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Get it Right the First Time – A Small Business Guide to Software Selection

Introduction

What to Buy – That is the Question

Buying decisions are the essence of life in the commerce-driven 21st century. From everyday decisions like selecting lunch from a restaurant menu, to getting a new car, to major company acquisitions, much of our time is spent “buying”.

And these choices are anything but simple. Each marketer professes to be the sole champion of our consumer rights and pummels us with enticing advertising messages, about how their wares are “the best”. Seductive as these messages are, no product or service is quite the same. The difference may be glaring – that of “better vs. worse”, or a subtle tradeoff between price, quality, feature set, customer service, or durability.

It is therefore important to keep our wits about & develop a systematic approach to the buying decision. Our view should be broad & farsighted, rather than buying based only on what immediately meets the eye. Hasty decisions leave us with flashy features never used, or hefty repair bills of products that came cheap.

A good example of a systematic approach is when you buy a car. A myriad of factors are considered & weighed, which impact the owner for the next decade. This includes brand, performance vs. style, price, safety, terms of finance, mileage, maintenance, resale value & so many other factors.

Selecting Software

In our new “wired” modern reality, software is no less important than products & services in our everyday lives. Whether it’s a personal email program, chat software for instant connection, collaboration software to organize scattered employees, or an ERP implementation to manage company processes – there’s no surviving without them!

But we’re somewhat more used to buying products & services than software, which is a relatively recent phenomenon. In many ways, selecting software is no different from selecting a product or service. Although intangible, software, also address a very real need, on which personal & professional success often depends. Naturally, some of the same purchase factors apply – brand, service, & maintenance costs.

In spite of the patronizing obviousness of the above, software selection is a grey zone; an underdeveloped arena. This accounts for the high incidence of “shelfware” – software that are bought with grand intentions, but end up on dusty shelves. This is because unlike products & services, it is not so intuitively evident that software have “life cycles” & need to be “maintained”, “updated”, & “repaired”.

Therefore, purchases are made based on what immediately meets the eye – technical features. This mistake is understandable, because technical features are well documented & advertised, & easy for the buyer to use as decision criteria. But with this approach, factors that are just as pertinent, but not so immediately obvious, get left out. Some research & serious thinking is needed to gauge these “hidden” factors.

Key Factors To Consider

1) Company History & Experience

The vendor needs to be sized up before we even go on to consider the software itself. Company background is essential because, unlike traditional companies, software companies are often small, & often beyond national boundaries. Since these companies would likely be handling our sensitive data, we need to do a background check. Some related questions are:

How Long Have They Been Around?

As in most cases, we can reasonably assume that past record is a good indicator of future performance. Important questions are – How long have they been around? How long have they been in the field? If they’re offering business collaboration software, have they been in this industry long enough? Even if the software is new, do they have experience developing related software?

What is Their Niche?

Does the company know your niche well enough to know your needs? If you are a small/mid sized business, a company mainly serving the Fortune 500 is not for you. If you work from home, it is unlikely a solution serving large offices will meet your needs.

The Ultimate Testament – The Customer

The ultimate judge of software is its users. To get a true picture, it is important to look at how customers are using the software & what their comments are. Does  shareit for laptop their site include a client’s list or page? Check out what customers say under testimonials, or you could even get in touch with the customers yourself for comments.

Dangers

There are certain things about the software industry that a buyer should be wary of. Software startups have shorter life spans than traditional companies & ride high on a success wave, but go “pop” when the industry bubble bursts. This was exemplified by the “dot com burst” of 2000. Whether the current spate of “Web 2.0” companies constitutes another expanding bubble which will inevitably burst is debatable, but it makes sense to be wary & bet your money on dependable companies with proven track records.

2) Cost

There’s no denying the importance of cost effectiveness in buying decisions across the board. Yet costs should be seen in a broad perspective, because low entry costs may well result in higher total costs along the product’s life.

Features vs. Price

A cost-benefit analysis makes sense, & costs need to be compared with the software’s range of features & functionalities. A document management system may not be the cheapest, but it may allow you to also set up a virtual office. Going for loads of features also constitutes a trap, because users never get around to using half of them.

Needs vs. Price

Another question is whether there is an overlap between features & needs at all. Many features may not relate to needs sought to be addressed. You should clearly define your needs, & classify features as “needed features” & “features not needed”. Another possible scheme of classifying features could be “must have”, “nice to have”, & “future requirements”.

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