No matter how awesome your organisation is—and we’re sure it’s awesome!—problems will eventually come up. What defines your business isn’t its problems, but how you respond to those problems. And when it comes to finding the right software solution, it’s worth taking the time to get it right the first time.
Club IT recently took some time to discuss the challenges in finding the right software solution for your business. While we don’t believe the perfect software exists, we did identify eight tips to get you as close as possible. There are many more things to think about than are contained in this checklist. However, it should serve as a strong kick-off point for any business looking to make a big change.
Gap Analysis (Asking the Right Questions)
Most likely, what’s driving you to shop around in the first place is that you’ve encountered a specific problem with your current software. It may not even be buggy or broken—maybe it’s just not meeting your needs. Perhaps it wasn’t designed to do all the things you’ve envisioned for your company. Or perhaps you’re implementing some new practice within your business, and a specific software solution would help that proceed more efficiently.
The point is that to choose the right solution, you’ll need to understand exactly what the problem is—in other words, where your current solution is lacking. So, when you think of your current software solution, what is it missing? Where does it fall short? What do you need it to do for you? Just asking these questions will build a clearer mental picture of the type of solution you’re looking for.
For example, say you’re trying to track a certain KPI, and you’ve calculated that being able to track it accurately could potentially save you $10,000 a month. Document all such observations and use them to inform your search for a solution. Any significant data driving your decision should not be forgotten when it comes time to make your final purchase.
Gap analysis may also involve interviewing staff or talking to senior management to get a comprehensive understanding of the issue. In particular, you want to learn from the employees who are in the “front lines” facing the issue. Who’s bearing the brunt of the present problem? Chances are, those people are the ones who will understand your current system the best—and they may already have some ideas for improvement. They’ll also likely be the people who will be responsible for utilising any new software you replace it with.
You may even involve an internal audit process to really get to the crux of the matter. Whether you’re developing a solution from scratch or purchasing a piece of software off the market, it’s never going to be 100% perfect. But ordering your priorities can help you find the closest thing to a perfect solution as possible.
Minimum Specifications for a Software Solution
Speaking of needs, let’s talk about minimum specifications. In any software solution, there are essential features, and then there are things we call “nice-to-haves”. More than being defined by a software’s intended use, this delineation really depends on your particular business and/or industry. Think about the piece of software you’re considering—its ease of use, aesthetic appeal, or ability to integrate with your other favorite software. These are all examples of traits for you to prioritize in your search for a software solution.
The thing about this step is that there’s no objective answer to what’s most or least important in a solution. Rather, it’s up to your best judgment based on your business needs. If you’ve gone through step one carefully and thoughtfully, you should start to arrive at your priority list pretty naturally. An extra piece of advice: say a hard “No” to anything that doesn’t meet your minimum specs, no matter how nice-to-have its other features are.
Understanding the End User
There’s nothing wrong with idealism per se, but be pragmatic, too. “Useful” is better than “good.” Regardless of how “good” a piece of software is, it needs to be suited to your end user. If for any reason they can’t be sufficiently trained to use it, it’s not going to help you at all. That’s why you need to determine who will be using the new solution, and for what purpose. If your accountant in charge of handling money can’t get a handle on your financial software, it doesn’t matter how much potential you saw in it. When in doubt, play to the strengths of your expert.
If you’re having trouble identifying those strengths, just take a moment to jump back to step one. That is, ask questions of the important people in your workplace. (Note: “important” here does not mean high-ranking or well-paid. It’s all about finding the person to whom the solution will be the most relevant on a day-to-day work basis.)
Look to your industry peers and colleagues for feedback. Have they tried the software you’re evaluating? Did they like it? Was customer service terrible at responding to support tickets in a timely manner? Did their interface look nice and functional, or was it more like eye-bleeding yellow hieroglyphics on a black stone tablet? Sure, there will always be more questions to ask, because the only way to be sure is to try it yourself. But you can’t afford to test out every option on the market. The simple act of asking questions can help you quickly ascertain what software to avoid.
