A good system should impact every single part of your business. These highly sought-after enterprise applications help manage activities, including planning, research and development, purchasing, supply chain management, sales, and marketing.
There are countless solutions available, so it’s crucial that you make the right choice that fits your organization. But do you know what the selection process looks like?
Don’t worry if you’re not familiar! That’s the very reason we built this ultra-comprehensive, step-by-step guide on how to select a system.
To get started, we’re going to walk you through a software selection process. This easy-to-follow, four-stage process helps you determine your business needs, evaluate and compare solutions, validate your technical requirements, and negotiate a great contract.
1. Requirements and Research
You can think of your list of requirements as a selection criteria checklist. Requirements are what your business needs from a software solution. These criteria will help you decide whether a system is a right fit for your business.
When evaluating business requirements, keep in mind that a software’s greatest advantages lie in comprehensive data analysis, thorough and accurate reporting functions, and multiple process automation capabilities.
We go into depth with this topic in our requirements list, but here’s the reader’s digest version of questions to ask yourself:
- Evaluate your current business operations and how software can fit into them. For example, do you need a responsive solution to accommodate your employees using mobile devices? What are the reporting and metrics that will be most useful to you when running your business?
- Consult with senior-level executives who can engage and encourage employees in the process of implementation. If possible, appoint a team to oversee the process of selection and installation, including an executive and a project manager.
- Take honest stock of the ways your business could and should change. Determine the ways capabilities can transform your operations and improve business performance.
Armed with your specific business requirements, you can now perform preliminary research to identify which system meets your needs. You can do most of this research online, but you can also contact vendors and seek informed opinions from colleagues who use software systems. Consider consultants as potential resources to find the right fit for your business.
2. Vendor Comparison And Sourcing
Use the information you’ve obtained from requirements gathering and research to help you get relevant, informative answers from potential vendors.
- Make sure the vendor’s product works with your existing legacy systems.
- Check whether the vendor has experience in your industry, which increases the likelihood of a smooth transition.
- Verify that the vendor completely understands your business needs and provide the vendor with any project plan you’ve drawn up.
Requests for Information (RFI) and Other RFx
After you’ve shortlisted several applications, it’s time to send your RFx documents to those vendors. These include formal requests for proposals (RFPs), quotes (RFQs), and other information.
3. Technical Validation
Once you’ve submitted information requests to vendors and received responses, it’s time to evaluate the available systems thoroughly.
Technical Evaluation Scorecards
Comprehensive scorecards accurately and thoroughly evaluate the systems, providing a detailed breakdown of every function and capability. You should assess the system using at least four criteria: cost, supporting user needs, improvement of internal processes, and flexibility.
Demos, Proof of Concept, and More
After you’ve narrowed down your list of vendors using tech evaluation scorecards and proposal information, it’s time to request demos from the vendors. In addition to demos, request documentation that addresses how the system will meet your business needs.
4. Financial Due Diligence
Business Case Review
Evaluate the capabilities and cost of a system against your business processes and needs, your organization’s budget, and the projected savings to ensure the system will benefit your business and that it is financially viable at this time. Consider what the actual cost of ownership of implementing a project will be.
Evaluating Potentially ‘Hidden Expenses’
Before choosing a system, you should calculate the costs of replacing hardware, updating the software program, and performing routine maintenance.
Contract Negotiation and Close
After you’ve chosen your vendor, received your quote, reviewed your proposal, and completed your case review, it’s time to negotiate your contract.
While this strategy may be time-consuming and labor-intensive, your meticulous software selection process will pay off.
But to make things a little bit easier, we provide technical evaluation scorecards for extra diligent documentation. Before long, you’ll find the perfect solution for your business.
Now that you understand how the selection process works, we’re going to get into the purpose of this article.
Below is our list of the most crucial software selection criteria. You can use these criteria throughout all stages of the selection process to determine if a solution is right for you.
1. Functionality and Ease of Use
Firstly, we have some standard questions to brew over: What are the system’s functionalities and ease of use? And what functionalities and degree of user-friendliness do you need?
Answering these questions will help you decide if the product is the right fit for your business on a fundamental level.
This step may be the most lengthy and mundane to complete – it involves an in-depth evaluation of your business and the product – but hold tight. This is the important work.
Taking the following actions can help you better understand the software, gather your requirements, or compare systems:
- Requirements Gathering – Consider the current challenges that your organization faces that could be solved or reduced with a system. Then, evaluate which of the system functionalities would accomplish this.
- Consider Business Process Automation – Think of all of the routine business processes at your organization that could be automated and evaluated if the particular solution is equipped with the tools to do that.
- Examine End-Users – How tech-savvy are your end-users and do they have the capacity to navigate complex software features? Have they used a system before? Answering these questions will help you determine if the products’ user-friendliness is up to par with your requirements.
- Plan for Centralization – Consider the systems you currently use that will need to be integrated with your system and inquire about integration possibilities.
