Rapidly advancing technology offers a terrific opportunity to take your business to the next level and infuse your company's culture with an innovative spirit.
Every year unveils new software and apps with the potential to simplify processes, streamline workflow, improve communication and increase employee and partner productivity and efficiency. However, just because a solution is new and shiny, doesn't mean that it's right for your organization and culture—at this point in time or ever.
As a business owner, you don't want to introduce too many programs that don't integrate with existing systems, don't map explicitly to your strategic and operational goals or don't make sense cost-wise. You also don't want to jump on the tech bandwagon so many times that you overwhelm your employees and run into user adoption problems.
Purchasing software for your business should include a comprehensive analysis of your needs, as assessed by your fellow leaders, partners and vendors. Establish a concrete objective, detail the projects or tasks the new solution will address and determine your end users. Then, talk with stakeholders to land on an execution plan, deciding whether you'll go with a single department pilot, a phased approach or a full-scale, simultaneous rollout.
Your final step involves asking any one of the following provider-related questions before buying software.
1. What functionality does the software provide?
Study the profile of the employee who will use the software. View experiential demos to ensure the technology aligns with how you run your business and how your stakeholders prefer to engage.
Make sure the software is scalable in case your company grows quickly, and that it has strong reporting and measurement capabilities to provide you with the data you need in a useful format.
2. What are the implementation specifics?
Speak to your prospective vendor about whether your existing IT infrastructure can support the new solution. Does the new software run on compatible platforms, and if not, how difficult will it be to integrate systems with minimal downtime?
Don't be seduced by promises of runaway business success—instead view your options through a pragmatic and realistic lens.
Understand how you will secure the new solution and protect its data, and the training you'll need to adequately prepare your employees and partners.
3. Is the vendor reliable?
Query references to learn of the vendor's success with similar installations and whether solutions were on time, on budget and delivered to other clients' satisfaction. If possible, try to review the provider's finances to ensure that it's not about to go under, leaving you holding the bag when it comes to support and maintenance.
Speaking of support, before signing a contract you should have a solid sense of how, when and where support will be available to you.
4. Can we afford this now?
Understand the full costs of the software and whether they are all-inclusive or involve upkeep and upgrade fees. Ask prospective vendors to share case studies with similar businesses that have already recouped their investment.
Business loans can help offset the cost of expensive software during the planning and rollout stages. If you need a business loan, consider working with a local or smaller bank with which you already have a relationship, and leverage a good accountant to demonstrate transparency and airtight financial management to the lender.
Purchasing software for small business can be a fun and rewarding process provided you're willing to do your due diligence upfront. Don't be seduced by promises of runaway business success—instead view your options through a pragmatic and realistic lens. Take your time with these questions, finance appropriately with business loans and, when in doubt, move forward slowly!
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