PREFACE. Comptroller General of the United States. Page i

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2 PREFACE T he (+nera Accounting Office (GAO) has ong beieved that the federa government urgenty needs to improve the financia information on which it bases many important decisions. To run our compex government effectivey, both the Congress and the executive branch need sound automated accounting and financia management systems. Major upgrading of antiquated systems is required to achieve this, and resources wi need to be committed to the task. We are pubishing this brief booket to describe in pain Engish some critica aspects of accounting and financia management systems deveopment in order to inform the Congress and others with a stake in improving government management. This booket is based on our experience in reviewing systems deveopment projects. We gratefuy acknowedge aso the suggestions and contributions of many federa and private-sector professionas with expertise in deveoping these systems. -- I 1 Comptroer Genera of the United States Page i.

3 CONTENTS - Preface Introduction 1 The Overa Pan :3 Management Commitment 1 Contracting Process *E Basic Features ti Systems Methodoogy -i Target Dates Functiona Requirements Documentation 11 Up-to-Date Technoogy Equipment Acquisition 1% 12 i. Training Independent Testing L ) System Operation 13 Quaity Assurance Review 15 Page iii

4 INTRODLJCTION Many federa accounting and fmancia management systems must be redesigned to give the executive branch and the Congress the financia information they need to make effective decisions in the compex environment of the 1980 s and 1990 s. Many federa systems aso require modernization to take advantage of today s communication and data processing technoogy. Automated accounting and financia management systems must meet management needs as we as a variety of agency standards. GAO issues standards for accounting and financia reporting as we as for interna contros. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has issued guidance on financia management systems and interna contros, whie both OMB and the Genera Services Administration have pubished directives on managing information resources. Treasury aso has requirements that significanty affect systems deveopment. In addition, federa systems are subject to the Nationa Bureau of Standards information processing technica standards. -- I I -1. t A decision to undertake a major systems redesign, acquisition, or improvement project cannot be taken ighty. Beyond its deveopmenta cost, a systems project wi disrupt norma activities with a host of attendant probems. Whie many difficuties can be anticipated, no systems project proceeds exacty as originay panned, nor wi it be free of unexpected probems. Managing any major project requires shrewd panning and thorough consideration of technica matters. It aso demands an abiity to dea with the unexpected and a mechanism to sove probems. Page 1

5 What foows is a straightforward discussion of 14 major factors that are often critica to the success of major systems projects. This booket speaks to a genera audience, describing major eements of these projects in pain Engish. It is not a technica document, nor can it repace the forma systems methodoogies that project managers and systems professionas must use J Page 2

6 Individua systems projects must be panned and carried out with an agency s overa systems pan in mind. Such a pan ensures that an agency s systems can efficienty meet management s current needs for sound fmancia information yet provide for future expansion. It can aso ensure compatibiity between equipment and systems, prevent dupication by different systems in coecting and producing information, and ceary define the rationae and scope of individua projects. The pan can hep resove difficut choices such as whether to deveop customized software or to adapt off-the-shef products. It estabishes target deadines for projects and their major phases, identifies the necessary resources, and designates someone who wi be responsibe for each part of the pan. A successfu overa pan must win top management support and receive consistent direction. One effective way to accompish this is by estabishing an Automated Data Processing (ADP) steering committee composed of top managers who know the agency s information needs. The chief ADP officia often serves as an advisor, whie the committee oversees pan deveopment and approves the fma version as we as prioritizing individua projects within the overa pan. Reguar meetings hep the committee monitor progress against the pan and provide occasions to reevauate and update the pan as needed. --, I. - I Page 3

