The task of ... software products and service ... be so daunting that projects are often waylaid until ... finds itself making critical business ... a crisis. I
The task of researching software products and service providers can be so daunting that projects are often waylaid until an organization finds itself making critical business decisions during a crisis. Inaction is a course of action which can cost an organization both in terms of employee morale and lost financial resources. Typically a company will use the cost of the proposed project as a deterrent to decision making. Before answering that you can't afford to, ask yourself if you can afford not to.
Good companies have standardized processes in place so that limited human resources aren't wasted on procedural inefficiencies. Elite companies have taken it a step further and have even standardized their decision making processes. For these companies, a good decision is simply a logical conclusion to a well administered plan. Good planning consists of several key elements:
-> A documented decision making process -> Needs analysis -> A budget -> A realistic implementation timeline -> Product and vendor research -> Service provider selection criteria
Documentation: Without appropriate documentation, there is no standardization. Decide who in the organization will be involved in the selection process and at what level. Then identify an individual to be responsible for facilitating the needs assessment and ultimately deciding which products to consider. Decide who will research and present the solutions and the pros and cons of each to the group. Your final documentation should also include information regarding the process by which a final decision will be made and the deadline for making that decision.
Needs Analysis: Due diligence is your responsibility and begins with a detailed understanding of your needs. Regardless of what type of product you're researching, you'll need to identify the critical element that drives the business need. For example, if you're looking for accounting software and inventory management is key, you have narrowed your search down to products with inventory management capabilities.
The next step in your process should be a comprehensive needs analysis of the already identified critical elements and the need as a whole. Determine what features are non-negotiable. These are your deal breakers--the things you can't live without. Then develop a wish list based on your organization's fantasy of the perfect solution. The items on this list are things you would like to have but could live without if all your other needs are met.
Budget: You'll also need to set a budget. Your budget should include the software costs, additional hardware, changes in operating systems, and product implementation and training. There are also long term costs to consider when evaluating products. There may be the cost of ongoing maintenance contracts, support contracts, and additional training due to product modifications or staff turnover.
Don't be alarmed if at some point the vendor asks you what your budget is for the project. If you are working with a reputable firm, they are using this question as a means of establishing whether or not they can offer you a viable solution within your price range. Good consultants will refer you in another direction if they are unable to meet your needs.
Implementation Timeline: A successful implementation is dependent on a realistic timeline. After having established your timeline, determine whether or not you have the capacity to meet your timeline and then determine whether or not the consulting firm has the capacity to meet your timeline.
Good clients are working proactively so that they can enjoy the luxury of making good decisions. Good consultants are managing client expectations so that projects are managed and completed according to a mutually agreed upon and well communicated schedule.
Research the Product and the Vendor: Your decisions goes beyond that of product selection. It is equally important to research the vendor. Have a list of questions you ask each vendor. Start with the following list of questions.
-> How long has the vendor been in business? -> Historically, what has their commitment been to the end user? -> How have they managed to keep up with changing technologies? -> What is the guarantee? -> Is there a guaranteed response time? -> Is the product supported locally? -> Can you view the working product at a local business?
Selecting a Consulting Firm: Successful software implementation can only happen if both you and the consultants are equally committed to the project. When you have identified two or three plausible software solutions, your final decision will be made based on which consulting firm you feel can best help you achieve your goals. Pay attention to details, and ask a series of questions of each firm.
-> Throughout the sales process the consulting firm is courting you--it doesn't get any better than this. Are they readily answering your questions or are you waiting 2-3 days before your calls are returned? -> How long have they been working with this product? -> How and why did they choose to represent this particular product? -> What is their professional background? -> Were they end-users? -> What is their implementation process? Is it tangible? Can you see the materials? -> Who are their clients? -> Ask for references for whom a project has gone smoothly and also ask for references for whom the project went less smoothly. The idea here is to find out how the consultants handle things when the going gets tough.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is and when people tell you who they are, listen.
Niki Bohne is the Director of Management Consulting at Kern, DeWenter, Viere, Ltd. For free newsletter subscriptions on topics ranging from estate planning, tax impact and nonprofit organizations go to http://www.kdv.com.