It’s clear: your business needs new software. Simple tasks take too long, and processes are inefficient. It’s time to adopt a new business system. The business software market is saturated, boasting a repertoire of systems targeted to all kinds of companies, across many industries.
Choosing business software can seem daunting, but it needn’t be. Here, we will lay out the most important stages of the business software selection process.
Assessing your requirements
Before all else, a business must undertake an internal assessment. This is a crucial stage in business software selection. By outlining your requirements, you can confidently approach vendors, and compare their software offerings.
Analyze Your Business
When researching your business requirements, you should gain a deep understanding of your typical business practices. What do you need from your new system? Remember to be realistic; keep in mind that you want your business to grow and your system should be able to adapt. Look into your existing systems: what works and what doesn’t? Then, analyze your company’s architecture, while considering its future growth.
Get the Team Involved
Ask key employees from each department what is and isn’t working in their current day-to-day. This ensures you have a well-rounded view of your business, which is essential in pinpointing the software’s features. Next, assemble a team for the selection process (typically with “super users”); your team will need to reach a general consensus and will assist in determining the main features.
Research the Enterprise Software Market
Once you have gathered your initial research, you can use a request for proposal (RFP) template to help you prioritize your business requirements and see how your needs are met by solutions on the market. These templates lay out your selected features and will assist you in comparing vendors. The RFP will also help you with budgeting.
Establishing a Budget
You will need to determine a realistic timeframe, identify any future support you will need, and establish who will be using the software. Additionally, include the implementation cost, any licenses, add-ons and transaction fees.
On average, software selection can take up to 18 months. Some vendors promise implementation in just a few months. They may offer solutions with prepackaged functionality (a one-size-fits-all): these may seem appealing, but your business is unique and should be treated as such. Be wary, and tell yourself it will take longer.
Sometimes, you’ll hit a snag and will need support. Support is needed during implementation, and for the following years to come.
Typical support from your vendor includes:
- Instant support (get help via live chat, telephone, email, and fax).
- On-site support (technicians travel to your company).
- Community forums and vendor resources (including news, tips and product information).
It is best practice to make room for system support in your budget.
Costs vary depending on your company’s industry, size, and geographical location. Based on these factors, implementation can range from hundreds of thousands of dollars, into the multimillions. Included in the implementation costs are database management, installation of infrastructure, and ongoing charges.
The software solution you decide on may not satisfy all your requirements, or perhaps you want some specialized features that are outside the scope of the main software type you’re shopping for. Your software vendor may offer a functional module to complement your solution or have agreements with third-party software providers to supply additional functionality. Make sure to factor in the costs for any functionality outside of the standard solution package.
Be sure to include the inevitable transaction fees in your budget. These typically include legal fees, bank fees, and communication charges.
Dealing with Software Vendors
You need to see your potential software solutions in action. The vendors should demonstrate their solutions to you, in depth and in person. Allow yourself a few weeks to prepare for this. Include your stakeholders in the demos, inviting them to actively participate. Highlight to the vendors the key features you want to see from the demonstration; you may want to give vendors a detailed script to follow to ensure the solution can handle your day-to-day processes.
Finding the One
Final assessment includes digging deeper with the vendors on functionality, pricing and other services they may offer, including implementation, support, and maintenance. It’s also a good idea to check two or three applicable references (these can be from current customers, preferably in your industry). It is not uncommon to contact references and speak to them at length about their experiences.
Now’s the time to select your top dog – the vendor that best meets all your business requirements, including your budget. You have a lot of information to organize, and it may be easier to make a decision if you can quantify all your criteria. Consider ways of scoring your qualitative, soft criteria. You may also choose to use a decision support system, a software selection consultant, or other tools to help you weigh your requirements, priorities, budget, and other considerations.
Most businesses make the mistake of agreeing to the price that they’re given when, in fact, most vendors are open to negotiations. To prepare for negotiations, you should research what variables are important to bring to the table. This includes implementation, ongoing support, and licensing or subscription costs.
The software vendor may undertake implementation of your solution, but often it may be referred to a third-party implementation specialist. You’ll also have to set aside resources within your own organization, especially information technology (IT) personnel, to manage this stage and prepare any data or systems for migration or integration. You should also consider resources for change management and user training as part of this stage.
Enjoy the Benefits of Enterprise Software
You made it – you did an internal analysis of your business, discovered the features you need, assembled a winning team, compared vendors, and negotiated a good deal. The next steps will be preparing for and implementing your software.
Soon, you’ll discover all the benefits from an enterprise software solution, and your business will be thriving.