See below for a message from ASCA’s President regarding the ongoing system upgrade.
Fellow ASCA Members,
As promised in my last message on the Enews, I’m sending this history, summary, and update on the system upgrade. I apologize for the length of this message in advance, but details are important in this case, and it is necessary to explain to the membership what has transpired with the system upgrade.
The Business Office has been using ASCA’s Data Management System (ADMS) for about two decades. This system was written in 2001 in a software language that Microsoft made obsolete by 2007.
This prompted the ASCA Board of Directors (BOD) to begin discussing moving away from ADMS and this discussion resulted in a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) to identify the functionality of the ADMS in detail, come up with a rationale for rewrite versus update of the existing software, and detailed requirements for future back-office requirements. An ASCA Director completed the RFP, and this was submitted to different development companies.
Between 2014 and 2016, there were changes made to the system, but the project did not deliver the full level of functionality needed to allow ASCA to replace ADMS. The portal that was designed during this initial effort turned out to be missing critical functionality. Therefore, the project with the existing vendor was never completed. Meanwhile, the ASCA systems problems had increased and the legacy ADMS was still running with missing functionality for both the ASCA Business Office and end-users.
Faced with this situation and afraid that the problems with the system would place ASCA in jeopardy, the BOD in 2017 sought assistance from a new software development company, Inventive, to perform a software audit of the existing application. The intent of the audit was to identify the work that had been completed so far in replacing ADMS as well as to document the user (member) functionality implemented in the cloud (AWS) based application. ASCA asked the company to identify the extent of the difference between required functionality and what had been delivered through the previous project and to review the quality of previous work.
Inventive’s documented audit showed that the software had numerous serious issues. These ranged from inadequate functionality to gaps that did not meet the latest standards for security. For example, over the years credit card companies have increasingly pushed merchants not to personally receive credit card data and instead to rely on third-party processing of transactions so the data isn’t on the organization’s servers.
The existing system turned out to be so problematic that it finally made more sense to replace it than to continue to patch problems as they were found. Imagine if you had a 20-year-old computer that seemed expensive when you bought it—no matter how painful it is to buy a new one, no one would doubt all the changes over that period would make it essential.
We were blessed in the process of deciding to take the plunge to upgrade rather than repair with several ASCA members with software development experience and expertise who generously donated their time. We reached an agreement with Inventive on the scope of the work to be done. Inventive had done some smaller-scale work for ASCA in the past so we hoped they would prove more reliable than those relied on in the past.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
In summary, we and Inventive are hard at work bringing ASCA’s computer systems into the modern age so they can provide our members with the level of service, reliability, and efficiency they expect and deserve. The update is a painful process because of the delays and expense involved in moving from a legacy back-office system that runs on a server in the ASCA Business Office as well as a cloud-based, badly written portal with incomplete functionality. The need for these two systems to constantly sync with each other creates additional headaches for data integrity and performance shortfalls.
Having studied the history, I’ve concluded that prior Boards did what they could to address these issues as they arose but may have been hesitant to make the large investment needed to get the system upgraded to meet ASCA’s needs. The repair-not-replace approach, however, only exacerbated the problems. Computers, software, websites, and related support are expensive even under the best of circumstances and these days typically are a major expense for any large organization.
The current Board does not want to kick the can down the road anymore. The existing system slows down the work of the Business Office. Affiliates and members suffer from the resulting delays and errors. We are having to update and rework complex processes that reflect a series of patches over the years rather than being based on modern standards and sustainable functionality. Adding to the complexity are conversion from paper-based processes, security checks, and ensuring that the new systems are based on clear policies and an understanding of what best lets members and staff use the applications efficiently and accurately. These have led to more delays and higher costs.
The current ASCA project team has worked diligently throughout the project to keep costs as low as possible. Some examples include prioritization of critical functions, eliminating processes that were deemed obsolete in a modern world, creating Testing and Production environments in the cloud for ADMS, managing all ad hoc reporting conversions, performing extensive end-user testing, managing cloud-based costs, minimizing unnecessary meetings, and so on. Scope was reduced to only include existing ADMS and portal functionality and the team also added the ability to add new programs, such as Dock Jumping, with no background processing. The ASCA team has clearly communicated from the start that no new programs would be in scope in this initial phase (Warp 1). The staff has been very busy testing the functions as they are coded, and we will keep the membership updated on the progress.
While costs are very large, they likely would be unbearable if not for the graciously volunteered hours that our ASCA member experts have invested in making sure the updates meet our needs and that the vendor meets its obligations.
RECOMMENDATIONS MOVING FORWARD
The ASCA team, in consultation with Inventive, has made these recommendations going forward:
- All Board-approved ASCA program changes must first be analyzed and documented using the project team’s Program Template, which should be used to obtain a detailed cost estimate for software development. This must be done prior to approval. Note: The Board has enacted a moratorium on new titles and is currently working on a policy that program committees must submit a template to the Business Office and that the Business Office Manager will acquire a quote for all system changes related to new titles prior to motions being sent to the Board.
- From a financial and accounting perspective, that the ASCA Board and membership will need to know how and why the cost of this project must be capitalized and amortized over five to 10 years. The communications to the ASCA membership need to include this common business practice when discussing the cost of this project. Note: To date, the cost of rebuilding the web platform, including troubleshooting the problems encountered with the system since the project started, has been amortized to approximately $48,113 per year over ten years. The actual cost of Warp 1, retiring the obsolete ADMS system, and finalizing the portal functionality so far has been amortized to approximately $27,600 per year over ten years. ASCA’s Treasurer, Jan Wesen, will continue to update the membership on ASCA’s finances as she always has, and she can more accurately and comprehensively present the numbers than I ever could.
- The team will present additional long-term recommendations upon completion of Warp 1. These recommendations will address not only the Business Office but also the ASCA BOD’s functions as they pertain to the maintenance of the system.
CONFORMATION SUPREME CHAMPIONSHIP TITLES
ASCA member Maarten Walter—one of those who has given selflessly of his time and expertise throughout the update—also has volunteered to design a process that will allow the Business Office to award these titles before this title’s processes are coded into the new system during Warp 2. It is possible for him to do this because the parameters used in the calculation of this title and its different levels are already being tracked by the system.
Once the new web portal functionality is completed, the BO should be able to award these titles retroactively to all dogs that have so far achieved it as well as to the dogs that achieve it in the future. Recently, the Conformation Committee has shown interest in changing the parameters used for the SCCH and adding “selects”. The Board has requested that the Conformation Committee decide on all the changes and prepare the program template. This template should be sent to ASCA’s Business Manager, Ray Fryar, who will be requesting quotes for all new titles and program changes once Warp 1 is completed.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
I want to thank the members of the ASCA system upgrade team, such as Maarten Walter, Maureen Loughney, Ray Fryar, and System Liaison Gina Larson, for the countless hours they have worked and continue to work on this project. The enormity of the service that they have provided ASCA can’t be easily described in words. The system is the heart of the organization, and their work has made it possible for ASCA’s data and processes to be safer and more efficient long into the future.
The Board will continue to keep the membership apprised of new developments and project progress. The patience of our members and their willingness to support us through this long and expensive process is greatly appreciated. It’s a painful journey but beats a slow death from continuing to use evermore inadequate decades-old technology.
ASCA President Liz Busquets
Executive Secretary, Australian Shepherd Club of America
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