Choosing software for your business can be a daunting task, if not scary. Many business owners and managers know they need a new software system, but something is holding them back.
What prevents you from upgrading your system and/or processes?
- Are the choices overwhelming?
- Is it the time needed to make the correct decision for your business?
- Is it the time needed to switch to a new software solution or change a process?
- Is it the fear of making the wrong decision?
- Is it a combination of all of these factors or others?
- Is it another unlisted concern that is holding you back?
These are legitimate concerns. In an effort to help ease them, I will attempt to provide guidance in navigating these concerns. I cannot give you a roadmap that will pinpoint the exact software for your business because every business is different with unique circumstances, and no one software system fits every person or company. Also, all guidance in this blog series is based on my time in the industry helping companies manage the onboarding process. These steps are only suggestions; depending on your business, parts of steps could move or merge.
Organize your software search
Over the course of this three-part blog series, I’ll discuss steps for finding the right software system for your team and company. Throughout the strategy, I recommend that you record your information in matrix format somewhere, such as a Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
List software solutions providers down the y-axis and your requirements across the x-axis. Additionally, break your groupings into essential, conditional and nice-to-have features. (See Step 2 for more about these distinctions.) This could allow you to track left to right, up to down the best and most appropriate options for your company.
Planning your strategy
The strategy I will follow is a six-step process I call Planning Your Strategy. The steps are as follows:
- Know Your Objectives
- Prioritize Your Needs
- Create a Software Vendor Short List
- Validate Your Short List (a.k.a. Make Exclusions)
- Evaluate Your Choices
- Make the Decision and Negotiate
Step 1: Know Your Objectives
Define your criteria and know what you’re looking for. You must know what the software solution needs to accomplish, know your pain points (problems the new software solution is solving), and know the value of the solution (quantify the solution in terms of time, money or benefits to the organization). Remember to record your criteria in your designated spreadsheet along the x-axis.
It might be important to involve your team early on. They are the ones using the current software system (if one exists), know its failures, deal with the pain points on a daily/weekly basis, and must learn the new system. Furthermore, remember that change can be intimidating for most people. So, to help your team welcome in the coming change, involve them in the decision-making process, and add their needs to the list of requirements. Additionally, they should be involved in testing out the new system to ensure it functions better than the current solution.
As you develop the team, consider the following questions:
- Who will do the evaluations?
- What is your timeline?
- Who is the final decision maker?
Step 2: Prioritize Your Needs
No software solution fits all employees or companies. Every software system has trade-offs. In some cases, multiple solutions are required to meet your needs. In this case, you might want to make sure these software systems can interface with each other, which can sometimes be a simple add-on to most software solutions or it can be more complicated. If it is more complicated, please consult industry colleagues facing similar issues or the software supplier, if applicable. Keeping all of this in mind, I advise you to prioritize the needs of your company by determining the most relevant features as either essential, conditional and your nice-to-haves.
These are the must-haves, such as optimization, cutting, scheduling/tracking, capacity planning, easy machine management, etc. If the system doesn’t have these features, the system is not feasible for your company.
These features aren’t mission critical, but would enhance the productivity of your business, such as an e-commerce feature, shower door configurator, or barcode scanning. (Of course, depending on your company, you could argue that the features I just listed are essential.)
Nice to Have
Company doesn’t need this feature to buy the software, but this feature would be nice if they existed, such as an accounting or CRM (customer relationship management) package.
Within Step 2, there are multiple questions you could ask yourself, including but not limited to:
- What do you need the software to do?
- How easy to use should the software be?
- What’s your budget?
- What reports do you need the solution to develop?
- How scalable should the software be: One facility or connecting multiple facilities?
- Do you want a cloud-based system or on-premises system? Windows versus Mac? SQL Server or Oracle? (More on this in Parts II & III)
- Do your vendors have any requirements they need met?
In Part II, we’ll discuss how to create a short list of candidates and validate that short list. Stay tuned as we work to make sense of the software buying process.