We’ve been in the software industry for more than 20 years, and we’ve worked with a lot of clients. The one thing that still surprises us from time to time is when someone sets out to make an enterprise software decision without a plan to benefit financially from the change.
We know the research process isn’t fun, and it takes a lot of time to map out your requirements, ask questions, perform analysis, and calculate ROI.
But we also believe that impulse buys should be restricted to white elephant gifts and ice cream cones. Not software.
Enterprise software is a huge investment of time and resources. So how can you guarantee that you won’t buy the wrong product or end up with a software platform that can’t do what you need it to do?
That’s why we recommend that every company walk through this five-step process before you sign a contract.
Here are our best suggestions for making sure you don’t have regrets when it’s all said and done.
Expand Your Knowledge
Take time to do some research about what’s on the market. What do the buzzwords mean and do they really apply to the software you’re looking at? Give yourself an education before you buy so you’ll know what to look for when you start talking to vendors.
Here are some features to research as you work through this step:
Big Data—Anyone can say their software includes big data architecture and analytics. But what does that mean, and does the software really do what you need it to do?
Multi-Faceted Integration—How many features or modules does the platform include, and do they integrate seamlessly? Do all of the functions work together to give you the range of capabilities you need? Do you have to pay extra to add modules or integrate with them?
Cross-Channel Data Sharing—Can your CRM share data with your CMS? How about your supply chain management software or your business intelligence tools? Make sure data won’t be trapped in a single module and that all of your functions can communicate with one another efficiently.
Mobility—Is the mobile app a core feature with full functionality, or has it been slapped on as an afterthought? The solution should promote efficient task management whether you’re working on your desktop or your tablet.
Cloud Solutions—Is the solution really built for the cloud or is it a hosted service? What are the drawbacks and benefits? Do you need the extra measure of control and security an on-premise solution provides?
User Experience—This is a bigger deal than many people realize. User experience can make the difference between your employees adopting the software or ignoring it. Know the elements of a good user experience (it’s more than an attractive design).
This isn’t a comprehensive list, and there are plenty of other features you should look at as you do your research. But these six factors will give you a good picture of how well the software will work in your business environment.
Know What You Need
Once you have a good grasp of the key features and functions available, make your requirements list. Requirements gathering can be a lengthy process, but it’s worth investing a chunk of time here to be sure you meet all the needs of end users as well as those of your business as a whole. Ask yourself and others in your organization these questions:
* What business needs should the software meet?
* What current problems or friction points should it address?
* What new features do we need in order to grow?
* What do we anticipate needing in the future?
It’s important to remember that your current needs should always take precedence over future goals. Also, avoid making a purchase decision based on vendor projections about what the software will look like in the future. Products and business needs change, so make your decision based on what you know today, while making sure you can pivot when necessary.
The next step in your research process is to talk with the developer or software company about the project. Your needs may not always align exactly with the developer’s vision (or the company’s standard offering), so don’t be afraid to ask specific questions about concerns you may have. Here are a few things you’ll want to consider:
* What makes your software better than another option?
* What kind of ongoing support do you offer?
* How does your implementation process work?
* How much training do you provide?
* What is the greatest strength of your company/software?
* Can you design the software around my current processes?
* Can you integrate the software with my other platforms?
* How long does it take to get bugs fixed after the product launch?
* Is the software scalable?
* How easy is it to make changes, and what is the process?
* What hurdles have you faced in previous implementations?
* What does a successful implementation look like?
Research the Company
Not all developers are created equal. Each company has its own strengths and weaknesses, and some haven’t earned the street cred that comes with experience over time. Before you sign a contract, research the company and find out things like:
* How long they have been in business
* Whether they have served other clients similar to your company in terms of industry and size
* How many previous implementations they have done
* What support they offer
* Whether they offer any kind of satisfaction or performance guarantee
Don’t be the guinea pig for a company that is just getting on its feet or branching into a new vertical. Look for established credentials and a healthy portfolio of previous clients in your niche.
If possible, talk to other clients who have worked with the developer. Plug in to professional communities on LinkedIn or Quora and ask specific questions about customer experiences and recommendations.
While cost justification isn’t really about evaluating the software itself, we’re including it here because it’s inextricably linked to the purchase process. If you can’t convince your boss that it’s worth it, your software purchase will be dead in the water before you have a chance to see what it can do.
Some software elements are easy to cost justify, while others may take more analysis. Show how the software will add value to the company not just in terms of dollars in vs. dollars out, but also by increasing employee productivity, boosting process efficiency, or improving customer relationships.
When it’s time to ask for a quote from the developer, find out how pricing is assessed (per user or per module), what fees will be added on for additional functionalities, and what the implementation process includes. Make sure you understand the cost impacts of overruns or scope creep, and how you can protect your company against never-ending upcharges.
Use this information to make your case to the boss about how the software will bring benefit to the organization and how long it will take to recover your financial investment.
Conclusion: It’s All About The Customer
Now that you are an expert in the software, its capabilities, and its costs, it’s time to make your purchase. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll be ready to dive in to the implementation process with minimal disruption.
And if it all seems overwhelming, remember, the investment you’re making in enterprise software isn’t just to improve processes and make your employees’ jobs easier. It’s also to enhance the service you provide to your customers. With every software decision you make, ask yourself how it will make your customers’ lives better.
At the end of the day, their vote is the one that counts the most.