One of the biggest mistakes a business can make when picking software is not knowing what they need the software to do.
Which makes sense. That’s like buying a piece of office equipment without knowing whether you need that equipment to make photocopies … or store data … or make coffee. You’d never cut a check for a piece of equipment without understanding its purpose.
And yet this happens all the time with software—often because leaders get caught up in the “shiny things” like fancy features. It’s easy to get distracted by sales copy that promises to “meet all your needs!” And yet, no piece of software can meet ALL needs of ALL businesses everywhere—no matter the price. Sorry, but it’s not happening.
So, the first step in picking the right software is knowing what you need that software to do–not just now but also three to five years down the road. Plan for the future. Start with making a must-have list and a nice-to-have list. That will help you determine what characteristics will meet your actual needs and keep you from being distracted from just what sounds good.
“To minimize rework and outages, take the time to study your current environment before moving forward and making installation and configuration decisions,” recommends IBM. “Your current business requirements and design, the hardware and software already installed, and an analysis of current strengths and shortcomings can aid you in determining the optimum design for your deployment environment. This planning could also help you minimize the financial investment needed for your current requirements.”
Here’s how we do this kind of requirements gathering with our clients: We fill in all desired features and pieces of functionality on a target graphic. The must-have items go in the bull’s-eye. The nice-to-haves go in the next ring. Then other options go in outer rings. This depicts the size of what you’re building and helps you prioritize what you really need to build from the start.
What about the right software partner?
It’s impossible to separate two things–the right software from the right software firm. They go hand-in-hand. Because when you’re picking software for your business, it’s not just a matter of the best product, but the best partner. That’s what will make the difference between a project’s success or failure: the relationship.
So when you’re selecting software for your company, start with selecting the right software partner.
“And how do I do that?”
We’re so glad you asked. Here are seven practical tips that will work for your business.
1. Research their background.
What are the firm’s proven qualifications? What about industry certifications and awards? Find out how long it has been in business and what kind of experience it has have with the type of software you’re interested in. Does it specialize in a particular language or programming framework? Every firm can’t be experts on every piece of software, but it’s a good idea to look for some level of familiarity with the technology you want to use or that you already have in your technology stack. Visiting the firm’s website is a good place to start, but we’d also suggest requesting a list of references—and then actually following up to call them!
2. Do an interview.
This is the only way to determine if a firm’s organizational culture is compatible with your own. Entering a software partnership is like entering any relationship. You’ll want to ensure there is chemistry and a compatible approach to project management and process. But you’ll also want to hear about their client and employee retention rates, implementation methodology, and support after the project launches.
3. What about security?
In today’s world, security is an absolute must when selecting a software partner. You’ll want to make sure whatever software and software partner you invest in has a solid reputation for software security. Ask to hear about their protocols, server protection and encryption process. Even a quick Google search with the company name + “security” can reveal some interesting results. Likewise, you’ll want to investigate the security of your ideas and what kind of non-disclosure terms the firm offers.
4. What happens after you sign on the dotted line?
There’s no point in having the perfect software if you don’t know how to use it. Training and support from the software firm is a major part of that. Find out what kind of on-going training and technical support a firm offers. What about upgrades and maintenance? Also ensure their support hours will meet your needs—and if the company isn’t local, be sure to consider any time zone difference. This is an especially important factor if you are considering off-shore developers.
5. Who will be your point of contact?
Another common question when selecting a software partner is who at the firm will handle the day-to-day details of your account. This is a great point to clarify before or during an interview. You might even want to request that person participate in the interview, or to see a copy of that employee’s typical processes. Low-cost firms sometimes do not provide a project manager, which can create a lot more work on your end. This is especially true if the provider is offshore and there is a language barrier to contend with. It’s typically better to go with a firm that gives you a single point of contact who will be intimately invested in meeting your specific company's needs.
6. What happens when the relationship ends?
“It’s a fact of life that even if you love your vendor, someday you may need to leave them,” says Jon Lincoln, who specializes in business development at etfile. “Some vendors try shady tactics by holding your data hostage (as if they own it!) or charge an exorbitant amount to sway you from leaving.” So before you license any software or create any code or APIs, clarify how you would get your data back if the relationship ends. Lincoln says that you might have to pay something—such as the labor costs of moving your code—but that cost should not break the bank.
7. Remember, bigger isn’t always better.
Big, global companies usually offer a lot of different products, not only software but also hardware and other services. They can also come across as impersonal. Such a partner may or may not be right for you, depending on your needs. Don’t rule out a smaller firm that specializes in what you need, because it may be a better fit. Some smaller firms can also offer more tailored solutions, be more flexible with pricing, and get your new product into production and/or to market much faster than a giant software ERP provider like Oracle, SAP, or IBM.
The right software partner will help you find the right software to build and/or implement. Beware the company that tries to force you into a certain product, or a certain platform, or a certain price point.
Instead, find your company’s sweet spot in terms of functionality, cost, and timetable, and find a partner that can deliver what you need in that sweet spot. When you do that, you will have software—and a software vendor—that adds value to your company on a daily basis.