one of the most important business decisions of your career. Even for a relatively small practice, you will spend at least several hundred thousand dollars once all the relevant modules, training, data migration, and implementation are accounted for. It’s an overwhelming decision on top of DSRIP, ACA and all the other changes in the industry.

One of the big problems with purchasing such a system is the learning curve. If you are new to the procurement of major systems, you probably don’t have all the tools you need to get through the process. The second problem is all about assumptions. Managers who are new to software procurement often make the assumption that the software company is providing a turnkey solution. Here is the ugly truth: the software company will only do exactly what you asked for in the RFP. Anything you forgot will cost extra. Even if you are purchasing a turnkey solution, there is still a great deal of work for you and your staff to do. Here is a link to my article about software implementation models.

First, let’s talk about some of the tools you will need as well as the general approach to the procurement process you should be taking. Then, we’ll discuss some of the specifics for EHR/Practice Management systems.

The 12 Step Program for Software Procurement

I have written about this before in other contexts, but the basic process is the same whether you are purchasing an ERP, EHR, CRM, or any other type of system. Following is a summary of the basic steps with links to more detailed discussions of the specific steps.

  1. Draft a Project Charter
  2. Establish a Procurement Committee & Appoint a Project Manager
  3. Conduct a Business Process Review
  4. Identify and Document Goals, Objectives and a Preliminary Budget
  5. Conduct a Needs Assessment
  6. Analyze and document your Information Technology Infrastructure
  7. Document Environmental Factors and Organizational Culture
  8. Draft and release an RFP (Request for Proposal) or IFB (Invitation for Bid)
  9. Review Proposals and Prepare a Short List for Demonstrations
  10. Hold Software Demonstrations & Select a Solution
  11. Customer and Vendor Site Visits
  12. Negotiate and execute the Contract

You may have noticed that drafting and issuing an RFP comes late in the project. In many of the failed projects I have studied and reviewed, the buyer treated the RFP as the first step rather than one of the final steps. Moreover, I have presented the steps sequentially, but they don’t need to be so. For instance, steps 3-7 can be conducted concurrently if you have a staff member or consultant with the skills to do so.

It sounds like a simple process, and it is. It’s going to take more than 15 minutes to put it together, however. If you are truly using due diligence, it may take several weeks to gather all the information required to assemble your RFP.

Behavioral Health Specific Questions – Some Considerations

In addition the procedures described above, there many industry specific factors to consider. I provide a summary of some of these issues below in the form of questions. However, this is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion. Please e-mail me if you wish to discuss your project in more detail and we can setup an appointment to talk. The first hour is free!

Meaningful Use

Are the systems you are reviewing certified for all 3 stages of Meaningful Use?

Forms & Regulatory Compliance

What forms do you currently use? Are your forms fully compliant with both Medicaid and NYSCRI or other state specific forms? Does the vendor have a major presence in your state and are they committed to the immediate implementation of regulatory changes for your state? Will there be an extra charge for unexpected regulatory changes? Will you require custom forms with custom mandatory fields?

HL7 and Interoperability

Do you need RHIO connectivity? Right now or down the road? What sort of impact will DSRIP have on your project?

Third Party Hardware and Software

What third party hardware and software is required for the system? How much does it cost and what will be the 5 year TCO?

Document Management

Will the system allow you to go paperless? What about the cost of scanners? Will you use a centralized or distributed model for document imaging? What are your state’s regulatory requirements for scanning? Most states have specific legal and procedural requirements for document imaging. For New York, the requirements can be found here. Is your software in compliance with state imaging guidelines?


What is your workflow from initial client contact forward? Every agency has a different workflow and quality EHR systems have flexible workflows that can be adapted for your specific requirements. Do you have flowcharts? Do you want to change your workflow to a more efficient model during implementation? What will your new workflow look like? Who is going to configure rules and alerts for Treatment Plans, etc? What is the workflow between clinician and billing?

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

What is the real 5 year TCO of your system including maintenance, support, consulting services, implementation and third part products?

Return on Investment (ROI)

What will the ROI of your system be? Will productivity improvements allow you to reduce staff or will you have to add staff?

SaaS Vs. Customer Hosted

Do you have the infrastructure to host the system internally? Or does a SaaS (aka “Cloud”) system make more sense? Which makes more sense from a business perspective and what are the long term costs and consequences of each type of system? What are the pros and cons of each system?


Do you have a Comprehensive Information Security Policy? Is the software you are purchasing flexible enough to implement your security policy in the system? Do you have an information security officer? Who will monitor and document system security?


What are your reporting requirements? Will you staff need special training to build reports? Have you included required reports in the RFP? Does the software allow you to easily build required CFR’s?

Data Migration

Who is going to handle the data migration? Most vendors insist that you supply the data to them in a specific format. Do you have staff members who can extract the data from your old system and provide it to the vendor in the requested format? Who is going to validate the migrated data and how long will it take?


Do you have a comprehensive list of Payors and Clearing Houses? Each of these will have to be configured individually. How will your system handle write downs? Cash Payments? Credit Cards? Invoicing? Are you still doing any paper billing or is it all electronic? What billing forms do you use and are all these supported by the system?

