Good software can be a great tool for a business of any size. The right piece of software, if properly implemented, can speed up production and produce an provide amazing return on investment. However, poorly planned and implemented software can become an expensive white elephant and it could make lethal problems in the future career of the people involved!
Here are my thoughts on the seven deadly sins that people make when choosing a new piece of business software, and the seven golden rules to follow to stop them making these mistakes.
No matter what the business plans to use the new software product for, it is important to recognize the final goals of the project. This might be a small piece of software to fulfil a niche purpose or need or it might be a complex software system meant to redefine the entire way a company works. Whatever the scope of the project, it is important for all the stakeholders to get together and discuss what they actually want the software to do before making any firm decisions.
Before even looking at software products or vendors, work out the scope of the project. Break down the business requirements of the software into the essential “needs” and nice-to-have “wants.” If you can get the agreement of all stakeholders on the must-have needs of the product then it will make it much easier to make the important decisions later down the line.
Once you decide the requirements for the business software, you can then start to produce a shortlist of candidates. Many people have made the mistake of picking the software (because it ‘sounds good’) then trying to make it fit to the requirements, but this can lead the business into adopting software that is not fit for purpose. Choosing the wrong software will reduce the chances of the project being successful before it even starts.
It is true that few people will ever lose their job for choosing software from the major players, like Microsoft or Oracle or stalwarts like Sage, but that does not mean that their software is necessarily the best product to satisfy your needs. Research the market thoroughly and find out all the potential products before using research to whittle down the list to at least 3 possibilities.
Use all possible methods to perform your research, but do not forget one of the most important – your own staff. Some of them may have experience with the software in a previous role and be able to tell you the good and bad points.
Once they have selected their candidate software, many people go straight ahead into the contract and implementation of their preferred choice but this could be a disaster. Picking the wrong software will be an expensive mistake and in the worst case, could mean having to buy more software that actually does the job.
If it is a relatively small and contained piece of software before you sign on the dotted line, try it out first. Most software vendors will offer run trial versions, usually for a number of months which is plenty of time to decide if the software if right for your company. During this period, speak to the vendor if it does not work as you want - they will be very happy to help if it means another sale.
However if you're thinking of something more major like an enterprise resource planning package that affects all parts of the business, be much more bold and pay for specifications and in-depth demos or workshops from at least two vendors - this will allow you to not only to test the software it will test the resellers and people you will have to work with for their professionalism and their understanding of your business needs. Surprising though it may seem, paying upfront (even for the system you may potentially not choose) will more than likely also save you money in the overall contract as you will have realistic competitive quotes from different suppliers who understand they are in contention for your business.
Remember to use to same evaluation for every potential piece of software. It is fine to explore it further to discover what other features could be useful for the business, but only by objectively testing the essential requirements can you be sure to get the right software.
It will take a period of readjustment for any person that moves onto the new software. They will need time to learn how to use it and get fully accustomed to the new way of working. An instant changeover to the new software will cause problems and lead to unhappy and unproductive staff.
Try to give everybody that might use the software plenty of time to learn how to use it as early as possible, and where practical communicate month in advance to let them know of any impending change. If the software will significantly change working practices, give the software and its implementation project a nickname - animal names work well. We have used names like Falcon, Lion, Tiger and even the humble Meerkat - they all sound funny at first but once people get used to them there and fine it's a lot easier than talking about names like Microsoft or Oracle.
Importantly, listen to what users have to say about software. A simple suggestion from the people on the ground floor could save the company lots of money in the long term.
And remember, when it comes to training it is not just the end users who do not know the new software. The support staff and the implementation team will also need instruction if they are to give the best possible service.
It is common for non-IT managers to assume that the existing support staff will be able to implement and provide continuing support for the software. In many cases, the existing staff will take up the challenge but complex software often requires niche skills that may not be immediately available within the company.
Once you finalise the decision on the software and know the requirements for the installation, check with the IT support team to see if they have the personnel available. It might be necessary to arrange training courses or recruit temporary or permanent staff members. This can take time and introduce delays to the installation and so the resources need to be in place as early as possible.
After whittling down the list of potential software products to the final choice, it could be tempting to jump straight in and start placing orders. However, this can result in expensive purchasing mistakes.
It might delay things by a few days, but before you place any orders make sure you check the quotes thoroughly with a specialist in that area. You might want to check the hardware quotes with the software supplier to ensure compatibility and that the hardware is powerful enough to run the software. You could also look for alternative quotes to bring the purchase price down.
At this stage, it is always worth checking that the other business stakeholders are completely happy with the decision and get their approval for any compromises over the original specification. Having the support of these colleagues could be vital if things do not go smoothly later on.
Once the resources are in place, the biggest mistake that you can make is to push through the software installation at the earliest opportunity. This can lead to botched implementations and going live before the staff and software are fully ready. Hence the old adage ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’.
The best way to ensure that the transition to the new software is seamless is to plan in as much detail as possible. (Remember even a swashbuckling Indiana Jones always have a plan and it's easier to make mistakes on paper than in real life!) The more accurate the plan, the easier it will be for everyone to follow it, but be prepared to adjust the plan if something unforeseen happens.
In the case of significant software (note this may not necessarily be the most expensive software that simply software which changes working practices) it is worthwhile getting an independent consultant to help you in your planning and implementation. Consultants from software vendors look after their interests but your own consultant will help you cajole and organise your own resources and needs to make sure the software is a success!
Not every piece of software is a good investment for a business. Following these simple rules could help to eliminate expensive mistakes and make a success of the new software.