Volume 35, Number 8, August 2000
Purchasing Software: A Quick Lesson
How to Match Software to Your Business Needs
by Andrew Narynski
Even with so much momentum in the area of software and systems development, determining which functionalities will add to the bottom line is still the key to purchasing software.
The first step should be to determine your needs in a written form. Once this is accomplished, the same measuring stick will evaluate all software solutions being taken into consideration. As the search and evaluation process continues, the list of requirements will need to be modified to include any new needs and perhaps remove or edit existing ones.
As in buying any other tool for your business, take a close look at the different providers, not just the solutions. To start with, facts such as how long the company has been in business, does the developing company do the installation, is there adequate support staff and does the software provider understand your business.
Since the software world is still a somewhat newer business area, you may be dealing with companies that have only been in business for a few years. Taking a look at how they plan to grow their package and support services will assist in determining their stability and compatibility with your needs. With providers that have been in business for many years, looking at how aggressively they have reinvested into keeping their package current with technology speaks volumes for how dedicated they are to the industry.
Knowing whether a company is a reseller or the developer can have an impact on the ease of the installation. If a company is the developer, changes and modifications can be made more accurately and quickly than if they are not. If the company is a reseller, understanding the process needed to make minor changes is crucial.
After installation, support of the software solution can make or break its contribution to the bottom line. One of the largest costs a software company has to incur, other than development, is having staff in place to support its customers. Thus, understanding how the users will be supported, and by whom, is crucial.
Ensuring that a software provider understands the glass business can save an enormous amount of time and money. For example, certain must-haves, such as the ability to enter dimensions, and then price the glass by square foot, can be large pitfalls for providers that do not understand the inherent need for this. On the production side, this can be even more critical. Just imagine the effect of glass being routed to tempering before drilling, or not having any additional trim added to account for edgework that reduces the overall size of the cut glass. We often take for granted that everyone knows these details, as they can become second nature. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with software providers who have limited exposure to the glass industry.
The next step in evaluation should be from a more technical standpoint. Ask questions such as how long the package has been in operation and when a major upgrade is expected. While being a Beta, or test, site can have its advantages it does require a strong commitment from both sides to work through unexpected problems. On the other hand, buying software that is near the end of its life cycle can cause you to look at upgrading or replacing your solution much sooner than anticipated.
As you work with potential providers to put together the best package for your requirements do not overlook what the anticipated needs are in the future. For instance, if inventory control or capacity planning are not needed initially, ask if they can be added later and if so, at what cost. Some packages are more modular than others, which makes expanding the package simple and cost-effective.
The level of seamless integration in a package is another area that needs to be reviewed. Having software that communicates easily from module-to-module as well as with other solutions that you have in-house can help eliminate double entry. Having to make double entries can be the source of extra overhead as well as data errors.
Another area to look at is the ease of making changes in the area of forms and labels. In the event that a change needs to be made, can you do it yourself or does the software provider need to do it? If the software provider needs to make the changes, find out how much it will cost and how long of a lead-time will be needed. Such points should be clarified up front.
If the package is using an open database configuration (ODBC) the flexibility level will greatly increase. In this scenario an off-the-shelf report generator can be used (ask the vendor which package he/she recommends), which will allow someone within your company to make the changes quickly and cost-effectively.
Once you develop a thorough understanding of the above points, deciding which software solution best fits your company will be easy to do. At the end of the day the solution must satisfy the majority of your list of requirements to be a viable option. Including the list of requirements in the contract is a recommended step for maintaining the integrity of the solution. Since quality levels on both product and services can fluctuate greatly from company to company, remembering the adage The bitter taste of poor quality lasts much longer than the joy of a low price can be very important.
Andrew Narynski serves as the North American sales representative for Albat & Wirsam Software, based in Oakville, Ontario.
© Copyright 2000 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.