Installation, Implementation, Configuration

Have you budgeted for sufficient professional services to get the project completed without excessive cost overruns? Are you going to implement EHR and Billing simultaneously? Or in stages? What is your timeline?


Have you budgeted for sufficient training and Go Live support? No matter how much training you have built into the project, I assure you that you will need more than you think.

Change Management

I get it. You are Mental Health Professionals, but transition to a new EHR/Practice Management System is a painful process and Change Management is something that must be considered.


You may wish to read my article on writing RFP’s before you get too far down that road.


EHR/Practice Management projects are only successful when the executives provide unwavering support and dedication. These sorts of projects don’t succeed or fail by accident. You will have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty to succeed with the minimum amount of pain.

As I have already indicated, this is a partial list of questions you should be considering before you write an RFP. Please e-mail me at if you would like to discuss your EHR or Practice Management System Requirements.

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Leadership and Antisocial Behavior in Business


by Jeffrey Morgan




When I was starting to get larger consulting projects in the mid 1990’s, I got burned, big time by my failure to understand sleazy players and hidden agendas in bureaucratic organizations. The lessons were painful. Twenty years later, I still get a little pissed off about my utter stupidity and clueless blundering back then. I thought I was a smart man-of-the-world, but I was really just a Pollyanna when it came to dealing with the smarmy, self-serving individuals one routinely encounters in large organizations. Back then, I believed that everyone’s mission was to work in the best interest of the organization. I have been sorely disabused of that notion ever since.

Behavior Empowered by Weak Management

You know who I am talking about: the pathological liars, credit takers, sycophants, narcissists, sociopaths, passive aggressives, and borderline personalities that can make your job extremely difficult. Every large organization has a whole posse of these people. If you allow it, they will make your life a living hell. Antisocials are all too often enabled and empowered by weak managers and executives.

Antisocial Behavior in Various Organizations

In small businesses, antisocial behavior tends to be exposed and eliminated quickly. In larger organizations though, antisocial personalities often grow and flourish like noxious, alien superweeds. They can topple organizations, destroy workplace morale, and chase away your best and brightest staff members. They can even end your career. You can’t spray them with Roundup, but excellent leadership can alleviate or eliminate the problem. Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of strong leaders who are skilled at managing these dysfunctional personalities in the workplace.

The Learning Curve

It took me about ten years to learn to identify and handle the full spectrum of personality disorders that one encounters in the business world. Maybe I am a slow learner. I rarely get completely blindsided anymore, but I am definitely still learning. Let’s take a look at some of the dysfunctional personalities and behaviors one encounters in bureaucratic organizations and then discuss a few solutions.

Grima Wormtongue

Every large organization has at least one of these people. In a meeting, he or she will remain silent or tacitly agree with the direction of an open discussion with colleagues, executives and stakeholders. As soon as the meeting is over, Grima makes a beeline to the executives and board members and begins whispering in their ears. Open discussions and symmetrical information are anathema to Grima because he has no ideas or solutions. His only approach to maintaining power or status is the personal and professional destruction of the people he perceives to be a threat. Maddening and disgusting! Strong executives shut these people down immediately by demanding that they voice their concerns in the appropriate public forum. Weak leaders allow these people to grow like a malignant cancer and spread through the organization. If you aren’t shutting this type of behavior down, Grima will eventually bring you down. Look at what happened to King Theoden!

Effective Leadership Vs. The Weapons of Cowards

Gossip and innuendo are the weapons of cowards but they can be incredibly effective. Strong leaders are never swayed by malicious insinuations and baseless accusations. Effective leaders investigate if necessary, take appropriate action and then shut the gossip down. I prefer the approach the Volturi took to false accusers in the Twilight Saga, but such tactics are generally frowned upon in the business world. In the hands of a weak leader, groundless gossip ruins careers and reputations. Don’t be a weak leader.

One excellent executive leader with whom I worked always addressed accusations and innuendo by investigating immediately. He began by pulling out his pen and notebook and getting the facts from all parties involved, remaining neutral the entire time. He never made assumptions and therefore never ended up looking the fool. When he completed his investigation, the only person whose credibility was damaged was the malicious accuser.

Hidden Agendas & Effective Leadership

One thing I have learned from 23 years of consulting work in political organizations is that everyone has a hidden agenda. I try to flush these out to the best of my ability during consulting engagements, but they are sometimes difficult to identify completely. Hidden agendas can present overwhelming obstacles to projects that involve significant process improvement and change. Too many people are heavily invested in old, inefficient methods and they hold power as a result of the dysfunction. Effective leaders expose hidden agendas and identify the real issues at hand.

Refusal to put it in writing or e-mail

Beware of those who drop by your office “for a discussion” or those who only want to discuss critical issues over the phone rather than by e-mail. Yes, many issues are better handled in a personal meeting rather than by e-mail, but it is essential to establish a paper trail for these discussions. Don’t let someone with ulterior motives hijack or misrepresent your hard work and message. If you are dealing with someone who wants to make sure there is no trail, document the discussion and e-mail back a summary of the meeting copying appropriate personnel. Stop this behavior immediately.

