#1 Mission Critical Software
This is mission critical software for your business. Do not assume that “all software does about the same thing.”
- Evaluate the software with the key members of your staff, and make sure it can meet the needs of your business.
- Don’t sweat the “small features,” but look at the larger picture.
- If the vendor is receptive to changes, the missing “small features” might be part of a future upgrade.
- Be careful, in only evaluating the software on “features and price,” since there are so many other factors described below that impact the success of this decision in your business.
#2 Upgrade History
Get a history of upgrades to see how active the vendor is in continual development and investment in their product.
- Many times, products reach their implicit “end of life” because the vendor is active in the development and investment of new products. Although, the new products might look “shiny” the mission critical software you are purchasing needs to be maintained and improved to keep up with the forever changing industry.
- Upgrades have varying definitions, there are upgrades and there are bug release fixes. Some vendors consider bug fixes as upgrades and charge otherwise when implementing product enhancements with new features.
#3 Development Tools
Look at the foundation of the software so the vendor isn’t limited on the future development of their product.
- Periodically, software vendors need to do a “compete rewrite” of their software to keep up with the advances in software and database technologies.
- Tools that allow for the quick development of a software application are often not intended for software outside of the company that develops it.
- Ask your vendor the development language and for a list of databases their product supports. Then you can do a quick Internet search on the “pros and cons” of their answers.
#4 User Experience
Remember, your staff are going to be spending the better part of their days in this software, so make sure they have a good “user experience”
- Although, browser-based solutions may be easier for a vendor to provide a “cloud solution,” it can be frustrating for users. Continually, clicking the “back” button rather than having the capability to bring say, two invoices up side-by-side can be annoying.
- Verify, multiple advertiser and order screens can be opened simultaneously to increase staff efficiency.
The main reason you are purchasing mission critical and/or accounting software in the first place is for the reports.
- It may not seem obvious, but the reports in the form of Invoices and Statements are provided to your customers.
- Further, management needs to make decisions on sales data, expected revenues, etc.
- Each department needs the information stored in the database to do their jobs. If they can’t produce that information in an easy-to-read report, they may be limiting themselves unnecessarily.
- The product should restrict not only the reports that a user can access, but also the “data” that is displayed on that report. Data is a valuable asset and needs to be protected on a “need to know” basis. Make sure the product you choose can do that.
- For example, a sales rep does not have a need to print a report of all the advertisers in the database, along with their orders – but rather, should be limited to print a report of only their advertisers with the order history of only their advertisers.
#6 Ownership or Rental
The software industry has evolved from a time when you once purchased the software to run indefinitely (i.e. a Perpetual License), to a monthly model where you effectively rent the software with a subscription license (i.e. Software as a Service, SaaS).
- There are advantages and disadvantages of both models. Check to see if your vendor allows for both models. Maybe you would like to own the software but add or remove temporary licenses as needed.
- Ask your vendor if you can switch from one model to another. For example, maybe you would like to purchase a subscription model for say six months to see how the software performs in your business, before purchasing a perpetual license.
- Also, you will want to check the contract period. If a vendor requires a 3 to 5-year contract you find out later that the software or vendor isn’t working for your business, you may be locked in and stuck until the end of the contract. A shorter contract period is preferred to restrict loss, but a longer contract may lock in your price. Ask if a vendor will shorten the commitment period but provide an option to lock in a price for a longer period.
#7 Evaluate the Vendor’s Staff
Although the product looks shiny and new on the vendor’s web site, it is only as good as the training, the development team, and the service team backing it up.
- Ask the vendor where the development team resides. If it’s in another country, just know that communication between the service, sales and training teams is difficult enough with the development team when they all reside in the same building! Imagine how difficult that can be if the development team speaks another language in time zone hours apart!
