Organizations need the right combination of people, processes, and technology to be successful in business. The lack of one of these key drivers will make it an uphill battle to meet key management objectives. When it comes to selecting the best software to support your business, it will be very important to undergo a robust software selection process that will assist in transforming a business expense into an investment. Failure to follow a strong selection process might lead you to have significant business expenses hard to justify, in addition to unsolved business challenges.
The following guidelines come from more than a decade of experience assisting hundreds of organizations to select software that meets their objectives. These recommendations can help you establish your internal software selection process.
Define your needs. It will be imperative to detail what business challenges you are trying to resolve. Project management best practices suggest you should document the problem statement in need of a solution. The software solution should be a tool to address the defined business challenge.
Preview your future. Make it a requirement of the software selection process, to receive a product demonstration to visualize how the software will help you meet your business objectives. This is typically achieved through a customized product demonstration, not a standard product presentation.
Identify decision-makers. It is very important to understand who are the project sponsors assigned to remove roadblocks during the selection process. Keep them informed and up-to-date. Enlist their assistance as soon as you notice significant project deviations that could impact an on-time and on-budget project delivery.
Prioritize Must-have over Wishlist. After taking inventory of what needs to be addressed by the new software, be prepared to identify which requirements cannot be sacrificed, regardless of time, budget, or functionality constraints. Also, identify which requirements can be omitted if the project’s expectations need to be scaled-down.
Contact references. Request vendors to provide at least 3 customer references to be contacted by your team. Be clear on your request to receive at least; 1 reference from within your industry, 1 reference from outside your market space, and 1 reference from a business peer. Make sure to reach out to each reference with well-elaborated questions. Leverage these conversations to learn how the software and the vendor are perceived by existing customers.
Set milestones. Establish key milestone dates that must be met to guide you thru the process. Assign key business activities and process owners to each milestone. Ensure each milestone gets you closer to the finish line and is built upon previous milestones.
Plan for implementation and deployment. Make sure to allow for the proper time and internal resources to go thru an effective implementation and deployment phase. This includes administrators and end user-training.
Request a pilot phase. Select a small project which might cover most of your business cycles and/or key activities. This kind of project can be run thru the soon-to-be selected software. This is a critical phase of the selection process that if properly managed can confirm your expectations. Assign knowledgeable business contributors to run the pilot, set goals and deadlines just like you would on a traditional project. Remember, complete this project on the new software.
Determine your investment budget. Most organizations start with available financial resources (dollars) and try to fit business needs into an arbitrary number. That is not an effective approach. The wrong software will not turn into the right one whether it costs $1 or $1,000,000. An adequate investment budget should be built around business objectives, project timing, priorities, and available solutions in the market. If you need to scale your investment, business objectives should be adjusted accordingly.
Define success. Regardless of how great the software demos feature and buttons, you need to paint the picture of how will you define success at the end of the software selection process. Before inviting vendors for product demonstrations, it will be wise to design your parameters to achieve success. Third parties should not be telling you how to run your business. They can provide guidance and best practices in the form of consultative services.
Upgrade your salesperson. Your assigned salesperson needs to work as your external knowledgeable partner during this software selection process. A successful partner will be an informed salesperson; someone who took the time to understand your business, your industry, knows and to some extent uses the product being offered. At the very least, the external partner needs to be able to conduct a high-level walkthrough of the software they are presenting you as the best solution in the market. If this expectation cannot be met, then, this is a good sign that you should escalate your negotiation with a more knowledgeable resource within the vendor.
Build a contract negotiation schedule. While this might seem like an obvious step in the process, it is often overseen, poorly planned, and the reason for major delays during the software selection process. The organization’s legal teams expect process owners to complete a business assessment of the proposed software. However, legal counselors must complete their assessment to safeguard the company’s assets against, liabilities, potential disputes, and to stay in compliance with internal and external regulations. This legal phase could take days, weeks, and months, halting your progress towards purchasing your selected software. Make sure you know what legal counselors will expect from your team so that your assessment results to them is clear, complete, and meets their expectations.
At the end of the process, make sure that your software selection process maps to the business objectives initially established. If you do not have a robust software selection process, enlist subject matter experts that will guide you through this very important investment initiative. It could be the difference between expending limited financial resources vs investing in your organization’s future.
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