Getting Fired

Consultants are always one step away from being fired so I have learned to put everything in writing. I cc at least 2 people in an organization on every communication and I state this practice in my contracts. I learned this lesson the hard way, though. At one point, I was reporting to a specific person on a Board. At the time, I didn’t understand that he had a hidden agenda and my failure to communicate to multiple board members allowed him to hijack the message and bury some really egregious practices that should have been exposed to fresh air and sun. “We don’t air our dirty laundry in public” he told me. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to get your dirty laundry clean.

A friend of mine was recently dismissed from an executive position because of her failure to document sufficiently and go over people’s heads to resolve problems. She should have known better but her failure to document put her in the crosshairs. Aggressively exposing and documenting the problems would have protected her but she trusted the wrong people. If you are working for an organization whose management rewards or buries incompetence, corruption and malfeasance, you should either be looking for another job or preparing for combat. If you choose the second option, you might win or you might lose. The worse that can happen is that you’ll get fired, but at least your integrity will be intact.

Long ago, I made the mistake of assuming that everyone laid their cards on the table. That’s the way I was raised. In the public sector, all the agendas are supposed to be public anyway. Government works better in the open but too many of the players favor back room deals that never address the root cause of problems.

Secrets and Conspiracies

Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Never get involved in workplace conspiracies. People who conspire against others in your organization will do the same to you if the opportunity presents itself and it will damage your credibility and integrity. Credibility and Integrity are all you have.

Examine Every Statement and Supposed Fact

I once took a course from GAP, International, Breakthrough Thinking Intensive. The gist of the training was to learn to examine every statement and assumption and ask if it was really true. It was a great course, but really ended up being a business version of skills I had learned from my best professors in graduate school. Every statement and assumption must be proven before you accept it as fact. I wish all the executives and managers I have encountered in roughly 200 organizations had this skill. All too often, we believe things that have no basis in fact.

In 1982, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall postulated that Helicobacter pylori, rather than stress, was the primary cause of gastric and duodenal ulcers. They were ridiculed and nearly run out of the profession for that suggestion, but their theory has proven to be true and they were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work in 2005. Sometimes the truth takes a while to get out.

Just Tell the Truth

My approach to business problems and antisocial people is to simply tell the truth in plain language and remain steadfast. Deal with facts and never let personal considerations enter into the fray. Truth is the best defense against the antisocial personalities you will encounter in the workplace. They hate it. It’s like throwing water on the Wicked Witch, or dragging a vampire out into the sun. Antisocial scoundrels melt or burst into flames when exposed to truth. Put everything out there in the open where everyone can see it.

My father was a small business owner – bars, restaurants, and real estate. In his businesses there were never hidden agendas and everything was always out in the open. I thought the whole world worked that way and had a rude awakening as an adult. My parents raised my sisters and I to always tell the truth. There was only one exception to that which he chastised me about. When he found out that I disclosed some personal information to a military recruiter, he yelled “$%^( &$@#!  When I taught you to tell the truth, I didn’t mean for you to tell it to anyone from the federal government!” I guess I had missed that lesson.

In spite of his teaching, I found that the truth worked for me, even in the Army. I did two things in the army that one is never supposed to do. I volunteered, and I fessed up immediately if I made some sort of huge mistake. These worked to my advantage and I believe they will work to yours as well.

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If you want to talk about business practices or technology in your organization, send me an e-mail at and let’s talk!


Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016

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A 12 Step Program for ERP Procurement

by Jeffrey Morgan

Procuring and implementing an ERP is like driving down a winding country road on a stormy night. You can’t see clearly through the fog and rain and you aren’t sure if you are headed in the right direction. Google Maps doesn’t have a route.

A good set of directions will get you to your destination, though. Following a rigorous methodology can reduce the anxiety and will vastly increase the probability of a successful outcome.

Following is a summary of the steps to take to ensure you have a successful ERP (or any other) software procurement project.

The 12 Steps to ERP Procurement

  1. Draft a Project Charter
  2. Establish a Procurement Committee & Appoint a Project Manager
  3. Conduct a Business Process Review
  4. Identify and Document Goals, Objectives and a Preliminary Budget
  5. Conduct a Needs Assessment
  6. Analyze and document your Information Technology Infrastructure
  7. Document Environmental Factors and Organizational Culture
  8. Draft and release an RFP (Request for Proposal) or IFB (Invitation for Bid)
  9. Review Proposals and Prepare a Short List for Demonstrations
  10. Hold Software Demonstrations & Select a Solution
  11. Customer and Vendor Site Visits
  12. Negotiate and execute the Contract

Easy, right? Only 12 steps and you will have a business process face lift along with software that works effectively for your organization.

RFP is not the First Step!

You may have noticed that drafting and issuing an RFP comes late in the project. In many of the failed projects I have studied and reviewed, the buyer treated the RFP as the first step rather than one of the final steps. Moreover, I have presented the steps sequentially, but they don’t need to be so. For instance, steps 3-7 can be conducted concurrently if you have a staff member or consultant with the skills to do so.

