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Upgrading of Replacing Legacy Applications? An Appropriate First Step

By Charles Leadbetter, III

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block when attempting to develop a lengthy or comprehensive document from scratch? Being stuck on a blank piece of paper or computer screen can be frustrating. Developing detailed functional and technical requirements that describe the current and future software needs of an organization is a daunting task that can cause this type of mental block–yet it is a fundamental step to begin a system upgrade and replacement project.

The author is a senior manager with Berry, Dunn, McNeil and Parker.

Developing a list of technical and functional requirements requires input from many individuals within any organization to help ensure that all needs have been addressed. It is often the first opportunity an organization has to build consensus among stakeholders and instill the importance of migrating systems and changing business processes to take advantage of new technology platforms.

Public sector organizations are sometimes challenged with overly complex, manual business processes and systems that have developed over years of daily routine. Organizations often have varying levels of understanding of their existing business processes and are not familiar with new technologies that could help to simplify complex and/or manual processes. In order to develop an effective list of functional and technical requirements, organizations should consider the following high level approach:

1. Understand existing business processes. Inventorying and documenting an organization’s major business processes is the first step to developing effective functional and technical requirements. Understanding where bottlenecks, redundant processes, and time intensive tasks exist in the current environment is critical to developing effective functional and technical requirements to resolve these challenges.

2. Involve system stakeholders in the requirements definition process. Stakeholders from across the organization often share or utilize the same business processes but look at them from different perspectives. For example, the Commissioner of the Revenue in a local government organization may determine the amount of a tax bill; however, it could be the responsibility of the Treasurer’s office to collect it. Involving both groups of stakeholders in the requirements definition process is necessary to fully understand the needs of the organization as an enterprise.

3. Consider functionality that doesn’t exist today. One of the most challenging aspects of developing functional and technical requirements is to document required functionality for the future. This requires the organization to consider what its business needs will be in five or ten years and can help to ensure the system purchased will not become outdated sooner than anticipated. Organizations need to gain a conceptual understanding of available technologies, functionality, and industry trends that will be important to adopt. If you are replacing systems that address business processes that are common in many organizations, consider seeking resources that have requirements information available to be used as a starting point.

The list of functional and technical requirements developed should serve as an important tool throughout the system selection and implementation process. It enables the organization to analyze responses to a request for proposal and determine which proposed system best meets the needs of the organization. After the selection process, the requirements document should also be used throughout the implementation to establish and monitor contractual expectations for required and desired system functions. Utilizing the high level approach outlined above can help you get over writer’s block and get your system replacement project kick started.

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