Recently, I joined a tech product review forum. This is a volunteer assignment where the sponsors encourage objective reviews. The reviews help prospective customers to make informed buying decisions.
My first assignment was to review a robotic vacuum cleaner. I found the product easy to unpack and set up. I needed to watch the robot the first few times I used it, to ensure that the machine did not get snagged on something. After multiple random passes, it cleaned the ground floor of my home. This took about three hours and two battery charges to do what I could have done manually in 20 to 30 minutes with a regular vacuum cleaner. The robot did only a fair job of picking up typical debris.
In the end, I did not recommend this product. This tool did not meet my basic needs—to clean quickly and effectively, with little effort. The robotic vacuum cleaner is an interesting technology, but not developed to where it can replace traditional vacuum cleaners. It is early in the product lifecycle, slightly costly for what it does, attractive to techies, though not ready for the majority of us to adopt.
If I had purchased this product, I would have been out a few hundred dollars at most. But what if I had purchased enterprise environment, health & safety (EHS) software? I could have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, only to have a mismatch. Here are three things the pros do to avoid costly software selection mismatches.
Start at the beginning
Don’t start looking at software until you know what you need. First understand your needs and priorities, and then seek out products that best match them. If you know your needs, you should focus on at most, two or three candidate software platforms that best meet your needs.
Do not review the universe of available software, because this only creates confusion. Back to vacuum cleaners for a moment… If you need to clean hard flooring and pile carpeting in a four-bedroom house with five family members, one cat and two dogs, then forget handheld vacuums and shop vacs. Instead, focus on the products and technology that meet your needs.
Since enterprise software initiatives can involve multiple phases over month or years, consider your most pressing needs, as well as mid-term and long term needs. Mid- and long-term needs—and project objectives—may call for software that is flexible, configurable, and scalable to accommodate new users, new business processes, and future mergers & acquisitions.
Separate the wheat from the chaff
Sometimes it’s hard to tell one software package from another, just by sitting through a couple of hours of demos. You may like each software platform better than the one before, or worse, may like them all, when, in reality, they differ greatly. And you may be subject to marketing hype like, “We are the leading provider of EHS software to Fortune 500 companies” or “We provide the lowest Total Cost of Ownership in the industry.”
To make your life easier, take a systems lifecycle approach and carry prioritized business needs from one project phase to another. This helps you to create an environment for apples-to-apples comparisons.
- During the Analysis/Needs Assessment phase, make sure to clearly identify and prioritize requirements, considering key stakeholder input.
- Use prioritized requirements (and, as appropriate, mid-term and long-term needs) as the basis for a Request for Information before the demos.
- Ask each of the “short list” of 2-3 vendors to demo their software according to use cases that you provide, and evaluate how each of the vendor packages meets your needs.
- Make sure to discuss and document your software and vendor evaluation and selection criteria before inviting vendors in for demos.
Understand IT maturity
When you select software, make sure that you understand your organization’s IT maturity. Is your company an innovator, salivating for the latest technology, and willing to work with software vendors to iron out the wrinkles in a beta product? Or does your company sit solidly in the market majority, willing to wait for software to be tested and proven before you purchase it?
- Technology Enthusiasts love tech first and foremost and want to be on the cutting edge; they are the first to try a new product.
- Visionaries love new products as well, but they also consider how those new products or technologies can be applied. They are the most price-insensitive part of the market.
- Pragmatists are open to new products, but need evidence the products will work and be worth the trouble. They are much more price conscious.
- Conservatives are much more hesitant to accept change; they are inherently suspicious of any new technology and often only adopt new products to keep up with others. They don’t highly value technology, and are not willing to pay a lot.
- Skeptics are not just hesitant, but actively hostile towards technology.
Also consider where the software lies along a product lifecycle curve. Is it an early market product, lean and mean, gaining momentum, made by a vendor with lots of innovative capabilities? Or is it a more mature technology with plenty of breadth and depth, integration and reporting capabilities, in its fourth or later version, with more enhancements on the way?
Select enterprise software that’s a good fit for your organization and its needs. These are just three ways to make a better-informed and objective enterprise software selection. If you do not have all these capabilities within your organization, do not be afraid to ask your IT group or a trusted advisor to help.
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