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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

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
-> 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 arePsychology Articles, listen.

Article Tags: Decision Making, Consulting Firm

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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

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