Cost accounting software designed to meet the needs of government contractors is complex. Your vendor’s customer support staff needs to understand not just the underlying purpose of the program, but also to understand what can go wrong from a user standpoint.
Companies that provide services and products to the federal government must have their financial accounting infrastructure supported by people who thoroughly understand the accounting equation and its application within the FAR and CAS rules that govern accounting and reporting for federal contracts and grants. On top of everything else, the technology stack /ecosystem that exists is complex and embodies a labyrinth of security profiles and database systems infrastructure from within the software must operate.
You need to ask, among other things, what if my hardware environment acts up, or what if my accounting staff made a series of mistakes and missteps that lead to an accounting meltdown? Can the vendor provide the services and support necessary to undo these? Ask if your vendor if customer support outsourced or performed in house. Outsourced technical support firms may support several unrelated applications. They may be a jack of all trades and not a master of one and so you might be told more often than not, “Turn it off and then turn it back on to see if that fixes it…”
No self-respecting software vendor is going to tell you that the support provided with a service level agreement is anything but top notch. “We offer great customer service!” you’re always told, but don’t take it for granted. Has any software sales rep ever told you that their customer support is seriously lacking? So when evaluating vendors who would offer you the software solution to enhance your business operations, check with users of the software to get an indication of the software support level that the vendor provides. Be sure to ask about response times and the about time it takes to achieve problem resolution. How does the vendor respond to “bugs” when reported? What you learn during this process is as important as the feature set itself. Ongoing client support is often not viewed as a top evaluation criteria as it should be; it’s the overall functionality that drives a selection for better or worse.
When it comes to adhering to regulations that govern the federal government contract/grant space, there is the added need for an understanding of the DCAA reporting requirements. For instance, you may be in the midst of an audit and discover that the DCAA auditors are asking for a report or query containing particular data. Who you can call and speak with who understands the output requirements?
To summarize, asking a software vendor for references on their support is as important as the software feature set. Ask about the expertise behind the software with the government contracting industry and DCAA reporting in addition to the level of technical support provided as part of your service level agreement. Ask about the time it takes not only to respond to a support inquiry, but the time it takes to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the end-user. Receiving a service acknowledgement and a support ticket for future reference is not the same thing as getting your issue resolved in an expeditious manner. Adequately supporting a government contractor and the issues that may arise through the use of an automated accounting application often requires a staff with an understanding of government contract accounting, but also with the technology underpinning of the software itself. Therefore, a vendor with a proven track record of solving problems similar to yours should be a primary reason you choose a particular application.