When looking for a new software system to be used in your company (starting from an operating system, a word processor or spreadsheet programme, an email and web client, through to complex project management or even accounting systems), there are some questions to ask independent and across the lines of all of these different solutions:
- What hardware do we use or are we going to use? This, in part, relates back to the operating system to be selected as some computers have predefined operating systems. If your business has Apple Mac computers, the choice of operating system is usually Mac OS (albeit it being possible to run other OS on this hardware as well), where there are PCs, they often come pre-installed with a Windows system or if your hardware is PC with no pre-installed systems you may wish to look at a Linux/Unix environment. The software solutions will then normally be based on the OS, so in the majority of scenarios Apple Software for companies with Mac computers or Windows software for Windows PCs.
- Do we have a mix of hardware/OS? In that case ideally the software to be selected should have versions that run on either of these operating systems in a way similar enough for users to be able to use it across the different computers and to exchange data with each other.
- Next question could then be: Is there a server environment and can data be exchanged via the network or is data going to be held/shared in different ways (in particular with online platforms such as Dropbox, Google etc.)
- Should the software be client-installed software or cloud-based software? This question relates back to question 1 and 2. If the software is cloud based, then usually the question of the operating system can be neglected as most operating systems will offer web browsers that are the only prerequisite to run cloud-based software. It also relates back to question 3 as a network is not required but replaced in most cases where cloud-based systems are used.
- Is the desired software available as an open-source or free system or do you require to purchase it from a software company or pay a rental fee for cloud based software? The benefits of paid-for software is often the amount of after-sales service from implementation and training through to consulting and support, which may not exist to the same extend for free or open source solutions.
- What exactly does the software need to do? This is probably a simple question, where a word processor or email client is concerned, but can be more involved, where project management or ERP systems are to be implemented. In the latter circumstances, detailed user interviews may be required to get a detailed overview of the desired specification.
All these questions should be asked, whenever a new system is to be introduced and for the simpler systems often a few hours of investigation done internally will come up with the right choice for the job. However, where there are more complex systems sought after, one more very essential question has to be asked:
- Are the right resources with the right experience and the required amount of time available internally to deal with all the intricate issues to do with the introduction of a new software system?
A new internet browser is one thing, even a new email client is relatively straight forward to set up and can be prepared with a minimum of time investment. But when it comes to integrated solutions that deal with business-critical operations, including project management, integrated contact management and calendar functionality or even a complete ERP suite, the necessity of experience and – more or just as important – time for the implementation must not be underestimated.
Taking a member of staff away from their “day-job” to get their head around a new system that may or may not get introduced in the company and then doing the implementation planning, testing and project management may work for simple things such as word processing or web browser software but, and more so for complex systems, is definitely not a good use of that member of staff’s time and will never get to the same smooth implementation that one lead by an experienced professional in that field will achieve.
Last but not least, not only will the implementation quality be lacking, but also the value to be taken from the member of staff’s normal tasks will not be achieved by that staff member working on a task completely out of their normal routine.
It is then important to look at where the professional guidance can be taken from:
Good advice is often available from the software houses, that wish to supply the new systems, however if impartial assistance is required, a better choice may be to use user groups working in conjunction with independent professional systems consultants who will have a far wider selection of suppliers to look at and will have a more tailored approach to finding the right software.
Realistically, the first priority for the software house pitching for the sale will be the sale of the system, followed by the needs of you, the customer. A good independent adviser, however, will have no affiliation with any particular software company and as they are working solely for you, will have as their first priority the needs of your company.
They will start by carrying out a requirements analysis and report and, based on this, will assist and advise on the selection of the appropriate software. The independent consultant will also lead the project management and time planning, define and possibly assign testing tasks and support the testing team, organise any end user training deemed necessary, assist and advise on the day to day transactional entry to ensure business as usual during the implementation phase. They can advise on parallel running vs straight cut-over to the new system and save the company time and costs possible otherwise. What may appear like an additional cost to start with should actually prove to be a significant time and cost saving, plus also helping to guarantee the long lasting success of the new software system.