Acquiring New Software: How IT Can Help
The marketing department wants to buy an integrated project management system. Accounting is looking for software that incorporates a more up-to-date set of tax rules. Operations needs a better inventory system. Sure, there are software packages out there that can help—but how will the right ones be chosen, and how will they work with the organization's existing systems?
The software selection and implementation process is often fraught with problems. It is usually too complex, and at the same time it has a low probability of delivering the best solution, on time and/or within budget, which meets users' needs and expectations. The traditional RFP process has always been questionable, as vendors tend to have low-level staff prepare the proposal, with the direction to respond positively to every function point possible. The process can and should be streamlined.
Here are some suggested steps:
- Start with functionality requirements, understood and agreed upon by all stakeholders. IT can help business users produce a streamlined requirements document that will serve as an excellent project roadmap. They are often aware of legacy functions that already address the business needs, and they know what will be required in terms of systems integration.
- There is a plethora of information available online that will yield a list of vendors that work in the selected area. Both IT and non-IT team members should participate in choosing a maximum of three candidates whose products are most likely to address the needed functionality.
- Each of the agreed-upon vendors should be invited to present to a jointly established selection committee, where both IT and business evaluations for each vendor can occur.
- The ultimate vendor selection criteria should include, at a minimum:
- What will the system cost?
- Does the system seem technically feasible?
- Is all the needed functionality there? If not, is the software adaptable?
- Will the software be easy to use for the group that needs it, without hours of training?
- Will the software work on multiple platforms, e.g., mobile devices in the field?
- How well will the vendor be able to work with the project scope provided by the business?
- Does the vendor usually deliver on time and within budget? Ask for references, but also read reviews online and contact other customers with any questions.
- Does the vendor seem well-established? You don't want to build a relationship with a company that's not going to be around.
This selection process may seem like a lot of work up front, but it will pay off many times over in terms of project value, cost control, accurate time frames and a realistic assessment of the project's value. This is an area where the IT team can be tremendously helpful in getting it right the first time.