Of course, reading through sales brochures is a decent example of a way to get a cursory feel of the software developer. Still, if other consumers (like yourself) have any experience and/or regrets about purchasing, they’ll probably be eager to share the dirty details with you.
Don’t worry—I’ll be more specific. When I mention discernment, what I want you to start doing is discerning between convenience (short-term benefit) and usefulness (long-term benefit). For example, think of integration. Integration is good, even important, but it isn’t everything. A certain software solution might go great with your payroll or membership system, but completely miss the mark at solving your original problem. In such cases, you shouldn’t waste your money. Wait until you find your “Mr. Right” of software solutions!
At the end of the day, it will serve you best—and never steer you wrong—to focus on the priorities you identified in the beginning. If integration is one of your priorities, integrate away! It might be totally crucial for you and your company. But if it’s just “nice to have”, leave it be. Think about it: would you rather have a well-integrated “solution” that doesn’t solve anything, or a super software solution that requires a little bit of creative thinking? Sometimes things don’t fully integrate, and that’s just the way things are. But if you can easily achieve the same goal by switching browsers or opening up another application, then it’s possible that you’ve actually found yourself a very workable solution.
Quality over Quantity
Sometimes, cutting corners just leaves more work down the line. This is true of money, too. Although it’s prudent to seek out good deals, you can make things harder for yourself by trying to get the perfect solution on an inadequate budget.
If you’re looking at pricing with tunnel vision, only considering the cheapest options, that puts you at risk of losing money over time. You’ve got to try to foresee what a poor software solution could end up costing you in damage control. Just like overspending, under-budgeting tends to yield diminishing returns—which is why, despite popular opinion, budget should never be your number one priority.
Instead, orient your thinking towards how much this solution is worth to you. If you don’t do your research and plan for this upfront, everything decent is going to sound expensive. Don’t pay $1,000 for software that meets none of your needs when five or ten thousand could solve all of your problems.
You might eventually need a faster network, upgraded workstations, or even a better server. Look at the minimum requirements to run your new software efficiently. These software companies themselves can often answer your questions as far as patches, upgrades, and system requirements—and if they can’t, you probably don’t want to go with their software anyway.
When you’re assessing a software solution and comparing it to all the options on the market, you might find that some will require you to install a new server, transfer to a different platform, get more Mac-based workstations, or a number of different possibilities. Also, consider whether a software is cloud-based or onsite. If it’s a cloud app, you’ll want to know the bandwidth requirements to run that application before you buy it.
You’ve gone through the process, done your research, signed the dotted line and installed the software. Now, there’s support to worry about. It’s one of those things that is probably more important than it’s treated as it tends to get somewhat overlooked, but ongoing support is critical to the way a new software solution is received by your business. And I don’t mean how it’s received in terms of opinion and judgment, but in terms of the business’s functionality. You want a seamless transition when implementing new software company-wide, and that necessarily entails having somebody there to help you.
The support issue can encapsulate all kinds of benefits or pain points, depending on how supportive the developer is. Location is one of these factors. Remote support staff somewhere like India or Sri Lanka means a severe difference in time zone, for example. That poses problems with communication, which can make or break your transition no matter how skilled your partners are.
General response time is also important for you to know what to expect when submitting a ticket. Will somebody be able to assist you within hours, or within weeks? For sufficient customer support, we recommend looking for local support that is available at least six days a week. For the best experience possible, make sure your software provider also understands your industry. If your focal industries are too different, their availability will seldom overlap with your schedule.
One thing you can do is straightforwardly ask the development team what their service level agreement (SLA) looks like. That’s the document that will outline how quickly they’ll respond to certain support tickets based on whatever issue priority system they have in place.
The Moral of the Story
It’s a major relief when you finally start implementing the right software solution, but don’t rush it. Just remember to focus on understanding your problem, and that should guide you in defining your priorities. In the meantime, Club IT is always here. Best of luck!