Every business is in the software business these days. We need to work faster, smarter and more efficient if we want to get ahead of our competition, no matter what industry. If you’re not leveraging the appropriate software tools, then you’re not being your most productive self. There are commercial-off-the-shelf software packages that exist for nearly every business purpose. But, if you identify an area that simply has no quality solutions, then perhaps custom developing your own solution could be the answer. Let’s get down and dirty as to why you may be going about software selection in all the wrong ways.
1. You based your decision on good marketing
The software landscape is much like that of the beer industry when you think about it. For years, Budweiser was the “King of Beers”, but was it really? Absolutely not (these are my opinions and not the opinions of my employer or those I imbibe frosty brews alongside), but they were cleaning up due to their exceptional marketing and brand positioning. Great correlation between the leading “technologists” of their time and how they built their empires. (Schlitz, Busch, Pabst, etc..) and modern software/tech pioneers (there’s got to be a book opportunity in there somewhere). But, a lot of us drank the Kool-Aid, or rather the beer, without any hesitation. We paid a premium for less than exceptional quality. It was the go-to brand. We were inspired by their marketing and ad campaigns.
Here we are, looking back at how foolish we were, but what other choice did we have then. When comparing the options we have today, to those of the late 90s, and the quality of the variety, it’s a complete paradigm shift. Breweries have to work much harder to win our loyalty and they need to do so by adapting to specific tastes (or needs). Same goes for software, don’t buy into the hype just because they’re the biggest player, and have the biggest logo. There could absolutely be a better option for your organizations specific needs that if you do a little bit of research, could be just the game-changer you’re looking for. Just because you haven’t heard of them, doesn’t mean they aren’t exactly what you’re looking for.
2. You are focused on PRICE
You get what you pay for, it’s as simple as that. Have a specific budget pre-determined so you don’t waste time on evaluating solutions that simply are way out of your price range. What if you don’t have a budget? Then start with these two questions – “What’s not happening in your business that could or should be happening?” and “What happens if you do nothing to solve this gap?” If you can’t quantify it and don’t have a pre-determined budget to allocate, then why are you even embarking on this journey? If you can identify and quantify potential revenue increase, or cost decrease, or align with a significant strategic direction in your business, then it should be easy to determine an appropriate budget based on potential and/or expected ROI. Starting a selection process with no budget in mind, and focusing on the lowest price solution will likely yield you little to no real results. It’s irresponsible and a waste of your time, and your potential vendor’s time. Better yet, if you embark on the process, be honest with your vendors and use it as an opportunity to see who can help you identify what’s not happening that should be, and what the potential ROI could be. Seek out a real partner, not just a vendor. If a vendor is too quick to drop on price instead of focusing on value, then buyer beware.
3. You have no idea what your requirements are
Sometimes you’re too close to your business, your systems, your processes…a fresh perspective and an outside-looking-in viewpoint could be what puts you on a course for a successful software selection process. You think you have all your real needs identified, and “just know” what your requirements are because “you’ve been doing this a long time” and “you know your own business better than anyone else”. There’s a lot to be said for that, and I’m not discounting that successful business owners absolutely know their business better than anyone else. But, then why are you considering something new? Why aren’t you achieving the growth you want? Why are you continuing to face the same challenges over and over again? Maybe you relied on “this is how we’ve always done things” for too long? A death sentence for any business, in any industry, these days. Or, you’re smart enough to know what you don’t know but unsure how to learn what you don’t know.
Get comfortable with the idea that someone that is not in your industry, but is a technology expert and business process expert, could help you identify areas for improvement that you never even considered. This is how you transform a business. Be willing to invest in an analysis to determine what your business’ true requirements are, so that when you embark on a software selection journey, you reach your destination with minimal disruptions and wrong turns. This is key, this is your roadmap to success, without properly identifying your requirements, documenting them, and weighting them, don’t expect real results. By the way, traditional RFPs/RFQs (request for proposals) don’t work. The best vendor-partners don’t waste their time on them because they don’t want to just be a 3rd quote to help drive pricing down.
4. You thought the selection process was the tough part
Congrats, you made it through the selection process! The rest is a breeze, right? Think again. Implementation is where rubber meets the road, full of “gotchas” and “well, it doesn’t work quite like that” and buyer remorse starts to set in. Your job could be on the line if you were the internal champion for the process and didn’t identify potential ROI, nor bother to pre-empt the selection process with the appropriate requirement gathering phase.
There’s always going to be some necessary configuration in order to adjust the software’s functionality to suit your needs. This is absolutely a part of the process, but these should come as no surprise and should have been identified as part of the initial selection process. You must be able to hold the software provider/integrator accountable on all expected functionality and deliverables, whether it’s system integrations (which we’ll dive into in the next section), design, compatibility, customization, and/or optimization.
Did you negotiate implementation services as part of the selection process, or is that up and above, and what is covered? Who’s responsible for ensuring you’re successful with this new software? These are questions that should already be answered, but if you’ve made the decision and signed the quote, then you’re in a tight spot with no leverage.
5. You forgot about your other core systems
Did you include stakeholders from other areas of your business that might be impacted by the output of this software solution? How will this new software communicate with other pieces of software your run/own, if at all, and if not, how much work did you just add to another department/co-worker. How much does this now cost the business in lost efficiency? How did you account for this throughout the business requirements phase and overall software selection process?
Do you have a Systems Integrator on staff if you’re purchasing on premise based software? The “cloud” and software-as-a-service (SaaS) have made integrating a bit easier, but not all integrations are made equal. Just knowing that your new system “integrates” with an existing system, isn’t enough. Is it a one-way sync, or bi directional, can it write to the existing system, or just export data? How reliable is the integration and who’s responsible for ongoing compatibility between systems, or between web browsers if it is a SaaS product?
The ability to integrate with other existing core systems for your business should not be an after-thought. It’s more or less missing the whole point of increasing efficiencies.
Choosing a new piece of software is a daunting process that shouldn’t happen haphazardly. Your objectives are to position your organization for growth by introducing a new tool that allows you to make more money, or drive down costs (or maybe it’s driven by compliance/regulations in your industry, or strategically aligned with your organizations objectives). If you can’t tie a new piece of software back to one of those drivers, then you need to re-think whether or not it’s a worthwhile investment, time and money-wise.
Bonus Reason – You ignored TCO.
Total Cost of Ownership. Oh man, this is one for the ages. Cloud vs. On-Prem; SaaS vs. Client-based; Capex vs. Opex; However you want to delve into this discussion, doesn’t matter. It’s a battle, or really a raging war, with heated opposition depending on who you’re engaging (Finance, IT, Business). This is a post all its own, but let’s get things riled up here for a minute.
Less expensive. More expensive.
Less control. More control.
Less secure. More secure.
Less reliable. More reliable.
For those of you not well-versed here, you might think each one is definitively assigned to either/or, but in reality, each statement can be agreed upon, or opposed for BOTH sides of this debate. Are you taking into consideration cost of hardware, costs to maintain hardware, costs to train, costs to update later on to new versions, upfront costs vs. license costs, warranties, depreciation, data migration, downtime, reliability, and the list goes on…have at it.