Software Selection, Part II

This is Part II of a two-part post that walks you through a framework for software selection. In this post, we’ll cover the steps you should take after you’ve defined your goals and documented requirements.

Create a Long List

Don’t create just a short list of a few software products you know of or a few well known products in your industry. Be almost exhaustive in your search. Look at products within the general industry for your business process (e.g., accounting and finance), and also be sure to look at products that address the needs for companies in your specific vertical industry.

You will have a long list at first. You can use the differentiating requirements above to quickly eliminate some of the vendors from the list.

Also Select the Vendor

Depending on the type of application, complexity of the product, installation, data migration, etc. you may need help from experts. There are often companies available (frequently referred to as Value Added Resellers) to help install, configure, and train on the system. They can often also migrate data from your previous system(s) if you can access them.

Be mindful that these companies each have strengths and weaknesses. If you are considering working with such a company, be sure to evaluate the company as well as the software product. You could even go as far as defining the requirements of that vendor company as well. For example, think about the financial stability of the company. If they are a public company you should be able to get an inkling of whether they’re about to go out of business or not. Look at their income statements and balance sheets historically. Are they cash-rich and limited liability with strong growth, or not? Also, how do they fair in reviews by existing customers? There are online sites to get reviews, but it’s hard to tell which reviews you can trust. TrustRadius is worth trying. It’s best to go to your local industry trade organizations or peer-to-peer groups and get honest opinions on what the prospective vendor is like to work with.

Demonstration Script

When you reduce the list of vendors down to a manageable number for doing demonstrations, prepare a script for the demo. Then whether you are attending the demos yourself or you are having a vendor do the demo, you will be sure to compare apples to apples. If you’re reviewing the product on your own, you may have a tendency to evaluate the parts of the application that are easy to find. Having a script for the demo will enable to you make a much more wellinformed decision. Be aware that vendors will often show off the strengths of their products.

Example

We are helping a manufacturing company select some software. They produce and sell products. We are working through the software selection process to enable them to automate orders: taking orders from their ecommerce web sites, pushing them into their internal quoteandorderentry system as well as their accounting software, then pushing purchase orders to vendors. They may want to allow vendors to push updates of the shipments of products back to our client. These are some of the possibilities we keep in mind, within our full software selection process.

Examples of some differentiating requirements for a software are: whether it should be a SaaS (software as a service) product, its cost, and whether must have certain features.

The list of prospective software products is long, but we have easily narrowed it down based on differentiating factors. One of the KPIs is order processing volume: the number of orders a person can process after the system is installed versus before the software system is in place.

One interesting finding has been that the client had unexpected flexibility around one of their very unique feature requirements. They had a feature which they believed was absolutely necessary. However, that very feature was eliminating all of the affordable software solutions. When we dug deeper we discovered the unique feature wasn’t really needed! Once we removed that requirement, it opened the flood gates for affordable solutions. Thanks to going through a thoughtful selection process, we will be able to meet all of the client’s criteria with a solid, affordable product.

Software Selection, Part I

This is Part I of a two-part post that walks you through a framework for software selection. In this post, we’ll cover the steps you should take before you even start shopping.

If you are planning to select some software to run a certain set of business processes within your company, please be very thoughtful and careful with that decision. Selecting the wrong software can be very, very costly!

Here are a few key issues to think about in the software selection process:

Define a Goal

Start with defining the outcomes that will occur once the software system is in place. How will the business be better? Faster order processing time so you can get orders to customers faster? Reduced errors, which saves money with returns and reorders? There might be multiple outcomes. If so, I’d suggest selecting the top one or two most important outcomes. Then figure out how to measure that outcome. Use dollars, minutes or hours, number of canceled orders, or something else you can specifically and easily measure. Then set a new outcome value as a goal. After the software system is installed, continually measure this value to see if you reach the goal intended with the software system. If you do, then you know the project was a success. You can also use that key performance indicator (KPI) as a way to check whether the potential software system being evaluated will help move the needle on the KPI in the right direction.

Document your Requirements

Write down the requirements for the software system you feel you need. I’d suggest creating the list of features as the first column of a spreadsheet. Then create columns to the right of that for each software system you find, and enter a tick mark or score for whether that system has that feature.

If the type of software system you need is common, such as an accounting and finance or ERP system, you can likely find some template documents on the web which will give you a solid head start.

Document the Differentiating Requirements

It is also a good idea to define what requirements or criteria will make the difference in selecting one software product versus another. For example, if you are a footwear manufacturer and will have a lot of SKUs for your products based on the combination of style, size, width, and another attribute or two, then be sure to add that capability to the list. Other examples might be multi-company capabilities, the budget available to purchase the system, and whether you prefer the solution to be locally installed versus running from the cloud. Be sure your understanding of these requirements is well founded. For example, if you don’t know what it even means for the software product to be on-prem (installed locally, on premises) versus the cloud (on servers in a data center, or using a SaaS system), then your software selection will not be efficient or return good results. This short list of unique attributes of your needs can often be a quick way to eliminate software products from the initial long list.

Next week, we’ll cover how to create your product shopping list and how to choose the right software for your company.