2. Vendor Viability
Before you become invested in a particular solution, it’s wise to ask yourself: What is the vendor’s reputation, and can I work with them long-term? Even if a product comes with all of the right functionality, it should be out of the question if the company isn’t trustworthy and secure. Beyond company credibility, you should review the scalability of the product in order to determine if this can be a lasting transaction.
Analyzing vendor viability ensures not only a great system but a great partner for your business. Consider the following factors when comparing systems and the vendors that provide them:
- Company Credibility – Investigate how the vendor has changed organizationally in recent years and inquire about the future direction of the vendor’s business. In addition, consider the age and financial health of the company.
- Product Viability – Find out how long the product has been on the market and seek references from their customers. Ask the vendor how long they intend to keep running the product, and if they regularly distribute updates or work to improve upon the product. If you really want to cover all of your bases, ask the vendor about the products they plan to issue in the coming years.
- Scalability – Evaluating product scalability requires you to look internally and into the future of your business. Will your need to add users in the future, or expand on functionality? Does your business have the potential to expand into new markets? Consider if the system features can support and enhance your business strategy. This is especially important for young, growing businesses to consider – your chosen system needs to be able to grow with you.
There’s a great deal of technology weaved into systems – for example, standard software should contain capabilities related to business intelligence, reporting and customization. Similar to the functionality evaluation, you should ask yourself: What technologies does the solution offer, and what technologies do we need?
Consider the following factors when you’re ready to compare solutions or are actively performing your software selection process:
- Customization – Think about whether the solution is turnkey or will be customized to your organization and unique business processes. If the solution needs to be customized to function, ensure the vendor is able to complete the request.
- Requirements – Consider whether the solution can meet the technical needs of your organization. For example, can it generate visual, real-time sales reports that can be used in presentations?
- Value – Evaluate whether the solution is leveraging the most recent, cutting-edge technology and if the vendor plans to continually update the system. Considering this factor ensures that you aren’t investing time and money to implement a system that soon will become outdated.
It may feel obvious that you should consider the cost of a system, but unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds. With several disparate elements to account for, it’s important to ask yourself: What will the true cost of the solution be?
The true cost consists of licensing fees, which depend on how many users you have, the software itself or the modules you select, hosting or hardware, implementation, maintenance, training and support. It’s wise to determine a rough estimate of your ROI before you sign any kind of contract.
Consider the following factors while evaluating the cost of a solution:
- Basic Pricing Information – First, evaluate the cost of the platform and whether it is appropriate for the functionalities and technologies it offers. If the vendor’s pricing structure is unjust, you can likely find another product – there are plenty of fish in the sea.
- True Cost – Next, work on determining the true cost of the solution. Calculate the long-term total cost of ownership (TCO), making sure to incorporate all applicable costs from the list above.
- ROI – Once you’ve finished the latter evaluations, estimate whether the projected return on investment (ROI) will be significantly more than the TCO.
5. Support and Training
Support and training are the pieces of the pie that get a system up and running and functional at all times. In the current market, there’s a wide range of what vendors offer for support and training.
A comprehensive training plan typically includes access to training videos or documentation, an online knowledgebase or user community and options for in-person training. Comprehensive support typically includes access to a call center as well as various online resources.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some vendors offer no support or training, or outsource support and training.
Considering these points, it’s important to take a close look: What kind of support and training will be provided? What kind of support and training do we need? You should review support and training offerings, ensure they’ll work for your end-users and draw up a clear agreement with the vendor.
Consider the following factors while reviewing support and training:
- Needs of the End-Users – First, take some time to consider the needs of the end-users. What sort of training, such as in person versus virtual, will be the most convenient and effective for the end-users? Do you have an internal IT team that can assist with technical support, or will you rely completely on external support?
- Pricing – Is the cost of support and training included in the licensing fees, or will this be an additional investment?
6. Industry Expertise
Industry expertise essentially refers to a vendor’s ability to cater to your specific needs. Depending on your requirements, you very well may be able to find a solution that’s designed specifically for your business type and size.
Working with a vendor that understands how your business works is a major advantage and allows for things such as industry best practices built into the system. Ask yourself: Does the nature of your business require a specialized platform?
- Expertise – Consider how long the vendor has worked in your particular industry and if they’ve proven success within the industry.
Implementation is literally vital to getting your new system up and running. It’s good to ask how the vendor will ensure a successful implementation. This step will be especially important if you anticipate an involved implementation, such as with migrating from a legacy system to a new solution.
- Implementation Assistance – Does the vendor offer implementation assistance? If so, what implementation approach do they take?
- Implementation Partner – If the vendor doesn’t offer implementation assistance, you’ll likely want to hire an implementation partner.
This concludes our list of software selection criteria. You can use this list to evaluate solutions throughout your entire software selection process.
Selecting a system is a long process with many factors to consider. But as you can see, it can be broken down into manageable parts. Follow the step-by-step process we’ve outlined, and remember to begin by gathering your requirements.
With rigorous research and selection, you’ll end up with a vendor that will deliver the system to take your business to the next level.
Do you have any remaining questions or comments about the software selection process? Let us know.