How to Choose the Right Software System for Your Company: Part 3
Again, I’m providing you one final reminder that steps can merge, move, or disappear depending on your software search, your situation/needs, and/or your company. These steps are meant as a basic guide aimed to better help you find the best software solution for your company and employees.
Planning Your Strategy Steps 5 and 6:
- Evaluate Your Choices
- Make the Decision and Negotiate
Step 5: Evaluate Your Choices
After Step 4 (Validate Your Short List), it seems to be time to narrow down your contenders. This could truly be the most time-consuming part of the process. Why? This is where you separate the wheat from the chaff. You want to assess each software solution against the criteria you created in Steps 3 and 4. Stay focused on the most important features, the essential features, followed by conditional features.
In my experience, when you narrow your search down to 2-3 final competitors, you can compare, filter, gauge, and evaluate features more easily between each competitor. This could be where a consulting firm can help you narrow down your candidates.
When you watch demonstrations or see the software live, you should keep your list handy (mentally or physically), keep an open mind, ask questions, and anticipate mistakes. As we discussed at the end of Step 4, a virtual or in-person demonstration allows you to see the software accomplish simple tasks.
Going to the next level, ask the software supplier to refer you to some of their customers and ask to tour 1-3 facilities. As intricate as glass, window, and door software solutions are nowadays, you can’t expect differences between facilities and their installation. Sometimes the software is set up differently than you'd expect, so expect surprises.
By touring a company similar to yours, you can ask questions of real users, watch the process in action, etc. Ideally, you will first see at least 1-2 virtual or in-person demonstrations of the software. This is followed by a plant tour.
If you’ve been open and communicative with the software supplier’s sale rep, she or he will know your functional requirements. This could allow you to see a demonstration of just the functions relevant to your facility.
As a side note, bring all decision makers with you to any demonstrations (virtual, in-person, or tours). Additional sets of eyes will allow you to better screen software suppliers and make notes at the end. The purpose of each demonstration or plant tour is to make the best decision for your company now and into the future.
As you progress through the demonstration and into the plant tour, start focusing on product usability. By that I mean:
- How easy is it to learn the software?
- What options are available for training?
- How efficiently can your employees perform tasks essential to your business, such as order entry?
- How easy is it to remember how to perform tasks?
- How thorough is the software solution in detecting and avoiding errors?
- How happy were you with the demonstration, plant tour, and/or company you’re working with? Trusting your gut is vital on both sides.
By this point, you’re probably pretty confident who the winning company is. Now you will want to do additional research to determine if the “winning” software solution is sold through a partner, reseller, or original developer. Here you will want to ask about some of the finer details, so you aren’t shocked when you come to Step 7. Along the line of questions to ask, I recommend questions related to the implementation timeline, number of licenses, payment terms and structure of payments, company’s reputation, maintenance, upgrades, additional modules to efficiently/effectively run your new software solution, and support availability and access.
Building off these questions, I advise you to think about the hardware and computer needs to run your chosen software solution. This vital component (your hardware) will ensure that your new software solution functions optimally. When thinking about hardware needs, don’t just take into consideration your new software solution, but also all software tied into the hardware, such as your email system, telephone system, etc. Along these lines, I recommend asking the following questions:
- Does your chosen software solution run purely on the cloud, a cloud-hosted server, or on a server at your facility (a.k.a. on premise)?
- What are the memory and storage requirements for the new software solution? Also, how does that figure with your other software solutions?
- How capable is your monitor in displaying graphics? This also pertains to the importance of your graphic card, which I also recommend you ask about.
- Is a virtual/terminal server required or recommended?
- How do your remote employees connect?
- Are there connectivity issues between facilities in your organization? In other words, do you have high-speed internet connections into the facility, between buildings, and within the facility itself?
- Are all of the facilities on the same network? That can make things more efficient sometimes but not always. Can your chosen software solution run multiple facilities or only one? This will complicate your choices and potentially raise your costs, if you are running more than one facility.
- Think about the physical PC requirements in the office and on the shop floor. Are thin clients an option or do you need to have a full PC?
- What machines do you use to fabricate? Do they have any specific needs that must be addressed?
- It is very important to understand your own IT expertise. Consulting a third-party IT company may be of value.
Step 6: Make the Decision and Negotiate
We’ve come to the final step. By now, you should have a “winner” in place. If not, you will need to back up to Step 5 and review other companies to trial.
Making the assumption you found a “winner,” almost all of your work gathering the finer details will have happened in Step 6. Now is a time to determine any additional modules, negotiate payment and the structure of the payment, clarify support/training/implementation requirements for your staff, and much more
My father’s philosophy was “No question is a dumb question, so ask.” This is the time, in my opinion, to ask what the best deal is for you and your team. If you’ve built up a good rapport with the company along the entire process, you should be able to negotiate on at least some aspects of the software solution
In the end, choosing the right software solution for your company is no guarantee of success. No one can guarantee success for your company. Your chosen software solution will be most successful when you and your team put in the time and effort to learn, implement, and manage the installation based on the needs of your company as outlined in Steps 1-2.
By playing an active role in the implementation of the software solution, you can learn the nuances of the software, which enables you to troubleshoot problems (which will always come up) and tailor the solution to the needs of your company. When you integrate new software into your company, training is vital to your success as is ongoing monitoring, maintenance, and appropriate upgrades. Remember, no software solution is perfect for every company. Every software solution must be tailored to your company in some form or fashion.
At this point, I want to wish you good luck in your search. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Questions help all of us better our abilities.