7 Management Commitment Management must agree that a project is needed and accept its goas. Management must aso be wiing to appy the skis of the agency s top manageria and technica peope, pus other resources as needed, for a project s successfu competion. This commitment incudes ensuring participation by a staff members who wi use the system or whose work wi be affected by the project. Assigning a strong project manager with the skis necessary to carry out the project is + important to the credibiity of management s commitment. / Strong management support, incuding adequate resources, is vita. For accountabiity and timey i competion, management needs to maintain continuity among the peope assigned to manage and hep with a project. Peope who are knowedgeabe about requirements must be accessibe as the project moves aong. When a contractor is used, management too often beieves that, once the contract is et, everything is under contro. In reaity, a compex system requires major effort from interna staff. Financia managers, users, and others must spend considerabe time away from their norma duties to communicate their detaied operating requirements to the contractor. Interna staff members must forgo other projects to monitor and review the contractor s work, and management must prepare for this. Page 4

8 Contracting Process Agencies often contract with private-sector consuting firms for systems acquisition and deveopment services. Such contracting is a highy technica, compex process with many possibe pitfas. A wide variety of aws, reguations. and ega decisions must be we-known to the peope invoved in contracting. They must aso determine the most appropriate type of contract for the situation (for exampe, fured price or costpus-fixed-fee), ensure that contract specifications are sufficienty detaied to adequatey describe the work, and exercise carefu judgement in evauating bids. In-depth examination of these considerations is beyond the scope of this booket. The importance of having skied, competent peope carry out the contracting function, however, is abundanty cear. Many agencies, especiay the smaer ones, do not have the necessary expertise m-house. The Genera Services Administration has staff speciaists who can hep in these situations. Page 5

9 Rxsic~ Ft~tituws Accounting and financia management officias shoud ensure that panned automated systems incude such essentia features as: a comprehensive set of automated interna contros to ensure the accuracy and reiabiity of in formation in fies and reports, and to prevent or discourage fraud; contros to guarantee the security of equipment, programs, and fies as we as the privacy of records on individuas; audit trais aowing transactions to be traced from reports to their originators; automated genera edger and reporting modues, where reevant, to aid in producing basic financia reports; appropriate sets of automated subsidiary edgers, such as an accounts payabe edger and an accounts receivabe edger; fexibe inquiry capabiity to aid in meeting nonrecurring needs for information; one-time-ony recording of transactions; automated matching of reated transactions (for exampe, matching disbursements with reated payabes); and adequate manua procedures, since not a transactions wi be automaticay entered and amost a wi require some manua work. In other words, not everything wi or shoud be comput- erized-some things wi be done by peope. A good systems project must dea with manua as we as automated processes. -- I - -- k Page 6

10 Systems Methodoogy A proven systems methodoogy is a major too in deveoping highquaity individua systems. A systems methodoogy is a forma, structured approach to systems deveopment that outines and describes sequentiay and in substantia technica depth a phases, tasks, and considerations that systems deveopers beieve are necessary for a successfu project. A methodoogy constructs a framework for ensuring that each deveopment phase is carefuy panned, controed, and approved; that it compies with standards; that it is adequatey documented; and that it is staffed by competent peope. Most consuting firms, as we as severa major federa departments and agencies, have deveoped or adopted a systems methodoogy for their projects. GAO beieves that a systems methodoogy, to be fuy effective, shoud take into account a critica factors in this booket. Often a new system is thought of as ready to pug in and operate immediatey-ike a new typewriter or teephone. In reaity, compex systems rarey operate on a turn-key basis. It is true that use or adaption of ADP programs successfuy deveoped and used by other agencies, programs in the pubic domain, and off-theshef programs increasingy can streamine and reduce the cost of systems deveopment and acquisition. Even where such programs are used, however, intensive m-house knowedge and invovement are required. Instaing the system is ony part of what is invoved. Many other aspects must be panned, budgeted, or acquired. These incude the organization and skius mix needed to operate and maintain the system, adequate space and faciities for the staff and equipment, faciity security, empoyee recruitment and training, and Page 7

