By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
Selecting a software solution can be a daunting task and, if not done correctly, can end disastrously. Several things should be considered when considering undertaking such a task.
The most important thing to understand is why a replacement system is being considered. Is the cost of the current system too high? Are users frustrated with the how cumbersome the current system is to use? Does the current system fall short in delivering what is desired?
As part of the process, a team should be created that consists of a cross section of the actual users that will end up using the software selected. In no instance should the selection of a software system ever be carried out by one individual. A core group of about five individuals that have a high stake in the final selection should also be created. These individuals will typically ensure that the process of selecting a software solution does not go wayward or stall. These are also the individuals that will communicate with the vendors as process proceeds or questions arise.
An option to consider when evaluating different software systems is to hire a consultant. A consultant can use his technical expertise to not only to interpret specifics but also to simply and prioritize concerns.
It is imperative that your users get a “hands on” opportunity during your evaluation process. This will give your users the ability to test drive the proposed software solution. During this activity, users can ask questions and determine whether the software is visually appealing.
Steps should be taken to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the total cost of ownership. Initial purchase costs alone do not paint to the whole picture. Costs should be analyzed over a five year period, minimally.
Although costs are important, costs should never be the driving force behind a software selection. Of primary importance is the software performance. The software selection should be based on whether the software meets the needs of your users.
Too often, software selections are made as a result of political pressures. Political pressures can be avoided by pre-defining and, more importantly, communicating, and adhering to objective criteria.
Software system implementations offer different options:
- Hosted solutions call for the vendor to provide and manage all the needed resources, including hardware and software.
- Onsite solutions call for all hardware and software to be installed and managed in your facilities.
- Temporary Hosted solutions call for the vendor to temporarily host a software system until hardware arrives at your facilities.
- Phased implementations allow for a quick implementation of the most important modules of a software system, and delaying the implementation of less significant modules.
- Data conversions can vary greatly by vendor. Some vendors will offer complete data conversion services. Other vendors will offer partial data conversions. Still other vendors do not provide data conversions at all.
- Training options can range from traditional on-site training to web based training. More recent trends include webinar training in which the trainer provides training via the internet and telephone conferencing system. Training can also be offered exclusively via online courses.
Care must also be taken to ensure that the implementation is not too lengthy. Long implementations can lead to a loss of momentum and interest.
Make it a point to conduct site visits and follow up on references. Doing so will give you an opportunity to see the software in action and interact visit with actual users of the proposed software solution.