Choosing the right software can help your company – streamlining processes and record keeping, improving collaboration among departments, improving employee productivity, and more. Making a bad choice can hurt – forcing you to adjust your processes to match the software, draining internal resources, and putting constraints on your growth. Choosing the software that is right for your business is essential.
As with any important decision regarding your company and its operations, selecting the right software should be treated as an important project, one with a clearly defined process, timetable, and set of stakeholders. Here are some of the key steps that are involved in effective software selection.
Involve your stakeholders
Many organizations make the mistake of delegating an elite group to make important software procurement decisions, ignoring many of the people who will be most affected by the decision. Be sure to rope in your IT department, heads of departments, frontline users, and all the other stakeholders you can identify.
While this might make the initial stages of the decision-making process more complicated, it is essential to have buy-in from your organization upfront, and not as an afterthought. Think of all the organizational initiatives you have seen that were doomed to failure because those most affected were left feeling disenfranchised and out of the loop. Do not let your software selection process stand as a case study for this kind of flawed decision making.
The guidance of your steering committee
When you have established who the key players in the software selection process are, it is time to put a steering committee on the job. The steering committee’s role is essential in ensuring that your organization stays on track during the software selection process. You will want to rely on the steering committee to ensure that these key issues are addressed during the selection process:
The software being considered meets the requirements you have decided upon and is suitable for all stakeholders.
Conflicting priorities are resolved.
Reporting and feedback on the selection process are provided in a timely manner.
Keeping the end result in the crosshairs. Namely, selecting software that best suits your organization’s needs.
Decide what you really need
The capabilities of the software you select must be centered on your specific needs. If you do not consider your needs as the primary determinants driving your selection, you are likely to fall into the trap of choosing software based on popularity or marketing campaigns. There are two strategies you can adopt that will help you stay on track during the selection process.
- Separate your “must haves” from your “nice to haves.” The feedback from your stakeholders and the work of your steering committee should have provided you with a definitive list of software features and requirements to guide your search. Be firm in your resolve to stick to software that meets those requirements and do not get caught up in marketing hype that pushes unnecessary features.
- Create a software selection matrix. The best way to avoid the pitfalls of the previous point is to have your steering committee develop and utilize a software selection matrix that allows them to score different options. This is an excellent way to narrow down choices during the selection process. A good matrix will usually consider these factors like projected costs, your project timeline, how many internal resources you will need to devote to the project, and, of course, the features of the software. As you examine competing software products, use your software selection matrix to dynamically score your options.
Finding the right vendor
Depending on your software needs you may have a large number of software vendors to choose from during the decision making process. There are a few important points to keep in mind as you begin.
- Business first. Too many organizations rank popularity too high in their vendor search. But just because a software vendor has the most customers doesn’t mean that their software is right for you. Be open to lesser known vendors and less widely used software packages.
- Cast a wide net. Use the many sources available to you to gather recommendations. Business contacts, expert forums, and industry publications are all excellent sources.
When you have narrowed your search, contact the vendors you are interested in. Ask about the software you are interested in, and also get information on the company’s size and level of experience.
Don’t forget the importance of implementation
Proper software implementation is just as vital as proper software selection. Your implementation partner is a vital part of the process of getting your new software working for your organization in a timely manner. It should be an essential part of your search to query vendors about their implementation partners. Ask questions about the experience and quality of their implementation partner, and be sure to gather references so you can check on their actual track record.
Astute project managers understand that even the best software will not be of much use if the implementation process is poorly carried out. In short, do not make implementation an afterthought – examine your options carefully and do not make a software decision without considering the impact of implementation.
The success of your organization’s mission may be dependent on selecting and implementing the right software package. Do not trust your software selection project to chance. By following the steps outlined above you will approach this vital task with clear goals and better buy-in from all the stakeholders of your organization.