Volume 8, Issue 10 - November 2007

Software Savvy

Partnering with the Right Software Company
by Vivek Swaminathan

Technology has always been a catalyst for change and progress; today, computer software is a major focus of technological improvement. People recognize the value of software and how it can make their lives easier and their businesses more efficient. However, the decision to implement software into your business should not be done hastily. It is important to consider not only the impact of the software on the company, but also the impact of the relationship with your vendor. This is important during the installation process and the maintenance phase. 

Statistics regarding failure rates for information technology projects range from 15 to 50 percent. These numbers can be staggering at first glance, but inconclusive due to varying definitions of success and failure. Regardless of the hard numbers, most experts would agree that the volume of failures is significant. The common themes boil down to missed deadlines, budget overages, communication issues and poor quality. All of these indicators involve the same factor: finding the right software vendor.

As with any relationship, it all starts with trust and communication. This partnership will involve regular interaction, so you need to understand and trust the people with whom you will be working daily. When comparing prospective vendors, look beyond the sales team and talk to project managers to gauge their knowledge, professionalism, communication and candidness. Communication problems can lead to tangible issues like incorrect set-up, inaccurate development and missed deadlines. It can also lead to intangible issues like stress, frustration and distrust. To prevent this, ask about what processes are in place to ensure regular communication at many levels. These should include regular calls between your company and the software vendor at the project team level as well as periodic interaction at the leadership level. This is to ensure a clear channel of communication between people who have the authority to take immediate action. 

Find a software company with a solid structure and a focus on process and quality. In general, the senior experts and management at your vendor are not your points of contact. This means you need to verify that there is a structure in place for the project team to tap the knowledge of the company and escalate internally. Similarly, you want a company that constantly strives to improve processes and quality. These companies always will be looking for ways to improve efficiency, enhance the software, improve the speed and quality of installs and position their people and business for success. 

Finally, look at the software. This is clearly one of the most important aspects of your decision, but it should also be one of the easiest to evaluate. After a complete demonstration of the software package, you can evaluate functionality, configurability, usability, performance, overall quality and cost. Look for a product that can support the functions of your business, but be open to new workflows and processes. 

Do not just focus on the end-user experience; analyze how well the software meets your needs with its standard configuration options as well. The product should be able to meet your needs without significant programming, which is generally costly and time-consuming. Evaluate whether it is easy to navigate through the system and if workflows are intuitive. If the end-users are confused and unhappy, your business will suffer. 

Also, talk to existing customers before making a purchase. Factors such as response time and errors are difficult to judge in a demonstration because they do not generally occur in a controlled environment. With regards to cost, you get what you pay for, so look for a company that is affordable, but meets all the above criteria. 

In order to create a successful partnership you need to understand the failure and success factors. Carefully scrutinizing your vendor prospect to understand the company with which you are working is the key to making the partnership a success. 

Vivek Swaminathan is director of operations for WTS Paradigm based in Middleton, Wis. He may be reached at vswaminathan@windowengineering.com. Mr. Swaminathan’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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