This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.
Picking a new software solution can be tricky business.
Say, for example, your company needs enterprise resource planning software. You might start by looking into the companies that create them. This search will probably yield dozens and dozens of potential providers. Unfortunately, once you start knocking on providers’ doors to learn more, your phone won’t stop ringing with sales pitches from vendors who promise that their product is a perfect fit for your company — even before they know anything about your company.
Here are some tips to help you weed out the vendors just looking for the sale from the ones who offer a meaningful product for your business:
Do your research
Before approaching a possible software vendor, carefully check into its company history and makeup. Dig around. Find as many clues about the vendor’s reputation as you can.
Here are some questions to consider:
- How long has the vendor been in business? (You don’t want to invest heavily in an application only to have the vendor declare bankruptcy a year later.)
- What’s its client base like? Does it serve companies similar to yours? How large is the client base?
- Who’s funding the vendor?
- How transparent is the vendor? Does the vendor provide open forums where users can discuss technical and workflow issues? Call the company’s support phone number to see how long you wait before you can talk to a human being.
- For cloud vendors, ask if their uptime figures are publicly available.
- Does the vendor provide installation and use documentation openly?
- Does the vendor provide service agreements that meet your organization’s needs?
Demo software aggressively
To test potential software solutions, first have your IT department set up a lab environment and testing dataset that’s a scaled-down representation of your production systems. Demo the prospective software aggressively. Take the extra time to integrate the software into your lab environment and carefully test critical workflows.
This may cost your organization time and energy on the front end, but it can save your company greatly on the back end, because taking these precautions makes it less likely that you will saddle your employees with solutions that are hard to deploy and don’t fully meet their needs.
When testing, ensure that all of your organization’s stakeholders who will work with the software participate in the demo. To avoid confusion, bring nontechnical staff into the loop during latter parts of the testing phase.
It’s also important to carefully review the new software’s backup and restore process. This is especially imperative when dealing with cloud-based solutions. To avoid many worst-case data-loss problems that may crop up, always ask potential software providers these two questions:
- What happens when you need to get your data out?
- Who owns the data, anyway? (If you don’t own the data, look for another vendor.)
If your organization plans to host the new software solution yourself, you need to make sure that the provider offers a clearly documented application programming interface (API) that allows your IT department to integrate it with your existing systems. When hosting new software, make sure you also create specifications for all hardware, software, licensing and network infrastructure before you commit to the solution.
Take a step back
While it’s certainly important to research how a new system works, and to test it before implementation, it’s more important to decide what exactly your company is trying to accomplish before beginning your search for a new software solution.
Too often we run across organizations that are waist-deep into implementing a new system that won’t offer full functionality because the company never took the time to stop and contemplate the scope of the business problem it was trying to automate, streamline, secure, etc.
Start your search for a new software solution with one simple, old-school tool: a legal pad and pen. Jot down precisely what it is your business wants to achieve.
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