Need new Business Software? Read this first!
Guest article by K.N. Kukoyi, founder of Purposeful Products.
The Gartner Group, the world's leading information technology company, has reported a growing trend; businesses without formal or mature IT departments are increasingly making software purchasing decisions without technical advice.
I have worked in the IT industry since 2004, and sat on my first software selection panel in 2006.In this post I’ll be sharing some tips from one of my software survival guides: Don't Buy Software For Your Small Business Until You Read This Book,written to assist small businesses with the issues they face when buying software. I hope this article will help youavoid wasting time and money on unsuitable, or inferior products.
The sinful six: common complaints with new software.
Six of the most commonplace issues and complaints that I come across are that software:
1. Ticks the right boxes “on paper,” but in practice is difficult, or time-consuming to understand, and operate.
In this scenario, once businesses start to use their new software, they quickly notice problems with it.
The menu options are in weird places, the processes are illogical, it takes 8 steps to do what could be possible in 3…
Companies often get caught out because they don’t dig into the detail of how a product does what it does. The savvy software purchaser asks not just what the product can do, they find out how it does it.
Get hands-on with the product, and give it a thorough road test using some realistic work scenarios, and always take advantage of product demonstrations, and the opportunity to “try before you buy” to get a feel of how easy a product is to use.
2. Is missing important features.
Usually in this case, features which are important are forgotten, and there is a failure to anticipate how requirements for software may change in the future.
Taking on new staff, expansion in customer numbers, and changes in legislation, processes or policies can all mean that software that was once adequate is no longer a good fit for your business.
As a result, the selection and purchasing process must either be repeated. If not, companies are left to find ways to compensate for gaps using workarounds.
Make sure you cover all the bases. Keep a checklist of requirements you can use as a benchmark, and speak with, or survey everyone who will be using, supporting, or benefitting from new software, and consult with your legal, finance, security and compliance teams if you have access to these resources.
3. Is unreliable.
After committing to a product, you may come to find that the software runs at a snail’s pace, or is unreliable; crashing at theworst moments, “timing out” leaving you checking your watch or going to make tea whilst it loads, losing work, and generally inspiring computer rage!
To avoid these pitfalls, make use of free trials, and pay attention to how long it takes to perform commonplace activities.
4. Does not support businesses in meeting legal, or regulatory requirements.
Even worse than suffering an inconvenience, this complaint can leave businesses open to fines, or even legal action.
No matter where you’re based, there is likely to be local business legislation in place, including Data Protection Acts, Disability Acts, and Privacy laws to comply with, as well as the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming in May 2018 which will affect you if you have any customers in the European Economic Area.
Online privacy, and data management are going to be hot topics for many years to come.
Make sure the software you use helps you to operate within the law, and not outside of it. Check the specifics of key regulations relevant to your business and industry, and get full responses along with examples of how software companies have interpreted legislation and built, or configured their systems to comply with it.
5. Is incompatible with other software systems.
Your email marketing system comes from here, your CRM system comes from there…
You use Google Apps, or Outlook for your business email, which also contains a separate list of your contacts.
Enterprise systems generally service a number of different business functions all-in-one, (including finance, sales, and CRM tools, for example) but these can be complex, and expensive.
Small businesses tend to use lots of niche tools to run their operations, but even if the individual tools are satisfactory, often these do not“play nicely” with each other.
Check the integrations offered by the companies that sell the products that you’re interested in. Fortunately, software automation tools such as Zapier, IFTTT, Automate.io, Piesync and Microsoft Flow can also be used to connect an increasingly wide range of products.
Ask vendors which products they integrate with, and go to pages like Zapier’s where you can type in the name of a product and get a list of the integrations on offer.
A few whizzy (but reliable) integrations can make all the difference - a true gift for busy business owners.
6. More expensive to run than first anticipated.
“Ah. We didn’t factor those costs in when we chose the product…”
Unanticipated costs related to software purchases can be a real set back financially.
Keep a note of the monthly, quarterly and annual expenses, add-ons, upgrades, fees for services rendered, or other products or services you’ll need to get started, or to extract value from each product that you’re considering. Use this data to make like-for-like cost comparisons for at least the first 12 months, and to help you to assess Total Cost of Ownership (TCO.)
Often companies don’t spend enough time thinking about what will happen when they hit the next, more expensive (and sometimes unaffordable) price tier.
Will you take the financial hit and accept rising product costs, or start hunting for a replacement tool (and repeat the selection and set up processes all over again)?
Look at the costs and usage caps at the price tiersabovethe one that you need right now. Choosing a product with a price-friendly model that your business can grow with will spare you from the upheaval of migrating to new products due to rising costs.
Before concluding this post, let’s cover a few other tips to assist you with your due diligence:
Use comparison and review sites to gather information about the best products available.
Capterra, offers business software reviews and infographics to help you find the right tool(s) for your business. G2crowd,allows users to draw comparisons between different software and service providers, whilst AlternativeTo is great for discovering alternatives to products you’re already familiar with.
Consider customer support beforeyou actually need it!
I like to ping an email to any businesses that I’m thinking of working with.
It’s surprising how many never respond, aren’t particularly helpful, or send you into an endless vortex of automated emails, where it is virtually impossible to reach a human, or get answers to specific questions!
Will this level of service be acceptable in an emergency?
The answer to this question should depend on what you use the product for, so consider that the quality and speed of customer care you receive should be better (and snappier) with products that you rely on heavily.
Be sure to check the “small print”
Read the terms of business, Service Level Agreement (SLA), End User License Agreement (EULA), or other forms of software licensing agreement before you commit. Often these can be accessed from a link in the website footer of software vendors, or from the settings, or about menus in mobile apps.
Look out for clauses related to privacy. Is data shared? If so, who with? Where is data stored? Who owns the content created using the app – does it belong to you, or the vendor?
Be aware that by using software, you may already be bound by the software vendor’s terms whether you signed an agreement, or not.
Remember - the bigger the role a piece of software plays in the smooth running of your business activities, the more time you should invest in the product selection process to avoid unpleasant surprises.