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COTS or Custom Government Resource Planning? An A-B-C approach.


October 23, 2009

It’s obvious that acquiring financial management software for governments is no mean task. The benefits are clear: efficiency, effectiveness and good governance. Yet, from planning to implementation to execution and use, the potential pitfalls are numerous. For a function as crucial to governments as financial management, these pitfalls are especially important to avoid.

We wish we could say otherwise, but the unfortunate truth is that the statistics are not all that comforting. As we pointed out in an earlier blog post, one study shows that only 34% of enterprise software projects in the public sector can be categorized as successful, while another reveals that they take on average twice the agreed cost and time to implement. So much for the sustainability of the products of our industry! But that is why here at FreeBalance, ensuring the long-term sustainability of Government Resource Planning (GRP) solutions is our primary goal. And, we have experienced a high success rated.

Although the success rate of our implementations might indicate otherwise, the fact is that there’s no one algorithm out there to determine what route a government should take in acquiring a sustainable GRP solution. Certain questions endure, not least of which is the one we discussed yesterday: should a government buy an off-the-shelf GRP solution or develop one in-house? This is the “build vs. buy” debate encountered by many governments.

As with all good debates, there are merits to both sides of the argument. And as with any viable solution, all sides of an argument must be taken into account. Our latest GRP solution was developed with this very principle in mind.

It’s as simple as ABC

In our 25 years of experience with governments around the world, we have come to one particularly important realization: no two governments operate in the same context, so any sustainable GRP solution must provide far-reaching value to governments on all fronts of the argument.

In response, the FreeBalance Accountability Suite was developed as a Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) GRP suite of applications, which in turn is built upon a specialized GRP foundation: the FreeBalance Accountability Platform. Governments can “buy” the Suite or “build” using the Platform.

FreeBalance thus offers the best of both worlds to governments; we call this our A-B-C Approach to maximizing government value. The generic advantages and disadvantages of each approach are tabled below, followed by the value of the FreeBalance solution in each context.


Adopt software already in use elsewhere by government or another government that operates in a similar manner and context.



Lower risk Can be difficult to adopt software not developed for government or government agency’s particular context and purposes
Low cost

FreeBalance Recommends…


FreeBalance Accountability Suite Robust technology, proven in a wide range of contexts: post conflict states, transitional economies, industrial economies, G8 countries, et al.
Successfully implemented in a wide range of organizational contexts: from less than one hundred employees to country-wide implementations with thousands
Configuration-based approach enables seamless adaptation to government or government agency context


Buy COTS financial management software that can be configured or customized to meet government needs.



Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Can have high maintenance costs
Commercial-quality Processes Often time-consuming and expensive to upgrade software
Allows leveraging of features pre-developed for other customers Often has unnecessary features
Faster implementations Basic customization can be time-consuming and expensive

FreeBalance Recommends…


FreeBalance Accountability Suite Core government functionality already built-in; highly configurable design usually negates need for customization
Leverages 25-year expertise in government financial management and ISO 9001:2000 certified processes
Configuration-based approach reduces maintenance costs and upgrade times


Customized software developed by governments.



Fosters internal/local IT capacity Developing staff often has limited understanding of government functions
Low maintenance costs Expensive and long development cycles
Supports unique government requirements Software often has limited built-in control (audit trails etc.)
Government retains intellectual property rights Insufficiently stringent testing leads to problems upon implementation
Software often unable to adapt to changing government requirements

FreeBalance Recommends…


FreeBalance Accountability Platform Pre-developed, robust technical platform accelerates system design, technical development, migration, and deployment
Allows leveraging of built-in reusable government entities to accelerate business analysis, systems analysis, and application development
Parameter approach enables adaptation to future government requirements as they emerge
Tested and proven in a wide range of contexts; accelerates quality assurance
Designed and developed under ISO 9001:2000 certified processes and leveraging 25-year expertise in government financial management processes

The FreeBalance solution thus provides increased value to governments regardless of whether they choose to adopt, buy, or customize their financial management software. It’s easy to be dogmatic and push only the most ‘profitable’ solution as the right one. But with our 25-year experience as vendors of government-specific financial management software, we made sure to develop a solution as flexible as the needs and goals of our government clients. The art of sustainability is never quite as simple as ABC, but at FreeBalance we take pride in keeping it as close as possible to a science.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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