Don’t let your ERP procurement project drive you to drink! Make a road map, follow it diligently, and you will surely arrive at your destination on time. You can read a more detailed description of the process of getting started, here.

Read more about IT Governance, ERP Prcocurement, Enterprise Software and other related issues at Feel free to e-mail me at if you would like to discuss your project.


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The Passing of Dogs and the Meaning of Life

by Jeffrey Morgan

The passing of a dog has always marked defining moments in my life. If you have dogs, you probably know what I mean. Dogs become an integral part of your life and family and they are there for all the big moments.

Winnie, the family dog

We got Winnie (the Pooh) just after my third baby was born in 1993. We had recently moved to my family’s Northeast Pennsylvania farm from Austin. Yellow labs are great farm dogs and wonderful for a young family and Winnie was a perfect fit. When my youngest daughter Emmy was learning to walk, she and Winnie would slide down the stairs together rather than risk walking them. Emmy was always a daredevil and she’s now assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group.

Apparently, Winnie didn’t like the sound of gunshots so she wasn’t trainable as a working retriever but I don’t hunt, so it all worked out. She was always up for a long hike regardless of the weather and her whole body wagged when she was especially happy.  She never got on the furniture when anyone was home, but would immediately hop on a couch for a good snooze once everyone was gone.

When Winnie stopped going for walks with me, I knew the end was near. She had gone hiking with me for over a decade and got to the point where she would just give me a sad look as I was walking down the road.

Winnie lived for 13 years and her passing marked the end of my children’s youth. Although she is buried on the west side of our pond, she still walks with me when I hike the woods.

Cosmo, the Hipster Doofus

In 1999, Emmy and I drove down to Poughkeepsie to pick up the puppy we would name Cosmo. Emmy was in Kindergarten but insisted on skipping school to assist with the selection. Cosmo turned out to be a two hundred pound giant doofus at his peak.

Cosmo loved butter and would steal it from the counter at every opportunity. I would find butter wrappers all over the house. He knew he was in for a treat if I was preparing for a bake sale and he would quietly wait for me to leave the kitchen unattended. His head was chest-high to me, so anything on the counter was an easy reach.

Cosmo’s passing marked the end of home life for my children as they started attending college. He lived to be 8 and is buried next to another pond where he liked to go woodchuck hunting even though he rarely ever got one. I thought he was a goner a year earlier and I had the local backhoe guy dig him a grave. Cosmo snapped back and there was a big empty hole in the ground for a year before he finally went to rest there forever.

Colby, the Warrior Princess

Once you have a Great Dane, word gets around. We got a call from a local animal shelter and they asked if we were interested in another Great Dane. My fearless Emmy and I went to meet her and we instantly fell in love.  Colby was so ferocious that the Shelter Board President was housing her in her own barn because the shelter workers were afraid of her. Nevertheless, we were confident in our ability to bring her into the family. She was some kind of mix – obviously part Great Dane, but also mixed with something with a huge chest, enormous wolf like teeth, and terrifying yellow eyes right out of a Hollywood horror movie.

Colby immediately took charge as the Chief Security Officer. It was months before my father was allowed to enter the house unsupervised even though he lives across the street. She managed every aspect of the household and enforced all the rules.

I used to play tug of war with her and had to buy a six-foot rope for our game. She was a big cheater and didn’t like to lose. She was also a flawless judge of human character. She especially disliked Sons of Anarchy-looking people; a big belly, tattoos, and long, greasy hair always raised her hackles. She didn’t take much stock in sales people either. If she disapproved of someone, you could rest assured he was a scoundrel. My vet later informed me that she had a couple of .22 rounds in her from her former life – wherever and whatever that was.

Colby’s passing in 2009 coincided with my mother’s diagnosis of terminal melanoma.

Lucy, the Prison Dog

Lucy had been arrested multiple times and a local police department, a client of mine, called me in 2006 to see if I wanted her. Apparently her owner had gotten a girlfriend who didn’t like dogs. He would just leave Lucy alone in his apartment while shacking up with the girlfriend. Lucy was a consummate escape artist and was once too often found wandering the streets of the small upstate New York town.

In my opinion, Lucy was a better deal than the girlfriend. Who doesn’t love Great Danes? You can always find another girlfriend, but Lucy is one-of-a-kind – all love and not a mean bone in her body.

Lucy was a “manic whipper” and when we did the official adoption from the pound, her tail was shredded from whacking the concrete walls in her tiny prison cell. Our vet suggested that her tail be docked but I researched it on the Internet and found a great solution. We wrapped and taped pipe insulation on her tail until it completely healed. She was with us through the kids’ teen years, college, and going out in the world to make their own way. She has her own futon in my office and is sleeping there as I write this.

Birdie, the Guardian Angel Divorce Dog

I found Birdie on the side of the road with a broken leg just three days after the 2008 national election. I immediately understood he was a sign of one sort or another and that the universe had sent him for a reason. My mother was of Irish descent and my father Ukrainian, so I understand signs. The universe is always sending messages and we just have to listen to them. I got him in the back seat of my car and took him right to the vet.