11 conversion to the new system. An effective systems methodoogy heps determine these needs and how to meet them. An effective methodoogy wi ensure that massive and compex projects are carried out segment by segment. This is done by deveoping successivey-rather than concurrenty-each defined segment of the tota system. Each competed segment is fuy tested, operating satisfactoriy, and integrated with earier segments before the project proceeds to another segment. Whie the successive approach is idea, for a variety of practica reasons it may be necessary to overap some segments deveopment. The steering committee must then be especiay carefu that the overa effort is effectivey managed and coordinated and that overapping segments are we integrated. 7- r -.- J Page 8

12 Target Dates Target dates for competing projects or phases are difficut to estimate accuratey for compex systems projects. The projects typicay require frustrating and amost interminabe backtracking, furing, adjusting, testing, and retesting to get things to work as they shoud. Schedues tend to be optimistic, sometimes because workers may te top management what they think it wants to hear. Reguar written progress reports shoud be required. Target dates set at the beginning of a project shoud be as reaistic as possibe; variances from eary projections wi sti occur. As the project proceeds and a greater understanding of its scope and compexity evoves, target dates shoud become more precise and reiabe. Management can then take firmer contro. When target dates are changed within reason, everyone from top management down must be patient. The key point is that target dates shoud be estabished and variances anayzed, whie management acts firmy but fairy to dea with sippage and deays. -- -i! -L- -- J i- - Page 9

13 Functiona Requirements The functiona requirements document serves as the bueprint for ater phases of a systems project. It describes the accounting and fmancia management jobs the system is to perform, the agency s information requirements, the operating environment, and a pan for deveoping the necessary computer programs. It is very important that this document be sufficienty detaied to prevent misunderstandings about aims and expectations, for expensive changes may otherwise fo- w ow. The document must be carefuy deveoped, 7 reviewed, and approved before starting the detaied design., The functiona requirements document serves as 1...! a bridge between management s information needs and the system s technica design. An inadequate document can, in the end, produce a poor system. - 1 The study of functiona requirements is often the most difficut part of a project. It asks that speciaists in three discipines-management, accounting, and systems anaysis-communicate effectivey with each other. Managers, accountants, and users at a eves, who have detaied understanding of the agency s accounting processes and reporting needs, must be avaiabe on a priority basis to work aong with the systems anaysts to estabish systems requirements and prepare the functiona requirements document. Users requirements must be communicated fuy and effectivey to the anaysts. Design cannot proceed untii the requirements document is reviewed and approved by the organization s top management. Page 10

14 Documentation Systems designs must be adequatey documented. No matter how we and carefuy a system is designed, it is of itte vaue if inadequatey documented. Users cannot be expected to know and remember everything they might possiby need to know to use, operate, and maintain a compex system. Users and operators must often refer to the documentation, which describes in detai how information passes into and through a system, as we as the system s products. When revising a system, anaysts and programmers aso have to rey on comprehensive technica information about the programs and their interreationships. Fu documentation heps in training new staff members, too. An adequate set of documentation incudes: user manuas for those who use the system s products or enter transactions, as we as for auditors and others who check operations for correctness; 0 an operations manua for computer operators; and system, subsystem, and program technica specifications and program istings for the staff who must make needed changes. -1._ _ k Page 11

15 Up-to-Date Technoogy Equipment Acquisition Systems deveopment and improvement projects shoud make optima use of proven technoogynot just in hardware but in software engineering and deveopment. Senior management and fmancia officias cannot be expected to be technoogica experts, but they shoud try to gain some awareness of recent innovations that might improve their systems. This does not mean appying state-of-the-art technoogy as an end in itsef, but using this technoogy wherever it can improve \Y- -_ accounting and financia management cost- 1 effectivey. A we-articuated overa pan, wisey monitored by the ADP steering committee, can prevent a I- -.\ major probem GAO has noticed in recent years: overoptimism about present technoogy. Often projects promise a things to a peope by attempting to produce one data base that incudes - ) everything you ever wanted to know about an agency or an activity, avaiabe at the press of a button. Overy ambitious projects invariaby encounter serious management and technica probems that cannot be resoved. The successfu project of coossa scope has been a rare exception. Equipment shoud not be acquired before system requirements are ceary specified, for this has often ed to waste and systems faiure. Sometimes systems are designed to operate on existing equipment. This is appropriate if management s information needs are not compromised to accommodate the equipment. Any successfu system, incuding its equipment, is driven by management s information needs and the overa costs and benefits invoved. Page 12

