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I work on a web application to file a specific kind of county taxes. Our company wants our state to mandate that counties must accept electronic filings (as opposed to paper) from any system that meets some sensible requirements for uptime, security, data validation, etc. (Yes, this would help us as a business, but it would also force county governments to be more efficient.)

We're creating a draft of those requirements to be reviewed and tweaked with the state. One of the sections is "availability." We want to specify something reasonably high, but not so high that any unexpected problem will get us (or a competitor) penalized.

How do we decide what's reasonable for availability requirements?

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Why should availability be part of the requirements? As long as people/companies aren't forced to stick with a single provider - not even for amendments to a previous submission, then availability is a non-issue... –  Marjan Venema Jun 2 '11 at 14:26
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If it truly is an open system that must accept data from all comers, uptime shouldn't mattter. I could say my available hours are 9-5pm Monday thru Friday and how would that effect anything in an open system? More to the point is, without a very well-defined message/submission format (and I mean very) that the counties can process, this is bound to fail and if the counties don't have an electronic submission system now, those standards are going to be both hard to come by and expensive (they could probably build their own submission system for only a marginal additional cost). –  ben f. Jun 2 '11 at 14:45
    
I've worked in county government, and "unfunded mandate" was almost a swear word. Work with the counties, not against them, if you want this to have any chance of success. –  David Thornley Jun 2 '11 at 15:17
    
Do you want these requirements to be a barrier for entry for your competition? Do you have a projected price and operations budget? –  Jeremy Jun 2 '11 at 15:37
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2 Answers

We're creating a draft of those requirements to be reviewed and tweaked with the state. One of the sections is "availability." We want to specify something reasonably high, but not so high that any unexpected problem will get us (or a competitor) penalized.

I question the ethics of trying to impose requirements on a potential customer. It just doesn't seem right to me. Perhaps rather than trying to come up with specific requirements to be "reviewed and tweaked", you should be eliciting requirements from the customer from day one. Customer involvement will help you understand the domain and be able to build a system that adds value, and customers will be more likely to purchase a system that adds value..

How do we decide what's reasonable for availability requirements?

A good rule is that no new system should have a lower availability than an existing system. If there are any existing systems (and they don't have to be software systems, either, but any combination of hardware, software, and people) in place, start there as a point of reference. Otherwise, I would expect the customer to have some idea of the minimum availability that they would need to function.

Also, you don't need to simply specify uptime in terms of percent of a year. You can give ranged value. Perhaps during certain times of the year, you need a higher uptime. Or during business hours, you need a higher uptime than nights, weekends, and holidays.

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May I suggest asking what availability do the counties currently have? This could help give a sense of where are things now and from there try to establish a bar as various thresholds may make sense in the end but if you know that a county only has 80% up-time, then going for 95% may be a big struggle without even getting into a series of multiple 9s like 99.999% up-time.

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