When I took Birdie home, my wife immediately threatened divorce, which came soon enough anyway. He is the most expensive dog I have ever owned and his leg was broken in two places. I declined the special surgery to insert a pin in his bone and opted for a simple cast. He limps a little and looks like he needs a cane but he turns into a Jedi Knight if he spots a woodchuck. My new wife calls him Yoda.

A Born Heeler

Soon after I brought Birdie home from the vet, he spotted a couple of cows in the barnyard and went tearing off after them in his cast. He is a natural heeler and had them all pinned in a corner in a few seconds. I spent months looking for a home for him. I even stopped at the local drug task force dirty site (also a client of mine) and tried to place him with one of the undercover guys. They all loved him but no one would take the plunge. He’s been mine ever since.

Birdie always rode with me to Penn State and St. Bonaventure University to pickup and drop off my two older children. And he stuck with me through 30 gruesome months of divorce litigation.

Time to Go

Birdie is doing well but Lucy is 12 now and I am waiting for the vet to come and euthanize her. My neighbor was generous enough to come over this morning and dig a grave with the tractor. Lucy was still chasing cars last Wednesday, but she has really gone downhill since then and is clearly in a lot of pain. Twelve is really old for a Great Dane but she’s been a trooper to the end. Her hips are shot and her eyes are asking me to stop the pain. I am always the last one to make the call for euthanasia, but I know that heartbreaking look all too well.

The Meaning?

There have been a lot of other animals: Spanky and Delilah (goats). Sir Jiggles and Guinevere (Guinea Pigs), several horses, quite a few cats (Pepe, Bobi, Sisi, Sara, Mako and Drako) and lots of cows. But dogs become a part of a family in a way that other animals don’t. They get under your skin and inside you. They become guardians, therapists, hiking companions and so much more. There is never judgement, just unconditional love and affection.

I’m not really sure what watershed event Lucy’s passing will represent to me since I am only able to understand these things clearly in retrospect. I am hoping Birdie will be around for a few more years.

My wife and I have been talking about a St. Bernadoodle, but I think I will hold out for a sign.

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Swiping Municipal RFP’s from the Internet


Back CameraRFP’s Are Not Universal

by Jeffrey Morgan

RFP’s aren’t universal but County and Municipal governments frequently use another entity’s RFP in the procurement process rather than writing their own. I suppose the motivation is to save money but the probable outcome of this practice is more likely to result in a large financial loss or a difficult implementation.

I know of at least one case where an RFP that I wrote for a very successful project was “borrowed” by another County that ended up having a difficult time with their project. This is no mystery to me. I spent a great deal of time analyzing my client’s workflow, business processes, and organizational culture before writing their RFP. The other County apparently didn’t think any of these aspects would make a difference and focused on the technical specifications that I developed. However, technical specifications are only a small part of an RFP, and probably not the most important component. There are many other factors to consider.

There is nothing ethically wrong with editing and re-releasing another County’s RFP. After all, it’s a public document and no one owns the copyright. However, from a business perspective, this is a terrible practice that could result in an organization procuring a product that is totally wrong for them. Let’s take a look at two different Counties and then talk about some of the problem with swiping RFP’s from your neighbors.

Case Study: A Tale of Two Counties

Flower County

Flower County and Rock County are adjacent to each other and it is only 40 miles from one County seat to the other. Both Counties have a population of 100,000. Flower County has a large university, a community college and a significant urban center in which most of the county population lives. The County Commission is composed largely of university professors, corporate managers and retired public servants. Residents of Flower County are proud of the plethora of government services they offer to their residents. The Flower County Executive is a career public service professional with a Master’s in Public Administration and the County maintains a large Information Technology department, the members of which are all CSEA members. They have developed an extravagant, high bandwidth Information Technology infrastructure that connects all their buildings.

Rock County

Rock County is managed by a successful, retired entrepreneur. The County is decentralized, rural and has no institutions of higher learning. In Rock County, the County Commission is composed of farmers and small business owners. Residents of Rock County are extremely proud of their low taxes and are committed to maintaining a small, efficient government that provides mandated services with no frills. The County has no Information Technology department and contracts all the required services through professional services firms. Rock County has a very basic IT infrastructure with low bandwidth connectivity between buildings.

Both Counties are seeking a new ERP system. Rock County is interested in highly automated systems so they can eliminate FTE’s involved in processing financial transactions and are open to contracting as many services as possible. Flower County wants to further expand the online services available to the Community and they are willing to add FTE’s to achieve their goals. Both of these communities have the same requirements for producing federal and state financial reports and for managing their respective budgets. That’s about all they have in common.

Both Counties have committed to a budget of $1,000,000 for their software and implementation and they can both realistically achieve their goals. Is it likely these counties will choose the same vendor and suite of products to manage their finances?  Maybe, but the probability is low. If these Counties use a rigorous procurement process, their RFP’s are going to be very different. Even if they do purchase the same product, the implementation of that product is going to look very different.

Let’s Call Another County and ask them!