16 Training Independent Testing The importance of training cannot be overstated. Three primary groups need it: the system s information users, accountants, and system operators. Besides being necessary for operating and using the system, effective training can greaty reduce the tension often associated with major changes in the workpace. Some peope s jobs wi be changed, and sometimes it is impossibe to know in advance whose and to what extent. Training, counseing, and famiiarity with the system can greaty smooth the transition and minimize resistance to change. Training is aso important to ensure that system outputs are propery used and to avoid the natura tendency of peope to keep their od systems rather than to rey on the new. The purpose of acceptance testing is to make certain before accepting and pacing the system in operation that it performs as designed. It is important that acceptance testing be panned and performed by a group independent of the deveoper. For compex systems, acceptance testing is a very forma process. A test pan identifies the documentation, equipment, and software needed for the tests. It aso describes test methodoogy, test contros, and tests to be performed. Probems are noted in a forma test anaysis report, and retesting continues unti a probems have been satisfactoriy resoved I.! Page 13

17 System (peration An agency shoud not try to pace any new systern in operation unti a significant probems identified by testing have been corrected. Otherwise, day-to-day operations wi encounter major probems. In such cases, transactions must be continuay reentered, reports wi be ate or unusabe, staff members may revert to manua processes or od systems, and deep mistrust of the new system can deveop. Commony, systems are impemented too hastiy in an attempt to meet infexibe or unreaistic target dates. On the other hand, trying to eiminate a potentia impementation probems is equay unreaistic. Some unanticipated probems wi aways occur, and provision needs to be made for resoving these probems as they arise. Sometimes, in converting from one system to another, agencies operate both od and new systems concurrenty unti the new system operates satisfactoriy. This approach, known as parae conversion, is not aways necessary and, in fact, has drawbacks; the decision to run parae is important. Parae conversion may sometimes be appropriate for high-risk systems where costy probems wi be created if the new system fais. Disadvantages of parae conversion incude additiona costs as we as disruption of everyday activities. It aso burdens the operationa peope who must enter records into two systems, then review and compare two sets of output reports. -- Page 14

18 Quaity Assurante Review Finay, in ong-term projects, objectivity often gives way in the face of day-to-day pressures to get the job done. A fresh ook by someone who has technica knowedge but is not cose to the project can be hepfu in spotting probem areas, omissions, or even better ways of accompishing the system s tasks. The independent reviewer shoud use a checkist to consider and document a reevant points. Typicay, the reviewer shoud be equa to or higher in rank than the project manager and must be abe to exercise independent judgment, simiar to that of an inspector genera. The reviewer shoud try to make constructive recommendations for resoving any probem he or she finds. Large-scae financia management systems deveopment projects, besides costing a great dea, pace tremendous demands on agency management and staff. Many factors such as the 14 we have discussed can, if not propery addressed, prove major roadbocks to a project s success. GAO beieves, however, that competent, aert, and informed agency management can effectivey anticipate these factors. We are confident that the cost and human demands of modernizing our accounting and financia management systems wi be repaid many tunes over by progress in managing our federa government s financiaf affairs. Page 15

19 Requests for copies of (x) reports shoud be sent to: I S, Genera Accounting Office Post Office Box 6015 Gaithersburg, Maryand Teephone 20% The fust five copies of each report are free. Additiona copies are $2.00 each. -1 There is a 25% discount on orders for 100 or more copies maied to a singe address. Orders must be prepaid by cash or by check or money order made out to the Superintendent of Documents. )

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