Over the years I've been involved in quite a few software evaluation processes. Some were extremely well managed and others, well, let’s just say there was room for improvement.
A well-defined process helps the business select the right solution and vendor. It also impacts the project itself and ensures that it gets off to a strong start.
Objective: Start with ‘why?’
- What is the business trying to achieve?
- What pain needs to be resolved or what is the potential gain to be realised?
- Where is the ROI going to come from?
- How will the project reduce costs, grow revenue or enhance the customer experience?
- How will the success of the project be measured in 12 months’ time?
- What are the business priorities – what are the critical versus nice to have versus future requirements functionality?
It sounds obvious, but too often projects go off track when all involved parties are not focussed on clear goals.
Having objectives and requirements articulated and documented will ensure the business is well positioned to effectively compare various solutions and make the right decision. It will also help the business to stay focussed, and not get swayed or confused by vendors showing latest technology buzz that in reality will deliver minimal business benefit. Lastly, the impact non-defined requirements can have on project scope (and therefore timeline and cost) is significant.
Software evaluation shouldn’t be treated as just another IT process
Software impacts for good or bad on all areas of the business. Business users as well as senior management all need to be involved, from requirements gathering and prioritising the requirements, through to attending vendor demonstrations and implementation.
Involving the wider business ensures a broad view, where the understanding of challenges and opportunities is obtained, helping to obtain buy-in, which is vitally important for change management user support of the project.
It’s a given functionality is important criteria, but what about other factors such as how easy it is to use, to configure or to customize? What does the roadmap look like? What is the upgrade path like?
Software is not just a short term investment but a long term engagement. Can the business see itself working with vendor for the long term? Is the vendor prepared to challenge our thinking (if need be) to get the right result? Do they have base of customers similar to your type of business? Do they focus on your industry? I believe, in terms of importance, company criteria can often eclipse all others.
Price is also an important consideration but it should not be the main focus. Often a bad decision leading to a bad project can end up significantly costing the business significantly more than the highest priced vendor/solution. Be sure also that you are comparing apples for apples and understand the basis of each vendor’s pricing. At RFP stage, it may be difficult to get to a fixed price, so ensure you understand assumptions associated with estimates.
What are the terms? Will they support by business when it need it most? What timezone support based in? Access via phone or email only?