A.J. Vasaris

Article Summary:

Make the best business software selection for your company by following these simple rules.

20 Secrets of Business Software Selection, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

11. Pay close attention to data conversion issues. When choosing software, users often assume that they can get their data moved from their old system to the new system without much of a problem. Sales people are quick to confirm this. The fact is that data conversion often is the single biggest headache when putting in a new system and often requires a custom data conversion program to do it. Even then there is no assurance that the data will come over properly without something getting screwed up. Be sure to get a specific proposal on exactly what data is going to be moved and check it carefully after it is moved. Conversion can get very tricky with the need for converting data codes and the like, and it is a rare conversion where something does not go wrong.

12. Avoid overbuying. Possibly the single biggest risk today for software buyers is not buying a bad system but overspending for what they need. Buying a prestige brand name product may bring a sense of security but if the product is way beyond your real needs and requires more training and support than a simpler product you could wind up spending double or even triple the amount necessary to meet your needs.

13. Evaluate the report writer very carefully. An oft stated reason for purchasing new software is better data access or easier maintenance. Well, data access depends heavily on the report writer. You may ask the vendor how you could prepare a particular report. One of the more frequent complaints we hear is that the custom report writer is anything but easy to use. In fact, some of them practically require some level of programming skill. Spend time looking at the report writer you will be using and see what it takes to do custom reports.

14. Don't confuse what you want with what you need. Many companies get caught up with looking for a lot of advanced features they might see offered by vendors but are really not needed by them. An example might be some advanced cash management abilities or fancy inventory control algorithms. You pay for these in many ways the cost of software, training, etc. Take an attitude of compromise with you and know what you will bend on to get the best solution for what you truly need to operate your business.

15. Hidden costs. Bringing in a new system brings many costs you may not have considered. These include maintenance of software, purchase of new hardware, conversion costs, staff training, and more. A rule of thumb is that you can expect to spend two or three times the cost of the software itself for the entire installation.

16. Plan, Plan, Plan your implementation and allow enough time. Many users get tripped up when they try to rush their software installation. The fact is that there are few things in life more complex than a new software installation. This is true even for small businesses with relatively simple operations. There are just so many details to keep in mind that it takes time to plan everything. You will need the cooperation of all staff to put this over.

17. Get buy-in from key members of your organization. It is not enough for management to say - ok, we are getting this new whiz bang accounting system that will make your life easier. You must sell it to employees by getting their active participation in the decision making process, otherwise they will not feel that they "own" the system. This fundamental principle of human nature is especially important when bringing in software since almost anyone who is involved in the business operations can sabotage the new system either by ignoring it, being afraid of it, or misusing its capabilities. Why would anyone do that, you ask? Simply because they were ignored during the decision making process. Ignoring middle management and operational staff during the software selection process is a cardinal sin.

18. Be sure to name a company software champion. This is a person whose main goal is to make sure the system goes in and works for everyone. This individual must have good human relations skills as well as some technical computer skills. He or she also needs to be current with information technology issues so that they are not blown away with techno-babble spouted by software vendors. Remember the FUD factor -- vendors will spread fear, uncertainty and doubt to try and get your business. You need to have someone on staff that can see through the maze.

19. Don't try to automate when the current system is in chaos. Many companies assume that they can solve their software problems simply by bringing in a new system. This will only add to the confusion. Don't even think about getting a new system until the one you have is working smoothly.

20. Check out your hardware/software reseller very carefully. Know who you are dealing with on the software installation. There is a great difference in quality and competence between hardware and software resellers. Be sure to get references from several customers and be sure there is a personality fit between your staff and the primary interface person. By viewing technology holistically - as a means to a strategic end, not the end itself - and coupling our business strategy, project management and process analysis insights to your technology solutions, Value Management Partners is uniquely positioned to tackle those technology issues pivotal to attaining and maintaining competitive advantage. Caveat Emptor!

A.J. Vasaris is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified Management Consultant (CMC) at Value Management Partners, a project, process and business management consulting firm. He consults with organizations to create the optimum value in projects and processes for improving business performance.

A consultant, writer and speaker, A.J. has been published and quoted as a subject matter expert in various business and technology trade journals including the Wall Street Journal, VAR, Consulting 2 Management, Small Business News, and Crain's magazines. You can keep up with his business rants and raves at his weblog - Project, Process & Business Improvement, or contact him directly via email.

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