As one of several authors of “Agile Almanac,” an extensive guide to modern-day project management, Michael Williams appears well-suited to take on one of the most challenging projects in the 52-year history of SNAP.
The Spokane native began the job of delivering a new version of CAP-Sys (short for Community Action Partnership System) – the agency’s long-standing and multi-faceted database system – the week of Thanksgiving. Previously, he had been with Avista as a project manager and continues to work as a project management consultant. SNAP started working on the process of replacing the database system years ago but recently dubbed the endeavor Project Atlas.
“CAP-Sys is going away,” Williams said. “The goal is to make it all more efficient. I’m here to drive Atlas to successful completion.”
SNAP Chief Operating Officer Lucy Lepinski said Williams “brings an advanced skill set in IT and project management to SNAP.”
“SNAP is lucky to have Michael with his experience and personality, both beneficial to serving as the project manager on Project Atlas,” Lepinski said. “He has already shown us process mapping can be fun. He is dedicated to helping SNAP meet its mission in this way.”
Addressing a question raised by many SNAP staff, Lepinski says that creation of a new system will mean that “duplication of data entry in other databases will also be resolved.”
While Williams acknowledged that CAP-Sys has done its job for over three decades, he says the system is overdue for “a technology overhaul.”
“There’s high complexity with CAP-Sys but those tools for managing the data are old and rusty,” he said.
Maintaining CAP-Sys presents hurdles, Williams says, due to a lack of available support. SNAP’s system developed on the FoxPro database platform originally developed in 1984 by Fox Software. In 1992, Microsoft acquired the FoxPro brand and maintained it 2007 when they stopped supporting it.
CAP-Sys has been compared to a very useful antique device that still works but presents problems when something goes wrong because the replacement parts and accompanying technical assistance aren’t available anymore.
When asked if CAP-Sys was like a Model-T car that still runs, Williams paused.
“I wouldn’t say Model-T –it’s not that old.” he said. “More like a Hudson. We accept it now because there’s not another way.”
In the broader picture, the anticipated impact of Project Atlas is not solely defined by increased internal efficiency. As CEO Julie Honekamp states, “This is about creating a system that allows SNAP to most effectively serve our community.”
In addition to Williams, the project includes support from a committee comprised of SNAP employees that are, in Lepinski’s words, “the liaisons from each program/core to Project Atlas.” The group will help the agency manage change and make recommendations to the Executive Team and Board of Directors. Another committee, comprised of local IT professionals and representation from the board, serves in a consulting capacity for the project.
In his short time at SNAP, Williams has met with representatives of nearly every program, “getting the broad picture of the agency.”
“Right now, it’s about process mapping – seeing what the process is now and what it’s going to be,” he said.
A graduate of West Valley High School, Williams went on to earn his electrical engineering degree and receive close to a dozen technical certifications. On the nonprofit front, he has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and worked for the San Francisco affiliate of The Arc. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.
“I believe in giving back,” he said.
As far as what lies ahead for SNAP’s dynamic database development, Williams said it will be a major step forward.
“The interface will be much cleaner and it will be much more intuitive,” he said. “Things will be labeled clearly and the next steps will be automatic. It will be much more efficient to get through whatever the process is.”