By: Linda Morgano, Solutions Analyst, BusinessForward
Buying a new product is always a difficult task regardless of the product. Technology selection is at the root of so many aspects of life, but it isn’t easy to make the right choice. For example, mobile phones are one of the most central devices in our lives, but to meet our needs, we are really choosing the underlying software of the phone. For all of the marketing noise about product design, it is this software that allows you to communicate. Whether your phone is cherry red or practical grey, the software is the vehicle for voice and text, emails, the internet, and the link to integrate with other devices such as your car or TV.
In business, software selection can also be waylaid by design or brand over critical needs. Finding the right technology vendor in most circumstances is a painstaking process because of the hundreds of options, the need for integration with other systems, the multiple end users, and the high cost.
A recent project brought to light some of the pitfalls, opportunities and commonalities that rear their heads in software selection that even the most experienced IT leaders may not anticipate. The customer, a national online education provider, was interested in replacing their in-house- developed learning management system (LMS) with an off-the shelf system that would allow delivery of a more engaging learning experience for students, as well as allow for the rapid reuse of course content for quicker speed to market. In order to meet these requirements, one of our recommendations was to consider a hybrid system–one that combines a LMS with a learning content management system (LCMS). The LMS would provide optimized functionality in delivering content to students as well as manage the student experience, and the LCMS would provide a learning object repository for maximum reusability and management of content.
Software selection is not an easy task and requires time, collaboration, and attention to detail. The customer took a smart approach by engaging the objective eye of experienced consultants. We were able to assess the challenge and recommend an approach that was not part of the original thought process. The hybrid system made sense both strategically and practically. Selection is just the first step. One of the main reasons for failure in software implementation is the disparity between the software that is purchased and the operational and strategic needs of a business it was meant to fulfill. Oftentimes business units and IT think they understand each other’s requirements, but really, it’s trickier than that. Complementing internal leadership with outside expertise increases the likelihood of a more successful enterprise software initiative.
Some basic tips will get you started down the right path as you consider partnering with consultants with expertise in the whole technology selection process.
- An Objective Independent Voice:
Consultants that also sell software are not going to be an independent voice. Their business is to provide the technology solutions they sell, not necessarily provide the solution you need. This is not to say that consultants aligned with software vendors aren’t providing great products. However, solution providers that are independent are focused on guiding clients through the entire selection process to find the best fit, solution and partner. Because independent consulting firms do not increase their own revenues by selling new or additional software, they have only the client’s best interests in mind.
- Proven Approach and Methodology
Solution providers with software selection experience will have a repeatable and proven approach. Their methodology will expedite the selection process at a lower cost. For example, qualitative and quantitative criteria, subject matter expertise, and requirements gathering and analysis can ensure a proper needs assessment is conducted. In order for you to find the right software for your organization, you have to commit yourself to a comprehensive, proven process and then follow it all the way. A successful software initiative is less about technological bells and whistles and more about business processes and operations.
- Client Uniqueness and Culture
You will want a partner that understands your culture. Is the IT team a legacy team? The CIO an innovator? Is the software selection the product of a merger? One that can cater to your unique business needs is also key. More and more, functional areas like finance and sales have standard needs across industries, operating more in an ecosystem than a highly specialized field. But still, rather than provide a one-size-fits- all approach, the right consultant ensures that the software initiative successfully aligns with your company’s strategic vision.
These tips and suggestions provide a starting point for finding the right expertise to guide you through the software selection, implementation, and organizational change management process. Allocate an ample amount of time to find a solutions provider that has worked with companies across industries and functional areas and truly understands the nuances and complexities of enterprise software initiatives. From there, the right partner will help you develop the RFP and guide you through every step of the process.
Now, if we could just find help when we need to upgrade our cell phones.
Linda Morgano is an experienced business process consultant who has managed projects in the midst of Hurricane Katrina and an Alaskan fishing boat, to name a few harrowing circumstances. Helping customers with business and technology needs is a piece of cake, comparatively speaking.