In County and Municipal government, one of the common “techniques” for software procurement and getting questions about business processes answered is to call up another County or City and ask how they do it. Following the pack is a popular approach. But, what if the other County or City is doing it wrong, doing it poorly or doing it inefficiently? Or, what if there are so many business and cultural differences, as in the case study above, that the other entity’s approach is just wrong for your organization?

Organizational Culture Matters

The appetite for change and internal politics in an organization can have a significant impact on the success of a project and I have written about this here. I always include a frank description of organizational culture in my RFP’s so the potential vendors have some idea of what they are getting into. If you want a project to be successful, you must account for the way your staff will behave and react during implementation. If your staff is composed of fifty-somethings who have done the same jobs for 30 years, they will certainly react in a completely different manner than twenty-somethings who are newer to their professions. Is your staff flexible or rigid? Are they open to new ideas and processes?

The skill level of your staff is also another consideration. What kind of implementation approach will be successful in your organization? An implementation approach that works for one County may not work for another and taking a cookie cutter approach is likely to create significant cost overruns.

Workflow and Business Processes Matter

A thorough Business Process Assessment is essential for a successful project. After 23 years of working with County and Municipal agencies, I have learned that everyone does it a little different. Workflow is important to consider as well. Is the vendor’s workflow flexible or is it canned? If it is flexible, how hard is it to adjust? Is your current workflow streamlined or Byzantine?

While Rock and Flower County may find different solutions to address their business requirements, the approach they take to arriving at that solution should be the same and you can read about it here.

Just Stop It!

I hope this brief discussion clearly illustrates why copying an RFP from the Internet, or basing your purchasing decision on a neighboring County’s recommendation are not sound business approaches to software procurement. Flower and Rock County are seeking to purchase an ERP solution, but they have different business goals and objectives and very different cultures. There is a high probability that these counties will make different decisions if they use a thoughtful, rigorous approach to procurement.

If you would like to discuss the development of custom RFP’s that will work for your organization, please feel free to e-mail me. Let’s talk! And for heaven’s sake, stop copying RFP’s. Write the custom RFP you deserve or contract someone to do it for you. It will save you both money and many headaches.

Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016

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Standard Components of Municipal Software Contracts

You Need an Attorney

by Jeffrey Morgan

You followed a rigorous methodology for your municipal or enterprise software project, conducted business process and needs assessments, went through demos and selected a product. You have finally arrived at the contract negotiation stage of your procurement project. If your Municipal Attorney or General Counsel has experience with software contracts, you are in luck! If not, you should consider contracting an attorney who specializes in software contracts. If you run into a contract dispute down the road, this may turn out to have been money well spent. Compared to the 6-8 figure project you are embarking upon, the cost of expert advice from a specialist attorney will be negligible and well worth the cost.

On being presented with initial contract documents from a software company, one municipal attorney with whom I worked stated “Whenever I see contract documents that are this complicated I always suspect that they are swindlers. Now that I have reviewed the documents, I know they are swindlers.” He had a great point. Alternately, your software vendor might supply you with a two-page contract that represents the entire agreement. This is equally suspicious. Make sure you know what you are getting into.

In all likelihood, your vendor will provide you with a set of contract documents that are completely one-sided. Your attorney will need to negotiate the terms of the contract documents to provide you with binding assurances, leverage and a more fair distribution of the risks.

I am not an attorney and I am not providing legal advice but I have been involved in many software and services contract negotiations. Following is a brief description of standard contract documents you might expect to see. Don’t take my word for anything, though. Your attorney must review and approve all the documents.

Don’t count on verbal promises and handshake deals with the sales representative who brought donuts, coffee, and lunch. Every aspect of the deal must be in writing. After the contract has been signed, you may never see the sales representative again and you will be dealing people whom you have never met.

Some Standard Components of Software Contracts

Following is a brief description of the essential components you might expect to be part of a software deal. All of it might be in a single document, or the vendor may provide separate documents for each component and there may be agreements with third party vendors.

Software License Agreement

This is your license to use the software and there is a fee attached to it which may be a one-time fee or an annual recurring fee that will continue for as long as you use the product.

Software Maintenance and Support Agreement

The agreement for the continuing support of the product after Go Live which should include technical support and continuous upgrades.

Hosting Services Agreement (for SaaS products)

The agreement that covers hosting services which may be provided by a company other than the software vendor.

Statement of Work

A detailed breakdown of all the services the vendor is going to provide as well as the vendor’s expectations of customer responsibilities. Don’t expect that that vendor will come in and deliver a perfectly working product. Even if you paid for a turnkey solution, you still have a lot of work to do. Anything you might require that is not in this document may result in extra charges or a significant cost overrun. The statement of work should be very detailed must be incorporated and made reference to in the contract.

Service Level Agreement

This document describes the vendor’s commitment to the specific level of service you should receive should you have a problem. I would recommend negotiating penalties for failure of the vendor to meet the defined service levels.


The vendor’s response to the RFP or RFB with all the binding commitments they originally made. This should be incorporated and made reference to in the contract.

Payment Schedule – Software License

I recommend negotiating a holdback on full payment of the software license fee until after Go Live. This will give the vendor a strong incentive to get to Go Live quickly and efficiently. You won’t release the money until the product works to your satisfaction.

