Every company has a technology stack — a group of software programs you use to run your business.
Usually these software stacks are put together over time. Your business evolves, or your budget frees up, or you add employees, and you need to add a new software portal or program to run a new function. Or perhaps, a new type of software becomes available, and you add that to the mix.
These approaches are common, and they can add quite a bit of value for your business operations. The problem is that they can also end up stacking to a ridiculous degree.
When this happens, your business can get stuck. You depend on each item in the stack for a key business process, so you can’t get rid of it. But software A and software B don’t interface at all, and it takes too many manual steps to move data from one program to the next.
This can result in:
- Lack of data transparency or usability
- High seat license fees
- Large monthly expenditures across all software
Even a technology company isn’t immune. At Worthwhile, we recently added JIRA to our technology stack, replacing an antiquated project management platform we had built years ago. Now we’re having to take on internal projects to integrate JIRA with our existing billing, estimating, and customer service processes. JIRA is a great tool, but it’s not a seamless addition to our business. The truth is, no software product will be seamless.
Recently we began a conversation with a company that is struggling with its technology stack. They use multiple pieces of software — some that are custom software, and others that are SaaS (Software as a Service) options.
On their own, each of these pieces of software provide some helpful and even dynamic functionality. Each one fits a specific need in a sales, project management, or organizational process.
The problem is that these awesome pieces of software don’t work together. They don’t connect in any way, and they don’t share data. It’s no surprise, then, that this organization struggles with its software stack.
They face issues including:
- A lack of data visibility about the progress of proposals and projects
- Too much being done on paper in multiple office locations
- Employee inefficiency
- Difficulty managing capacity because of lack of reporting tools
These issues are common. We talk to countless companies who deal with these problems on a daily basis.
In this particular case, we’re talking to a smart company that has created manual workarounds for these problems. But they believe that, to move to the next level, they need to improve their technology stack by making software work together.
But how do you do that?
More importantly, how do you avoid this problem in the first place—especially if you’re not a software development firm that can build its own fixes?
Here are six key questions to ask in order to create and maintain a software stack that truly works for your business:
1. Does the software portal have an API?
An API is a tool that allows you to import and/or export data between programs. So if you want a specific software or SaaS product to communicate with another part of your software stack, you need to make sure it has an API. This will open possibilities for software integration that will let you make the most of individual pieces of software while having a unified software stack.
If software doesn’t have an API, all is not lost. Sometimes older software — especially older ERPs that many companies have used since the 1990s or even 1980s — doesn’t. That means you’ll need to build a custom integration to get data into or out of that system. That extra step takes more development effort, but it may be worth it if the software in question is indispensable to your business.
One key note here: make sure the terms and conditions of your software license allow you to use the API without additional charge. We’ve talked to more than a few companies who were being held hostage for exorbitant fees. This due diligence should be part of the initial buying decision.
2. How is the data structured?
It’s not enough to know that data in a software platform is accessible. You also need to ensure it’s structured in such a way that you can integrate it easily. Otherwise, you’re going to be building a software stack that tries to connect Legos to Tinker Toys.
A strong database structure is a key to effective reporting that C-level business leaders can use. Don’t overlook this important consideration.
3. What’s the ongoing cost of the software platform?
The cost of software is an important consideration when building your software stack. There are several kinds of costs you need to consider:
- Set-up fees
- Monthly fees
- Seat licenses
- Upgrade fees or plans
- Hosting costs
When we’re asking a company to consider custom software development, we ask them to think about the costs over a three-year period. That’s also a good rule of thumb for SaaS costs.
By looking at these costs, you can calculate the ROI of a software portal, and you can understand how much effort it’s worth putting into fitting that software into your overall portfolio.
4. What SaaS options are pre-connected to work together?
Nowadays, many software platforms have pre-connected for you. For example, the Salesforce CRM offers pre-built integrations with several other programs. In our software stack at Worthwhile, we connect several of our design programs like Axure and Zeplin with Slack to make internal communication easier for our team.
These pre-built connections can save you a lot of time, and may help you avoid paying a software developer to build an API integration or another kind of connection. They are also more likely to be updated automatically should one software vendor change something significant about data structures. These features decrease development effort and save your business money in the short and long term.
The great news is that these user-friendly integrations are becoming more and more common. Be on the lookout for these in your initial buying decision so you can assemble a software stack that integrates more naturally.
5. What reports and analysis does a software platform provide?
One of the key functions a business needs any software to help with is reporting — whether it’s on:
- Project management
- Supply chain effectiveness
- Efficiency/Lean methodology
- And more
Your software should help you report more easily — both on the functions it directly impacts, as well as larger business reports. If it doesn’t, you need to strongly consider an integration or even a replacement. Software should make it easier, not harder, to run your business well. This is an indispensable part of that goal.
6. How easy is it to customize?
SaaS offerings are generally designed to deliver the most popular features for the greatest number of users. That means that they probably won’t fit your existing business processes to a tee.
So it’s important to understand how easy or difficult it is to customize a SaaS portal. This will help you understand how well it will truly fit your business.
Of course, if the SaaS offering is inexpensive enough, or if your business processes can be flexible, then customization may not be a prime consideration. But even in this case, you need to understand the value of customization in your particular situation, so you can compare that calculation against the ease of customization.
Your software stack is one of the most important assets your business has. It’s vital that it’s working at top efficiency and adding value to your business.
If your software stack is creating more problems than it’s solving, then it’s time to make changes. Consider:
- Replacing troublesome software programs
- Updating older software
- Finding ways to integrate pieces together
- Asking a software partner company to help you maximize your stack
Use the six questions in this post to help you as you do this, so you can make decisions strategically and with ROI in mind. Do this, and your employees and your bottom line will thank you.
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