1. What do I need and want the software to do?
It may seem an obvious question! I would really recommend writing it all down though. It will really clarify what your requirements and expectations are. Getting into the detail early will help you prepare and increase the likelihood of success. When you contact potential suppliers or prospective developers it gives you a great starting point.
Once you have made your full list of requirements, separate them into ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’. There will be some requirements which are absolutely crucial. The sort of thing where you think, if it doesn’t do that there there’s no point.
There will also be quite a long list of things which would be nice to have but if they weren’t available they wouldn’t be a deal breaker. Keep these in mind too when choosing which route to go down, because they would be ‘nice-to-have’, and that still counts. These could be things which simplify or automate a manual task.
2. How many people will be using the software, now and in the next few years?
The other consideration is how well the software will adapt and grow with your business. As your business develops, the number of different roles and responsibilities will increase. How would each possible solution handle that change in circumstance? You may also want to enter new markets. Existing markets can also morph rapidly. It is important to select a solution which can change with you as your business matures.
There are also infrastructure implications connected to the number of users on your software. With larger number of users you will need to consider elements such as network traffic, internet bandwidth and existing hardware capacity. Can your existing computers and networks cope with your business’s future expansion plans. This can sometimes play a part in helping to decide which software path to follow. For instance, if you are in a location with poor broadband speeds you would probably want to reduce the amount of online traffic and use your office network as much as possible.
3. Which type of software do I need?
Which type of software will best match your requirements? If you go down the Custom route it requires a certain amount of commitment from you as you will work closely with a developer. It is important that you get on well with your developer so that you can have honest and effective conversations. They will be able to guide you with the business impact of technical decisions made. As they get to know your business they can also make suggestions about efficiency improvements that can be incorporated into the new software.
You may decide that Off-the-Shelf software is the best for you and your business. As with Custom software it takes focus and attention to detail to think through the impact on how your business operates. When you engage a software developer you can lean on their experience as they will have experienced this several times. Off-the-Shelf software is often specific to a single function, such as 3D design. Some businesses decide to purchase several different pieces of software each performing different functions. They then make these work together with some manual processes to fill in the gaps.
4. How much budget can/should I assign to it?
I suppose that depends on what return you are hoping for and how vital the new software will be in maintaining or increasing your offering to customers. It is not an exact science, but we can make informed decisions.
You can write down as precisely as possible what you want the software to do. From there, what will that achieve with regard to servicing clients and what the predicted and perceived value will be.
Software which contacts the customers of an MOT garage to remind them to book in for their annual test increases value to the customer and increases repeat business. It is not vital to the day-to-day running of the garage like a calendar system would be. However, it does have a clear business benefit. The business owner can estimate how much increased business will be generated by it and compare this against the cost and time involved.
5. Will it be easy-to-use enough for me and my team?
You and your team will want to feel comfortable and confident with the new software. It all comes down to preparation and user-friendly software.
Preparing your team involves training them and listening to their worries and issues. Some of your staff will be happy making the change to new software. Others will need more support to make the transition. It will make your life a lot simpler if you identify who is who from the start and commit the resources required. If you are buying off-the-shelf software, test it out before making any commitment. If possible, have some of your less IT-savvy team members take a look at it.
If your software requires expensive training you will need to add this cost to the expense of a new employee. Previous experience with a specific piece of software is likely to increase salary expectations.
With custom software you have the advantage of being able to request how the program operates and to simplify things as much as possible. For instance by only having a few options on screen at any one time.
In the end, if people don’t like using the software they will resist using it. They will often find a different method to complete their task. Sometimes that will mean using the previous software (if it is still available) or pen and paper. They will probably get the work done but in a less efficient way. If your new software was also going to give you new reports then you will miss out on that.
6. How will it fit in with the rest of my business?
The knock-on effect of introducing new software into your business is relative to the scope of the software. If the software is going to help you take orders, fulfill them and send out invoices then that is quite a far-reaching scope. Those are fundamental processes in a business and affects everyone in the company. You would have to consider the impact on your paper records. Which ones would you want to keep and which were now no longer needed? When you automate tasks you will probably be freeing up someone’s time to do something more useful. What would you want them to do?
If, on the other hand, the software was a new type of photo editing software that only the graphic designer uses, then the knock-on effect is much less. You would hope to see improvements in the graphic designer’s outputs. It wouldn’t change how you invoiced or collected payment. For these types of software we are mostly looking for a new technical ability rather than a re-think of how the business works.
If you prepare thoroughly by informing yourself and taking advice from those who have done it before you are making the best first step towards a successful result. Some people will have very strong points of view about which pricing model or software type is best but try not to be swayed. There are as many prejudices in the software world as there are software companies. Remember your own specific requirements and try to find the best match.
Hopefully this short guide has helped to give you a starting point. Best of luck with your new business software!