Monday, July 13, 2009

What You Should Know When Selecting Software for Your Organization - Part One

Software is expensive and changing your office work flow to adapt to any new system is time-consuming and stressful. Your organization expects you to make the best decision for a software solution that they can master easily and keep using for a long time without major changes.

It still amazes me to see software designed or configured to place extra work on the humans for the computer’s convenience. When shopping for software, here are some tips to help you assess not only viability, but usability.

1. Decide what you need and want, THEN shop.
2. Stay open to changing your requirements after you shop.
3. Let the actual users have a voice.
4. Keep the future open-ended.
5. Make a long-term decision.

Step one: Assess, then Search. Too many people do the reverse and window shop before they really have a solid sense of the features they need. Can you get more bangs for your bucks with a solution that addresses the needs of multiple units? Can you eliminate multiple software and information management systems with one purchase?

With the right people on your committee (even if it is only you), the process can move best by starting with the needs assessment. If you show the kids the candy store first, you may never get your shopping done. Better, ask product-agnostic questions of the business process improvement experts in each affected unit.[1] Hopefully, they already know the processes they need to improve or would like to, but for the archaic software they have to use.

>>>>What do you need to be able to perform your tasks more effectively?
>>>>What steps in your daily work could you eliminate with better technology tools?
>>>>Are there other important objectives you could address if freed from inefficient tasks?

After each of these, use the “What’s stopping you?” analysis to drill down to the functions relevant to your software search.

Q: What do you need to be able to perform your tasks more effectively?
A: Forms we can fill out onscreen, rather than paper that must be scanned into the database
>>>>Q: What’s stopping you from having these forms?
>>>>A: We need the ability to modify screens in our software as our needs change.

Now you have a feature that is real. One that addresses a business need without the emotion from those who fear change or hate your present software. Continue to build this list, even if some of the features are contradictory or extremely unlikely to be found in a commercial, off-the-shelf system (COTS). You are in the planning stage, so it is OK to start big.

In subsequent posts, I will explore some of the self-created risks many software buyers face during this important decision process as well as how to work through them.

[1] If you have not already gone through the BPI phase, review my earlier posts that outline a generic BPI plan and consider hiring a qualified expert to guide you.

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