Choosing the right software isn’t easy. You must weigh many different factors, from price and implementation timelines to vendor stability, software compatibilities, and ease of use. You are choosing a solution to last for 10, 15, or more years, so it should use the latest technology with a clear process for integrating new technology over time. Every vendor will give you a dozen reasons why their solution is the right one. How do you make the right choice? You start by asking the right questions.
Evaluate your business processes – what do you need?
Review your current processes and identify the gaps. What functionality are you missing? Are processes and reports taking too long? Is there information you need that you cannot access? Are you missing opportunities waiting for the right information or carrying too much risk because you can’t make decisions fast enough?
Determine what technology is available
Ask people you trust what they use. Contact analysts and consultants. Look for vendor evaluations and customer surveys. Attend trade shows and read articles so you can see what systems work for companies like yours. Do research so you understand how the market is changing and what technology will help you prepare for the future. You need an idea of what you are looking for before you choose your evaluation team.
Choose the evaluation team
Pick the right person, or team, to evaluate how available solutions will meet your company’s needs. These evaluators need a deep understanding of your business processes, goals and limitations, and they must have the time to attend multiple demos to compare different vendors. If someone is trying to squeeze demos into very busy days and important deadlines, they may not pay enough attention to what they are learning.
Determine your budget
Make sure you know what your budget is, but don’t forget to look beyond the price tag. If running reports takes too long, you miss opportunities or make bad decisions based on outdated or incorrect information. If you have three people manually entering data into spreadsheets for five days every month and your new software can eliminate that step, the time savings alone could be substantial. Evaluate the impact the software will have on your business and overall operations to correctly assess the cost of the new solution.
Create a timeline
You need to understand how long the evaluation and implementation process will take and evaluate your internal deadlines. How quickly do you need the solution in place? Do you have a firm deadline? How will processes work while you are choosing and implementing the new system?
Prioritize your needs
There is no perfect one-size-fits-all solution. Every software you evaluate will have trade-offs, so you need to prioritize. Determine what is essential and what you would like to have. Make sure you don’t get distracted by cool features that won’t help your business. Blockchain is hot today, but will it help you? Commit enough time and resources to fully evaluate all the nuances of the solutions you are comparing.
Create a software vendor short list
Identify the list of software vendors that provide the software you need. Send them your requirements and make sure they understand all the nuances of the project. Ask for a demonstration of how their solution addresses all your requirements. Make sure to carefully note how each solution fits your needs. Request more than one demo if necessary. You want to be certain the solution you choose will solve your most urgent needs.
Carefully evaluate the leading contenders
Once you have refined your list to two or three top contenders, carefully compare your options.
- Check references. Do they have customer references from companies like yours using the software? Check for both long-term users and new customers, so you can get a sense of how they treat customers at all stages of the relationship.
- Evaluate customer support. What does onboarding the system look like? Will any members of the demo team be involved in the implementation? Are there documents, videos, or other means of support to help users familiarize themselves with the software? Make sure they provide a comprehensive business process review to avoid unwelcome surprises and ensure implementation success.
- Ensure they have a stable, comprehensive program for software upgrades. Check the typical frequency and costs. Will your business be interrupted on a regular basis?
- Check the reputation of each vendor. How long have they been in business? Do they have long-term clients? Are they privately funded? Make sure they are financially secure and stable. Be careful of companies that are owned by private equity firms since they are often sold and that can leave you with unsupported technology.
- Ensure they are continuously investing in technology. Check product roadmaps and the history of investment in technology. Are these companies investing to ensure the technology is leading edge today and tomorrow? In 2020, they should have a web-based option. You may choose an on-premise implementation, but a software company that doesn’t offer a web-based solution isn’t investing in the latest technology. You have to question why they aren’t.
- Make sure the price meets your budget with no hidden costs. Beware of companies that may tack on additional fees because they don’t understand the scope of the project upfront. Remember, you want a solution that will last for more than 10 years, so evaluate the price over that timeframe. Make sure you don’t choose software with a low initial cost but a steep cost for long-term ownership.
- Test the solutions using your data. Don’t rely on canned demos to make a decision, make sure you get a clear picture of how the new software will work using your data and your processes. You want to know exactly what you are purchasing.
Choose a solution
Choose the solution that provides the functionality most important to you. Make sure you choose objectively, picking software that solves your business needs even if it doesn’t have the most functionality. You don’t want to pay for more than you need. Make sure the price includes training, maintenance, and support.
Choosing the right software solution may seem daunting, but if you take it step by step, and carefully evaluate your options, you will find the best solution for your business.