- The training team needs to provide personalized, and private training for your staff. Ideally, the training is performed remotely in small increments, rather than for days at a time at the vendor’s site or your own. The transition to the new software product is going to take some time, but when the training occurs an hour or so a few days a week, the interruption of producing a paper is lessened. It also helps to have frequent interaction with the trainer, as your team implements the new software.
- The technical support staff is critical to quickly answering questions as they arise in your deadline-driven office. If a user cannot get help with a simple phone call, but rather get a return call days later, they will be reluctant to call for help and may not use the software fully. Find a vendor that is friendly and responsive to your staff’s questions.
- Check with your vendor if their support for a Clouded solution includes helping your staff with computer issues such as printer, browser, or other general issues that prevent them from running their software.
#8 Clouded or On-Premise
Most software these days have moved to a “Clouded” model, where the software runs on the vendor’s servers and is accessed remotely over the internet – typically within a browser.
- In the past, software ran “on premise” directly on the computers on your own network. There are pros and cons of each approach.
- The main advantage of a Clouded model is that it can reduce your IT costs for backups, upgrade installations, and server maintenance. The main disadvantage is that Clouded solutions are an ongoing cost, that are often tied to a Subscription software model. That means, you may be at the whim of the vendor on pricing, as well as the responsiveness of the software if the vendor’s servers become overloaded, and you are taking on an indefinite expense.
- Ask the vendor, if you can move back-and-forth between Clouded and On-Premise solutions, to provide you with the maximum flexibility down the road.
#9 Look at the “Cost” not just the “Price”
Remember that “Price” is different than “Cost.”
- Think about the amount of time you have been running your existing procedures and software tools. Unless you are a startup, it’s most likely many years or over a decade. Now evaluate the different vendors not by the monthly price, but by the overall cost for the contract period. Then extend that cost out to 5 and even 10 years – assuming there is no price increase or inquire about the probable increase based on the Vendor’s estimated history.
- Ask the vendor what they expect for any annual price increases, or for a history of the prices in the past few years.
- Inquire as to what new programs or modules the vendor has announced. Learn if those tools are part of the existing included upgrade path, or if their clients must pay additional for those features.
- Check if they provide phone support, new employee training and free upgrades as a part of their service contract.
- Now, look at the amount of time and cost to train and deploy the software. Typically, for mission critical software, the amount of time making the transition can be substantial. Then think about the other factors above. Much like choosing the “lowest bidder,” software changes in your business are not without a fair amount of staff time and energy. If you choose the cheapest solution, just to find out a few months later that the vendor is not able to meet your needs, you will need to start all over again, causing much angst among your staff.
- Although price is important, make sure you look at the overall cost for the expected life of the software that you will be deploying.
#10 Check References
Much like hiring a new employee, you are effectively partnering with your Vendor.
- If your vendor is more of a “corporate unknown” such as the largest of companies out there, they may not have a desire to form a partnership with you. Remember, your goal is for the two of you to work together to provide the tools necessary to grow your business!
- Does that mean the vendor will be able to implement every software request that you provide? No, but they should at least listen to your requests, and help you come up with a solution for you to accomplish what you need.
- Ask for references, and then ask for some more.
- See if they will give you the contact information for a few of their recent customers.
- Call some of their references and ask how long it takes to get a call back when they call the support line. Can they even call support, or are they required to submit an online ticket?
- Ask if they’ve made any software requests, and how any were received? Have any of their requests made it into the software?
- How was the training and rollout? Did they feel like the vendor “had their back,” or did they feel like they were all alone?
- How often have they received an upgrade, and could they get training on the new features, without charge?
- Have you reported a defect? What was their response, and did they fix it?
- Ask them what they like and dislike about the product and the vendor.
- Then tell the vendor about their dislikes, to see their response on how they are going to handle it.
- You might even check back with the reference a few days later to see if the vendor reached out to them about their “cons.”
Remember, no software or vendor is going to be perfect. After all, what’s perfect for one person, might be considered a detriment to another. However, it’s all about how the vendor handles it, with their support, and whether they make any necessary changes in their software.