The HMIS transition process can be stressful. It requires extensive communication, collaboration, and organization. When you arrive at the ‘evaluating demonstrations’ stage, however, at least you get to sit back and watch.
At this point in the transition, much of the hard work has already been completed. You’ve created a vendor selection committee of key players. You’ve assessed your current software or HMIS situation, identifying any bugs, defects, or deficiencies you’d like to overcome. From here, you should have developed vendor requirements based on desired features and sent out requests for proposals (RFPs).
Numerous HMIS vendors have responded, eager to become your software partner.
Now, it’s demonstration time. Establish a consistent rubric for evaluating their tools and features, and grab your popcorn. You might be surprised how much valuable information can be deduced from these demonstrations, on top of the presenters' technical and technological knowledge.
Here are several things to consider when evaluating whether these vendors are the right fit for your community or continuum of care (CoC).
Scripting HMIS Vendor Demonstrations
It’s not uncommon for HMIS demonstrations to be conducted over the span of two days, either in person or virtually, with stakeholders (vendor selection committee) and vendor representatives.
HMIS demonstrations provide vendors a chance to show how their software will satisfy the needs of the community, as judged by the selection committee. Vendors will do everything they can to prove their software and organization can be fruitful partners for your CoC.
These sessions are usually scripted, enabling the vendor selection committee to further investigate the products in a consistent manner. Utilizing a rubric and standardized evaluation process ensures greater equitability and helps selection committee members more easily focus on the most relevant aspects of the HMIS offerings.
HMIS demonstrations should include up to three hours for a high-level product presentation, highlighting features and functionality. Following that, allot up to two hours for a user sandbox, granting selection committee members the opportunity to be briefly trained on the software and experience the workflow and data entry.
Coordinated Entry staff from each CoC will have up to two hours to be trained on intake, assessment, and reporting. They will then play around with workflows and experience the data entry process. Next, site and system administrators will be trained and explore the reporting environments and related workflows, each group having up to three hours.
Ensuring each respective group (end users, site administrators, managers, case workers, etc.) has ample time to sandbox a vendor’s platform is essential for generating hands-on evaluation information.
Questions You Should Discuss During HMIS Demonstrations
Your vendor selection committee is going to have loads of questions throughout the HMIS demonstrations. Here are several big picture questions you should have in mind, reserved for the team discussion following each demonstration.
- How well did the vendor follow instructions?
- How effectively did the vendor team members communicate?
- How eager to help and honest do the vendors seem?
- How thorough is their industry knowledge?
- How enthusiastic are they about their product?
- How well will their HMIS serve your organization?
Although these questions will clarify what type of partner they’ll likely be—which holds vital importance—you should be particularly detail-oriented when it comes to features and tools.
Evaluating HMIS Features & Tools
While the selection committee will evaluate the HMIS vendor as a whole, each group ought to hyperfocus on their area of expertise, the functions they’re likely to use most in their day-to-day role.
For instance, here’s what end users, system administrators, and coordinated entry staff might center their evaluations on.
End users ought to focus on system accessibility, UI friendliness, and system navigation—specifically, screen layout, menus and submenus, and how easily multiple browsers can function together.
They should assess data entry flows and efficiencies, including button-placement consistency, demographic modules, document management, and search functionality. Learnability of the software, how easily it can be picked up by new users, is paramount as well. Lastly, end users need to determine whether communication systems are easy for client follow-up, a characteristic that empowers case managers.
System administrators need to concentrate on system setup, security, and functionality such as layout and workflow ease, privacy controls, compliance and performance reporting, tracking historical changes, the ability to add questions and fields, merging or deleting duplicate records, and how well the HMIS gives local and system administrators the ability to define reports particular to providers within the CoC. They should look for housing and bed inventory tools that differentiate between voucher and facilitator beds and complete HUD-required HIC reports reliably.
System architecture falls under their purview, as well, including APIs and web service inclusion tools, database support for ongoing batch imports, employment of shadow users, and excellent street outreach and record-building protocols.
Coordinate entry staff should be attentive to all things entry-data related. This entails being able to assign clients to case managers and enter notes, viewing a client’s position in the priority list in real-time, and determining whether the system automatically generates housing recommendations for clients based on scores.
The HMIS needs to facilitate easy communication with other users and clients, be that text message, referral, or social media. Scoring tools must accommodate all versions of the VI-SPDAT, avoid the need for double data entry, and reveal whether a client has multiple VI-SPDAT eligibilities. And, of course, the system must easily complete bed assignments and monitor housing inventory in real-time, manually or automatically, providing an end-to-end solution to Coordinated Entry.
Keeping Your Community in Mind
Transitioning to a new HMIS can be a long and exhausting process. Keeping your clients front of mind will work wonders in keeping you motivated as you sit through numerous HMIS demonstrations.
Equipping your vendor selection committee with a reliable rubric, scripted plan, and knowledge of what to look for will empower them throughout the entire demonstration process. Which will bring you that much closer to selecting a powerful HMIS capable of attending to the needs of each member of your community—especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.