Choosing the Right Software Vendor
Some say it’s like going out and buying a baby carriage a whole nine months before baby is due, let alone, conceived. And yet, you skillfully research the baby buggy market, comparison shop, price check, compare functionalities, maybe even take it out for a test drive. If you stick to your guns, you may just end up with a brand new 4-wheeler for baby and a reliable software vendor. But chances are, you won’t, at least, not with the latter.
Ultimately, there are three things that every prospective buyer must know before choosing a new software vendor and this includes everything from ABC to ERP. Sometimes, we just return to the same vendor, in the hope of receiving a sizable discount or some free stuff, which as it happens, is comparable to being struck by lightning – twice.
After much soul-searching and I admit, too much Google-searching, there are six main criteria for choosing the right software vendor: Vendor Stability, References, Software Upgrades & Version Release, Maintenance & Support, Implementation, Training – followed by a Working Demo. If you’ve got these points covered, there’s no need to read the remainder of this post, unless you’re a resident CIO at a mid-sized organization and you’ve been asked by the CEO and BOD to choose the right software vendor. If that’s you, read on.
You may be purchasing directly from the manufacturer or from a reseller. No matter what, when it comes time to assessing stability, find out how long the manufacturer has been in business, how many employees they have and what their install base is. You want to choose a software vendor who’ll be around for long (long) time.
Ask for references. Even if the software is a perfect fit, this will hopefully be a long-term relationship and you need to check out the vendor and/or reseller from every conceivable angle. The vendor should put you in touch with references using the software, and the resellers should put you in touch with other companies for which they’ve provided similar services. No shortcuts here!
Software Upgrades & Version Release
Technology changes as quickly as you’re reading this post, so you want to make sure that your vendor is not only up-to-date with the latest technological trends, but that they continue to upgrade their software in line with tech advances. Ask how they handle bug reports and feature requests, how often they release new versions and what, if any costs are involved. Simply put, be sure you ask about frequency, policy and costs.
Maintenance & Support
Just about any complex software that’s upgraded on a regular basis will give its customers and its suppliers, a little grief from time to time. To safeguard your investment (and your job, if you’re a CIO), focus on what your vendor offers in terms of Maintenance & Support – terms, different support levels, guaranteed response time, upgrades & service packs, toll-free calls, web or email support – and can customers track the progress on line? Make sure you get what you signed up for.
It’s essential that any vendor take the time to understand your needs and how your company works. Be wary of vendors that agree to show you their solution without first asking some really big questions about what you want and need in a solution. That said, here are some of the even bigger items you should plant on your implementation checklist: business/system analysis, project management services, installation, customization, set up reports/business rules, data conversion/migration to new system, and training.
The vendor should have a clear plan for training your team on the system. Optimally, with different options, including user documentation either built into the system, file-based or a combination of both. Don’t expect printed manuals – they are almost obsolete, replaced by ready PDF files that companies can edit to suit their particular needs. Ask to see documentation samples, verify that some basic training is included in the implementation plan, set out clear training goals and consider having a “super user” on board, who will train other members of your team in house.
When choosing a software vendor, no matter how attractive the sales pitch may seem, this is not enough. You need an actual, real-deal working demo. Some vendors will offer a demo environment, while others will wow you with bits and pieces of a demo, but this isn’t enough either. Tell your vendor what your specific needs are and insist that they show you at least some of the functionality working on their application. This is a good indication that the software can, perhaps with tweaking, address your business needs, and that the sales people really know and understand what they’re selling, so that you’re not introduced to just another pretty (dashboard) face.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it? With so many issues to consider from the get-go, choosing a software vendor should be done slowly, carefully and thoroughly. But with any luck, and yes, luck should be on your side, if you use this checklist, do the homework and the due diligence, you should be able to make an informed decision and choose the best partner to meet your real business needs.