This is the second part of this two-part blog entry discussing how to select commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software. It’s often better to buy than build – if you go about it the right way.
Part 1 of this article is available here.
6. Use spreadsheet comparisons wisely
Too many companies prepare elegant spreadsheets showing long lists of features and functions with checkmarks indicating which vendor meets the criteria. This is a worthwhile exercise though there has to be serious human interaction to qualify the gray areas that aren’t practical to model.
Scoring systems are also popular but they’re only useful if the system is two-dimensional. The second dimension is priority or value. You can assign a score based on how well you believe a package performs a function. Now multiply that score by the priority of the function. The result is the true value of the function. Software that does what you don’t need isn’t high in value to you, is it?
7. Map features to real business processes
Companies need software that’s connected to real business practices. Are you willing to change the way you conduct business in order to get maximum value out of the software investment? Or, do you expect the software to support the way you do things today?
Many companies buy good quality software that’s a poor match to how they run their businesses hoping that the purchase will drive change. This doesn’t work! Change has to be driven by the business with the support of the technology. Software enables change but can’t drive it.
8. Get a demo that’s pertinent to your situation
Face it; canned demos always make the product look good. Demonstrations are carefully crafted to show the best features of the software. Prepare your own demo. Develop a scenario and a set of activities that you want the software to perform. Send it to the sales person and request a demo that showcases your needs. To be fair, offer to help set up the demo with some sample data or other elements. This approach will create a level playing field, as every seller will be performing the same activities though in different ways and possibly in different sequences.
9. Find a good vendor match
Vendors will offer software to firms outside their typical target market. Identify the vendor’s sweet spot in terms of company size and industry segment. If you’re too small, you won’t get attention. If you’re too big, you’ll overwhelm them. If you’re outside their target industries, you’ll be blazing a new trail. There needs to be synergy between the two companies.
10. Take a broad view of costs
Consider all the costs of buying, installing, configuring and supporting a new application. Will the software run on the computers you have or will upgrades be needed? Can your network handle the additional load placed on it? How much and what type of training will be needed? Will any data conversion be required? How will your business be disrupted during the initial stages of implementation? What additional costs will be incurred due to the disruption?
Enterprise software is expensive. If it turns out not to be a good fit, the total outlay and lost business could be immeasurable. Given the investment, some extra time spent up front to truly understand what you need and what the sellers have to offer is well worth the effort.