Payment Schedule – Implementation Services

The agreement that covers how ongoing professional services for implementation, training and travel will be billed including a realistic estimate of anticipated services. Initial proposals almost always underestimate the services that will be required.

Payment Schedule – Maintenance and Support

Make sure you address annual increases in maintenance for at least 5 years or more so that you are not faced with a large future increase in maintenance and support costs.

Project Plan

A detailed project plan and timeline for the project from kickoff to Go Live and beyond.

Acord Certificate

Proof of vendor compliance with your liability insurance specifications. This should be approved by your attorney, risk manager, or insurance broker.

There are many components to a software agreement and that is why you need an attorney. Once you compile all these documents, you make be looking at hundreds of pages. Depending on the availability of your attorney and the vendor’s legal staff, the contract discussions and negotiations could require from several weeks to several months depending on size and scope of the project.

Good luck with your contract negotiations! If you just want to bounce some ideas around or discuss your project, feel free to e-mail me at You can read more about IT Governance here.

Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016

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Homegrown Software in Municipal Organizations

IMG_1059Homegrown Software?

by Jeffrey Morgan

Should software development be a core business function in your municipal or county government operation?

Does your organization build its own cars, trucks and buses? Do you make your own office furniture internally because it has to be really special? Do you manufacture your own pens, pencils and computers? Then, why on earth would you write your own software?

A Brief History of Municipal Software

In the olden days of MIS (Management Information Systems), many MIS people understood business systems, especially finance and accounting systems and knew how to build them from the ground up. There wasn’t a great deal of commercially available software and even when there was, it ran on a mainframe or mid-range system like a System 36, AS400, MicroVax or UNIX system that required expert maintenance. Building business systems was part of MIS training and knowledge. This is no longer true. Younger generations of IT people (MIS people are retiring in droves) are trained to build and support modular infrastructure systems, but not to build business systems like financial accounting software from scratch. Extensive training in business processes is no longer part of the education of the average IT employee. Yes – there are exceptions and I am sure you can show me those.

Commercial Software

In the county, municipal and K-12 markets, someone has developed a commercial software application for just about every business process and function you might require. It’s a big market with 59,000 potential commercial customers. If you are for some reason considering custom or internally written software, I would like to ask you a question: What is so different, unique and special about your organization that you need something that none of the other counties, municipalities and schools in the country need? Maybe you can surprise me and show me the business case, but I doubt it. The need for custom software should be rare these days.

We Are Special!

Maybe your programmers or end-users insist that no commercial software can work with your unique business processes because you are the only municipality in the world that sends out sewer bills your special way. If that is the case, you should be asking why your business processes are so different from the rest of the world that you would need custom software written internally.

Continuing the Legacy

If you do have a programming staff, there is a good chance their primary job is to provide life support and intensive care for your homegrown legacy system that was written decades ago.  While the programmers were at it, they probably kept developing other custom programs to justify their jobs. If this is the case, you may have a huge jumble of poorly documented and inefficient software that requires constant care and feeding. Some of it probably isn’t even being used and the software may not be able to compete with what is available in today’s market. Start planning now to make an orderly exit from the homegrown software business. It may take several years, but it is worth the effort.

What is the TCO and ROI of Homegrown Software?

Let’s take a look at the cost of an in-house programming staff for a mid-size County with 6 programmers.



I’m being really conservative here and this is a very simplistic model, but it demonstrates the reality of your in-house software production. All of the variables for your situation may be different and your programming staff may be smaller or larger. However, you can buy a lot of commercial software for $800,000.00 a year! Moreover, the annual support cost for commercial software in subsequent years may be in the vicinity of $150,000 with commercial software, so you will be saving over $600,000 a year after year one. Forever! You could do a lot with that money. While your case may require much more complex calculations, the bottom line will be the same: your in-house programming staff is costing you serious money and possibly not delivering ROI that is consistent with the cost.

Hidden Costs & No Economy of Scale

There is another cost of custom or in-house software that is not easily represented in terms of dollars. That is the cost of a product written for a single customer with no economies of scale. Commercial software that has hundreds or thousands of installations has been vetted nationally and programming mistakes are found quickly. Software products used only by one customer often have errors that are not identified for years or decades, if ever. I have seen examples where reports were wrong for years, tax bills that went out for years with mistakes, etc. Once discovered, these mistakes could cost you millions if you have to provide refunds or end up in litigation as a result. Or, you may have lost millions of dollars in revenue because you have been undercharging due to programming mistakes.

We’ll market and sell it!

I have heard this proposed more than once – municipal employees suggesting they develop a software product and then sell it to other municipalities in order to recoup the development costs and make a profit. Those are twilight zone moments for me and it takes a few minutes to recover from the shock. While I am recovering, I am hoping the Mothership will beam me up before I have to craft a diplomatic response. They have no idea of what is involved in developing, testing, debugging, marketing, selling and supporting a commercial software product. Stick to your core business of delivering government services and do it well.

