Navigating the maze: A guide to software decision making

Making a software purchase can be a bit like getting lost in a maze. Turn left and you might be led down a complex path of locating software that doesn’t quite function the way you need. Turn right and you might be in for an uphill struggle of mounting costs and slow service.

But, knowing you need a software change, you don’t want to turn around and go back the way you came.

When purchasing business critical software, such as a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, it’s clear that making the right decision is vital. But the ERP market is baffling with all software vendors claiming to be the light at the end of the tunnel. So how should today’s business leaders identify the path that really is the right one for their business?

Any new software decision should start by evaluating the business value you need to extract from your software. What problems should your new software solve, or what opportunities should it create for your business? This analysis should be central to any new software decisions you make.

The following five steps play an important part in the decision making journey. They inform the functions you need your business software to perform, help your business establish its infrastructure requirements and ultimately reduce the time it takes to reap rewards from your software investments.

  1. Reveal your business ambitions

Technology may be key to your business but it might not be your business’s key skill. For a software vendor however, technology is its bread and butter. The early stages of any software decision should involve an open and honest discussion with your software vendor about your business ambitions.

Ask the vendor if new software will help you achieve your goals and facilitate the business growth you are planning for. An expert vendor will be able to suggest the options that will fit with your overarching business strategy and start you down the right decision-making path.

  1. Assess the functionality you need

Most new software investments start with a ‘box-ticking’ exercise. Pull together a list of the requirements you need your new software to fulfill and strike up conversations with the software vendors that have products that match your requirements.

If you are replacing legacy software, it’s often tempting just to write a list of what annoys you about your old software. However, make sure you bear in mind your future business goals. The new software might need to cope with 100 users this year but what about in five years’ time? What is it about your existing system that you don’t like? Why is it not fulfilling its purpose? Make sure your list of functionality requirements allows for the changing demand of your products and the future growth of your business.

  1. Think about ROI, not just cost of ownership

It goes without saying that new software requires a considerable business investment. However, it’s important to measure return-on-investment (ROI), not just cost. Consider your budget alongside a wider discussion about the benefits you can expect to gain from that software, as well as the long term maintenance costs.

Next generation ERP solutions, for example, have the ability to save businesses precious time by reducing the amount of administrative tasks that employees have to complete, automating processes and streamlining workflows. This in turn can make your business more agile, more responsive and more competitive. So, ROI measurements must take more into consideration than just initial cost-per-user.

  1. Decide on the levels of support you will need

Consider the skills of your IT department. Will your team need help throughout the entire implementation process and beyond, or will they just need a training session before managing the deployment themselves?

Most software vendors will include support and upgrades in their sales package but make sure the vendor is prepared to give you the service you need, when you need it. Armed with this information, and a vendor that understands your business, you will be able to identify the software support bundle that is best for you.

  1. Make sure you’re in good company

The software world is full of stereotypical ‘sales guys’ so don’t be drawn in by their tactics. Check credentials and do your research to make sure you work with a software vendor that cares about your business requirements, not just about where the next sale is coming from.

The best software vendors will consult with you on the different options available and offer you honest opinions on how to use technology to improve your business. This is especially important when purchasing an ERP solution, which is a whole package, not just one small element of your business’s technology.

Choosing new software is a complex task and it’s easy to see why, for some, it can also be a bewildering one. However, organisations that follow the steps above will find it easier to navigate this maze.

Once implemented, continuous evaluation will ensure your new software is supporting your business strategy and, ultimately, enabling business growth.

Martin Hill, vice president international marketing for Epicor Software

Image source: Shutterstock/TechnoVectors