Try before you buy.
Most software vendors provide a “trial” version so that organisations can put their solution through its paces. Some trial version are fully functional within a time limit or alternatively vendors may provide just enough core functionality to give a feel of how the software operates, but have the more advanced features locked down. For single purpose software you can probably work out how to use it yourself, but with more comprehensive packages it maybe easier to have someone guide you through them. Beside the specific solution packages, there are also generic software packages that allow you to build solutions, but these will depend upon the use of appropriate templates or custom builds for your particular sector or functions you need my not work. Most vendors have a sales team who can guide you through what is involved, or refer you to industry specialist partners who can demonstrate the software on-site.
Be open to new opportunities.
All tests should be done against the prior checklist to fit the business case, allowing for opportunities for new technology to challenge some original presuppositions (facility for group emails presents a new marketing opportunity). At this point the exploration becomes a two-way street between the original case versus new features and both may need adapting.
One client we went to see didn’t realize that the solution could connect to their existing phone system using TAPI (Telephone Application Programming Interface). If the number is related to a contact person, the digital tone will trigger a script to auto create an activity that can then be assigned to that staff member responsible for that client. This not only ends the reliance on sticky notes, but also allows for greater traceability of all communications from assisting the sales process to tracking returns and warranties. Activities can then be tracked for progress updates and expected dates of completion which meant that customer is always informed of the status of their case, encouraging client loyalty and repeat business. This was not part of the original spec, but on seeing this new function it was adopted into the proposal.
Limit the number of options to test.
It can get confusing looking at the various configurations of software so, as with a job interview, go through the applications, checking the features list first to whittle it down to 3 that you think are the closest to your wish list. Compare each solution in quick succession and monitor the pros and cons of each package. It is unlikely that you will fulfil %100 of your wish list, but %90 may be sufficient. From this you compare the features on offer compared to cost and budget constraints. From there you should be able measure a return on investment, either through becoming more efficient, controlling cost or increasing revenue, to get that step closer to that final decision.
A complimentary widget to help you decide.
To assist in this process, we have developed a widget which is an interactive visual tool to assist business owners compare features on offer as weighted against the cost. Please go to the “Downloads” section of our website and click on the “Implementation vendor comparison chart”. This was designed for people not used to “tech jargon” and allows you to go back to the basic questions of “what are we trying to achieve” and see the relative results.
Next in the series: Compare with legacy software.
About the Author.
Malcolm Ford advises businesses on which software solutions are suitable for their operations. He has 25 years’ experience in a variety of sectors from International law to manufacturing, media to professional services. He applies his accounting knowledge to the entire workflow to improve sales through CRM systems, automating accounting processes or cost control through improving procurement. Check the services page for information.