Just Say NO to In-House Programming

There are cases for which custom software is appropriate and if that is your case there are outstanding custom programmers available who can fulfill those needs. Contracting programming services is generally a better business decision than maintaining a permanent in-house programming staff unless you have a really large operation. If the job is done right, it will only need to be done once.

Don’t get involved with in-house programming if any other option is available. And there are almost certainly other options available. You always have a choice and this is a choice about making a good business decision. Get out of the custom software business and buy off-the-shelf products with long-term, expert support contracts.

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Intellectual Diversity & Corporate Culture

by Jeffrey Morgan

Iterative processes seem to be all the rage in the corporate sector right now. I find this to be mildly amusing. Have no CXO’s ever taken piano lessons? Musicians, artists, dancers, carpenters, chefs and athletes have used and understood iterative processes for centuries. They live them every day.


Process Engineering from a Chain Smoking Pianist

My God, I do believe that’s the worst thing I have ever heard. Those soul crushing words were uttered by my first really good piano teacher at our initial meeting. She had trained numerous national competition winners and was one tough, chain smoking cookie. Our 1-hour lessons inevitably turned into 2-hour, brutal, extreme workout sessions while she was trying to teach me how to practice.  Her English Bulldog, Max snored under the baby grand through every lesson. Learning to practice effectively took years and Max stuck it out with me.

Iterative Production Processes

It’s the same process whether you are talking about a piano sonata or an electrical engineering problem. Isolate difficulties into small packages. Practice, work out the problem in ultra slow motion. Do it again and again and again, until you get it right, gradually getting faster and better. Repeat the process with the next difficulty and start building it out one component at a time until you have the process going from end to end. That’s when you discover new macro problems and difficulties you hadn’t previously anticipated at the micro level. So, you go back and work through the new problems until you find solutions. It could take hours, weeks or months to solve the problems, depending on the scope and difficulties of the project.

Button Up Your Shirt!

I recently worked on a contract at a conservative international corporation and received a call from my manager who was working at a location about 100 miles away. “Button up your shirt” he shouted. “It’s a political thing. Just go along with me on this.”

I was stunned. I was appropriately dressed in business casual attire that was a few notches above the average employee. I thought I was looking quite posh! An HR manager spotted me working with some vendors in a common area and noticed that my shirt was open to the second button – where I always wear it. She tracked down my manager at another location and relayed the message for me to button my shirt. Several HR minions probably had to be pulled in to rectify this crisis.

Utterly ridiculous!

If this sort of thing is going on in your corporation, your operations and corporate culture are way off course and completely broken. This is a symptom of huge organizational problems. Six figures to be a button cop? What does that contribute to the organization’s mission and how are you going to fix this sort of problem in your organization?

Corporate Diversity

HR Departments in medium to large US and multinational corporations seem to have done a pretty good job at creating racial and ethnic diversity in their organizations. Their most spectacular success though, has been the complete eradication of diversity of thought in the workforce.  In spite of the very superficial aspect of skin color, everyone dresses the same, thinks the same and speaks the same corporate mumbo jumbo. How can you address business problems requiring massive process changes when everyone thinks exactly alike?

There is only One True Form of Diversity

Diversity of thought is the only real form of diversity. The product of an employee’s brain is the only contribution he or she can make to an organization’s effort to produce a quality product or service. If everyone thinks the same, your business operations will always be the same. You can never improve them.  From this point of view, there is no diversity at all in most large corporations, regardless of what their EEO-4 reports may state. There is no measurement for Intellectual Diversity. There is no box to check for:

Thinks Differently

Tilting at Windmills

In the 12 seconds that corporate recruiters supposedly spend sizing up a candidate on paper, there is no way to assess anything except a candidate’s CQ (Cooperation Quotient).  In the early 90’s I was working my way through grad school at a Fortune 500 company. The engineers complained that HR always sent them unqualified candidates. The Boss and engineers would interview the candidates, ask them a few basic questions, and reject them. They looked good on paper, but they didn’t actually know how to build and troubleshoot circuits – our department’s mission. The Boss would then send the staff engineers to job fairs to recruit the people who were eventually hired. One of the company’s top Master Engineers still hadn’t completed his BSEE yet. In the current environment, that genius of an engineer wouldn’t even get an interview. Finding the perfect fit is like tilting at windmills.

Selection for Intellectual Diversity

If corporate recruiters started considering Intellectual Diversity rather than selecting for Cooperation Quotient, companies could identify and recruit more creative candidates who would almost certainly provide fresh perspectives and effective solutions for business problems. These are the potential employees whose brains can’t be squeezed into an 8-foot cubicle. Those artists, musicians, sculptors and bakers have developed knowledge, skills, perspectives and problem solving abilities that traditionally trained staff may never be able to acquire. It’s simply a matter of applying those skills to a different metaphor, which is a fairly simple transition if your brain has already been programmed for it.

There is a huge risk though – those new recruits may not button up their shirts all the way.

If you would like to discuss improving business and IT processes in your organization, send me an e-mail at


Jeffrey Morgan is President of e-volve Information Technology Services and has worked as an independent consultant since 1993.


Information Technology Governance for Executives


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