Big Bang Theory 

MUNIvers wasn’t built in a day – or even seven. The development and implementation of a new property tax and utility billing product presents substantial challenges due to the complexity of these systems and their essential role in municipal operations. The software must support all necessary core business processes to be suitable for use in a live environment, resulting in a large list of requirements for even a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). As you might expect, going live with such large amount of functionality never having been used in a production setting, the opportunities for things to go wrong are plentiful. I’d like to tell you that I’ve figured out a nice, neat, easy way to mitigate those risks… but I cannot. The success of both the product and the customer experience hinges on thorough preparation and hard work. 


Building the Right Product 

It all starts with building the right product. As much as possible, we need to avoid the Field of Dreams approach of “build it and they will come”. This necessitates the early and frequent involvement of end-users. Our strategic response to this requirement is the establishment of the MUNIvers Customer Advisory Board (M-CAB). M-CAB positions customers, or prospective customers initially, at the heart of our software development lifecycle. The pioneering members of M-CAB will contribute meaningfully towards the production of an application capable of addressing their property tax and utility billing operational procedures in the most efficient way. M-CAB members are instrumental in providing insights into their business operations, articulating thoughts on feature mock-ups and designs, commenting on newly released features, and suggesting ways that these features can be improved. The feedback from M-CAB is crucial in ensuring that our product launch is accompanied by a good customer experience, right from day one. 


The Right Team 

During my interviews with Agilyx, I asked our North American President Shelley Zapp, about the company’s readiness to tackle these two systems of significant complexity and cost. Her response was that Agilyx has spent over 20 years creating solutions for complex business processes in the ERP space, so they had a good sense of what they were up against– and they were absolutely committed to taking on this challenge. Her belief in the company’s readiness to confront this challenge was unwavering. I then met with Agilyx’s co-founders, CEO John Catarinich and Chief Solution Architect Chris Develin, whose credentials were extensive and impressive. John and Chris are both chartered accountants and have built a global company from the ground up by solving the hard problems that other companies avoid, thereby bringing tremendous value to their customers. Finally, I was introduced to our Global Director of Development, Jack Murray. Prior to joining Agilyx, Jack worked at BC Assessment and Unit4 Canada where Shelley Zapp was CEO. The experience that both Shelley and Jack bring to the Agilyx table, having worked on a complex ERP product like Unit4, adds to my total confidence that we have the right team to be successful. 


My Origin Story 

I started my career in software development in 1997 at Tempest Development, a small firm where I was employee #7.My role involved technical and product leadership for property, utility billing, and land management modules. One of the most pivotal moments in my career was going to the first Tempest user conference and talking to our customers about their business processes and how they use our software. For me it was discovering the missing piece of the puzzle for creating great software. To do truly great things I needed to learn more about our customers. This mindset was shared by Tempest’s founders, Tim Perry and Michael Jensen, who have taught me more about creating business software than anyone else. 

After Tempest’s acquisition by CentralSquare, I transitioned to the Property Tax SaaS product team, leading the product from its inception to its market launch in Ontario. In January 2022, I moved to Finning to work on their Earthworks soil movement tracking software, but shorty after joined Streetlogix as the Director of Product for their roadway asset management SaaS solution. In June 2023, I joined Agilyx, a move that felt like a return to my roots. 


Quality Assurance 

The M-CAB is critical, but it’s not an extension of our QA department. While M-CAB members will provide bug reports when testing new features, their primary role is to assure that we are creating a successful business solution, not to verify that the software operates correctly in every possible scenario. Our commitment to quality assurance is underscored by our substantial investment in automated testing. Automated testing is critical for reducing the number of bugs in the software and allowing us to introduce new features with minimal risk of compromising existing functionality. 


Implementation Testing 

Our Global Director of Delivery, Terence Wood, and his team have developed a fantastic implementation methodology called MUNIflex. This methodology is based on lessons learned from over 20 years of experience implementing ERP systems. The primary objectives of implementation testing are to authenticate data conversion and system configuration, ensuring that MUNIvers effectively caters to the specific requirements of municipal property tax and utility billing. In scenarios involving early adoption, testing becomes an additional safeguard in our comprehensive risk mitigation strategy. Key to this process, especially in an early adopter situation, is to validate that all critical processes work correctly for the way the customer does business. Focus will be on frequently used processes (daily/weekly) and going through the property tax and utility billing annual cycles ensuring that all major processes run smoothly (billing, pre-authorized payments, penalty calculation, reminders, tax sale, year-end, etc). 


Planning for Chaos and Disaster 

Even with the implementation of best practices and the collective experience of our development team, it’s inevitable that some things will go wrong. Potential issues may range from bugs to usability challenges, as the process of going live is the ultimate validation of the system. While our automated testing will be robust, it’s unrealistic to anticipate every possible scenario. Similarly, the feedback from M-CAB members, although insightful and necessary, cannot cover all possible usage scenarios. Due to these reasons, it’s nearly impossible for things to be perfect from go-live. 

To counter these challenges, it’s crucial to assume that things will go wrong and be prepared with quick, efficient solutions. Our processes should be designed to swiftly transition from identifying a high-priority issue to deploying a validated fix, ideally within a time frame of hours rather than days. This requires highly responsive support staff, which will necessitate resource allocation to issue resolution rather than new feature development post-deployment. In short, we need to plan to have the resources and processes in place to mitigate these initial growing pains in such a way that our customers can effectively do business with their new system. Our early-adopter customers will forgive a system with some growing pains, but their patience will quickly run out if we don’t address issues in a timely manner. 


The Early Adopter Experience 

Engaging initial customers for a novel and complex product – particularly one as significant to business operations as property tax and utility billing software – presents a substantial challenge. Therefore, we’ll need to provide sufficient value and incentive for someone to go first. We’ll provide value by ensuring that the product they launch with, although in its early days, will still be a clear upgrade over their existing system from day one. And while it may not be perfect on day one, we’re committed to working alongside our clients to ensure that the product supports their critical business procedures and operations. In appreciation of their contributions to MUNIvers and the pioneering work we aim to achieve in this software field, these first customers will benefit from concessional pricing. 

We can think of MUNIvers as a team in a relay race, and our first customers are like our first runners. Just as the first runner’s performance is crucial to kick off the race successfully and set the pace for their teammates, our initial customers play a pivotal role in setting the trajectory for MUNIvers’s success. Our job is to make sure that these first runners have all they need to run their best possible race. If our first customers thrive, it’s a win for them and a win for us, leading to a powerful ripple effect benefiting everyone involved with MUNIvers. This commitment to success is inextricably linked to our commitment to customer satisfaction. 


Final Thoughts

The public sector market, unlike its private sector counterpart, fosters a unique environment where competition is not a driving factor. This dynamic encourages open communication between customers regarding the effectiveness and reliability of products in the market. The result is a meritocracy wherein creating a great product that’s well-implemented and well-supported will lead directly to sales. Our goal is to create a product that our customers love. And if we do things right, our customers will be our best salespeople.