No man (or woman) is an island. Once your company has made the decision to purchase and implement a new software solution, your job is to select the specific system that will best meet your organization’s specific needs. Regardless of your own preferences about which direction to take, you will need to work closely with others to ensure that you choose the best possible software that is the best fit for your company. During this process, you will want to avoid some common mistakes that can derail a successful outcome.
Proper planning is the most crucial aspect of any new software solution decision-making process. Most enterprise applications are well-structured and well-supported, but not every software system is a good fit for every business, even when a software solution has been designed for your industry. Your first step is to analyze your company’s particular needs by gathering requirements. Keeping in mind your organization’s processes and business objectives, you will need to determine what exactly it is that you want to accomplish with a new system. That will allow you to evaluate the functional areas—and features within those functional areas—in light of how well they match up against the needs of your organization. You will also need to understand the level of support you may need after implementation.
Software is only as good as its users. Thorough research of statistics should be conducted on your current system’s users, such as the number of users, how they use the system and how they interact with your customers or clients. Include “super users” in this analysis and be sure to bring in relevant department heads. Give some thought about what new features you would like to implement, based on this data.
Request for Proposal
Preparing a request for proposal (RFP) is a necessary part of the planning process. This is where you list all your requirements and specifications to be met by potential software vendors. It can be a time-consuming and daunting task to list all the possible features you need, and you may overlook some existing functions of current software solutions. Consider purchasing an RFP template that has these important features already listed as options. You will also want to outline a ballpark budget that takes into account other factors besides price alone.
The best-laid plans can go awry if your people are not supportive of the changes. Most people are naturally resistant to change, therefore it is important to get everyone on board with the upcoming new system. This change management process should involve your employees by keeping them informed during the planning and evaluation stages. Once the software solution has been chosen, conduct preliminary training with instructional videos and sessions with experienced users of the new system.
Insufficiently Vetting Vendors
Now that you have selected a type of software system solution, it is time to make a shortlist of approved vendors. This list should have mainstream vendors who have been in business for a certain amount of time and who are able to deploy your solution onsite or host it on the cloud, depending on your needs. They should be able to offer a guaranteed amount of ongoing support after the implementation.
After creating your shortlist, check the references for the vendors. These reference checks should be from current clients who are utilizing a current version of the particular vendor’s software. Scheduled interviews with these clients should include a set of carefully prepared questions that will invite insightful and informative answers. When you decide on the type of interview communication, be sure to choose a method that allows for a dedicated amount of time and attention.
There is no substitute for the real thing. The vendors on your shortlist should be able to give a comprehensive demonstration of the main features of their systems. Decide beforehand what features you really want to see in use, and you should also ask about any upcoming new versions, releases, patches and updates already in the works.
Working With the Wrong Team
Your selection process can be sabotaged by not having the right people on your selection team. If you leave the decisions on what features to include and what is important to just the IT department and a handful of executives, then there will inevitably be some crucial items left out of consideration. Consult with users from each of the departments that will be using the new software to find out what their current gaps or bottlenecks are and what functions and features they need to see in any new software. Not involving actual users from each of your stakeholder groups or departments can not only lead to purchasing a new system that’s inadequate, but it can also increase the chance there will be resistance to the upcoming changes.
Having the relevant stakeholders on your team during the entire software selection process from beginning to end is vitally important for the ultimate success of the new system. The leaders from each affected department should certainly be involved, even if only in an advisory capacity. It is beneficial to choose certain “super users” to help during certain stages. If you have an IT division, they should be involved to ensure the proper alignment of technical abilities between the software and the company.
One of the last steps to the selection process is deciding on the manner of implementation. This has to be carefully planned. If your company has dedicated IT staff, they will necessarily have the most input for the actual process. The amount of support from the vendor or the implementation specialist during and after implementation needs to be planned as well. The implementation can be incrementally or fully instituted, and you may want to roll out the new system during the company’s own hours.
Whether your company is small or large, and no matter your industry, the essential process of choosing and installing a new enterprise software system should follow the same basic steps, which reflect established best practices. Gathering requirements, choosing relevant decision-makers, evaluating competing software solutions, researching the vendors, and finalizing the method of implementation will reduce the risk of future problems. While it is not possible to foresee every contingency, it is possible to have a plan that reduces the odds. Once the new software system has been up and running for a while, you will wonder why the company did not move in this direction sooner.