When it comes to evaluating technology and software, small businesses often feel overwhelmed. With so many options available, how can you be sure you’re making the best choice for your company? In this article, we will outline a few tips for evaluating different types of technology and software. By following these guidelines, you can make an informed decision that will benefit your business for years to come!
Define what you need
Before you can even begin to evaluate software or technology, you need to have a clear understanding of what your business requirements are. What are your goals? What problem are you trying to solve? Are there resources that other companies in your space are using? What types of computer hardware do the applications run on? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can start looking for a solution that will meet your needs.
When you were growing up, and your parents took you to go school clothes shopping, they most likely didn’t just buy clothes that would fit you today they shopped with your growth in mind. They bought things that fit you now with room for you to grow and fill out your clothes. In your overall consideration of the right software and technology, you should also start to think about the scalability of the solution. Some tools are made to be installed once and are very costly to change. While other tools are made to grow with your business as you grow.
In this phase, you have to balance short-term goals and requirements along with considering what will happen in the next 3-5 years with your business. In 3-5 years, will you need to throw out the solution and start over or do you need something that will continue to evolve with your organization? It is important to think ahead of the curve and make sure that the technology
🔑 Key actions for this phase are:
- Define what problem you are trying to solve.
- What are the key must-haves for this software or technology?
- As your company grows, will this solution grow with you, or will you need to replace it?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
When it comes to something as important as your business, you can’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to friends, family, and other businesses in your industry. See what they’re using and see if they have any recommendations. You can also reach out to online forums and chat groups.
Often by searching online, you will find opinions but be careful about making sure that the opinion you are receiving is not biased. The best option is to utilize your requirements and the problem you are trying to solve as a backstop for selecting one solution over another.
By getting input from others, you can make a more informed decision about what software or technology is right for your business.
Types of Software & Custom Applications
Computer programs today come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be used for a multitude of purposes. When it comes to choosing the right software for your business, you need to consider your specific needs and requirements.
Some programs are designed for general use, while others are more specialized. You need to ask yourself what you plan to use the software for and how important certain basic requirements are to you.
Another thing to keep in mind is the cost of the software. Some programs are free to download, while others may require a purchase or subscription. Make sure you consider your budget when making your decision.
Common types of programs that you use today are accessed via web browsers. The term for this type of software is software as a service (SaaS). Unlike Microsoft Word, the application and data live in the cloud (online) versus on your computer. The benefit of SaaS applications is that users can access their data anywhere that has an online connection on their computer, phone or tablet. The challenge though maybe when you do not have an Internet connection some applications will not allow users to access them at all.
On rare occasions, you may run across something so specialized in our industry that no one in our industry has created system software that will match the needs of your small business. For example, AI and BioInformatics platforms are often very specific with a limited amount of users. In this case, the programmer(s) may need to develop software code for your custom application. These applications typically cost a lot of money and will be created with the value that they will deliver in mind. In these instances, very clear user requirements will need to be developed that will enable the application software to be created. Developers will use these requirements to create ways to meet your needs as they program your system software. If you are looking to create your own system software you should hire someone that has already done something similar. Additionally, you will want to receive a clear list of project tasks and estimates for what will be developed.
🔑 Key actions for this phase are:
- Visit forums where you can gain advice on the type of software or technology you are looking to implement and ask for input from people who have implemented it before.
- Search for comparison reports that will give you insight into how different vendors rank (i.e. ERP comparison).
- If you know what vendors you want to review, you can ask them for reference customers that you can talk to about their implementation. This can also be done as you get ready to make a vendor decision.
Demos and Trials
Many software and technology companies offer comprehensive demos and free trials of their products. This is a great way to see or test out a product before you commit to buying it. It will give you the opportunity to compare a product to your requirements and see if it is right for your business.
In this phase of your research, you should work on developing a scorecard that ranks the features and functionality you are looking for against what the software or technology can deliver.
Most of the software or technology that is in the market is not a 100% fit for what we are looking for, so having clear criteria will allow you to make a better long-term choice.
🔑 Key actions for this phase:
For this phase, I have developed a sample scorecard that you can use for ranking the companies you are considering against your requirements. It can be downloaded here: Vendor Scorecard
Do your research & engage software vendors
After you’ve done your research, it’s time to talk to a sales representative. This is your chance to ask any questions you may have and get more information about the product. The sales representative should be able to answer all of your questions and provide answers in writing.
Compare and contrast different solutions. Categorize features into base configuration, requirements, and what is above your requirements.
🔑 Key actions in this phase are:
- Who is currently leading with their software or technology?
- What sized companies are they focused on?
- Who best fits the requirements of my organization?
- Is there a way that we can test their software or technology before we buy?
- What is the total cost of ownership?
- What is their implementation timeline?
Make a decision
After you’ve done your research, it’s time to talk to a sales representative. At this point, you want to narrow your choices to the final 2 or 3 vendors that might be able to help you. This is your chance to ask any questions you may have and get more information about the product. The sales representative should be able to answer all of your questions and help you make a decision that’s right for your business.
Note: If you have more than 3 vendors, you should go back and evaluate your requirements and the scorecard. The data that you have about each vendor should help you to narrow your choices.
When there are issues, you are going to be working together to resolve them and if they are slow to respond to your questions or are inaccurate in their answers, guess what will happen when you have problems (i.e. slow response or inaccurate fixes).
When shopping for technology, the bells and whistles of the solution start to shade your opinion.
🔑 Key actions for this phase are:
- Is this vendor someone who I can see myself wanting to work with?
- Who else is in your industry and your size where they have implemented their solution?
- If there are key requirements that are missing, make sure you ask if they will be developed in the future.
- Will implementing their solution be a fixed fee or will it come at a variable cost?
- Where the vendor will meet your requirements, make sure that you get their commitment in writing.
As you wrap up your questions, the final decision should be a lot clearer about who you will select as a vendor.
Make a decision!
Implement the solution
During implementation, you should start to see things come together. You will want to keep coming back to your base requirements to ensure that they are met.
When you pay someone to configure software or develop a system for you, there is a level of testing that will occur to fully test out the system components (hardware, backup, recovery, and performance) and the software components (how what was configured in the software performs).
This testing provides quantifiable feedback to the vendor on the performance before you go live against your requirements. The vendor can also make adjustments where defects are found.
Prior to allowing a solution to be used in your business, you need to ensure that it solves the problem that you were trying to solve.
Evaluate the results
In every company, as software and technology are implemented, you learn as you move along. At the end of the implementation project by having an evaluation of the final outcome, you will be able to assess your ability to select software and technology. Additionally, you can put in place actions that will allow you to improve the process the next time that you are selecting software.