Most of us don’t buy software very often. In fact, unless you are a senior Information Technology Manager, you may do so only a couple of times in your career. The most common software selection problems are easily avoided with a little advance planning.
Before you spend hundreds of person hours selecting a software product for your organization, be sure you have a clear understanding of the following:
1) What is your organization’s software acquisition process?
The truth is that most organizations usually purchase updates or renewals to existing systems. It is only occasionally that they license a completely new product. As a result, there may be no process for acquiring something new. This lack could result in total chaos when you try to license software. So to complete the acquisition, you will need to develop a purchasing process. Don’t be afraid to ask your vendor for insights on how other organizations do it.
If there is a process, or after you’ve developed one, make sure everyone involved understands and agrees with it. Your Purchasing, IT and Legal departments all need to be on the same page. That means you must document the process and get everyone to sign off on it, or at least agree via email with what you intend to do. Otherwise, it may take so long to get your purchase past these three departments that you will lose your funding and have to reapply for it!
2) Where will the funding come from?
Speaking of which, when it comes to funding, hope is not a strategy. Depending on the nature of your organization, funds can come from a number of different areas. If a budget has been approved, find out exactly who controls it.
Often, money from one budget line item may get allocated to cover shortfalls in another area. Be sure this can’t or doesn’t happen to your project—you need to be confident that funds allocated to you are funds that will remain in your budget. Ask lots of questions and request that you be consulted about any changes.
Several of our clients have experienced purchasing delays due to lack of internal communication on funding rules and CIO or CEO preferences, or because the business review function and the IT function don’t develop policies jointly. As a knowledge professional, you know the value of information sharing—it’s especially critical at this juncture.
3) Keep everyone informed.
Once you have the process and the budget tied down, be sure to keep everyone up to date on your project. Now is not the time to go dark. Make a point of sending an email to everyone involved, every couple of weeks. If it’s going to take a few months, replace the email with a face to face chat or telephone call every month. You want people to remember that the organization has committed to this project and that the team is working hard to ensure it’s done on time and on budget.
Bonus Tip—On Premise or SaaS?
One issue that pops up from time to time is whether to buy the software and install it on your organization’s own servers (On Premise) or simply rent it and access it via the Internet (Software as a Service, aka SaaS). There are some interesting pros and cons to explore. On Premise gives the purchaser complete control over the software and the data stored in it. SaaS, on the other hand, has a lower total cost of ownership. The key factor is how comfortable your organization is with their data being stored on a vendor’s servers.
Often, end users prefer SaaS because it is less of a budgetary strain. It also simplifies downstream support (maintenance, upgrades) and service. If you can access the Internet, but can’t access your SaaS system, you simply call your vendor. No need to pester IT. And if you can’t access the Internet, everyone is probably calling IT, and they’re well aware of the problem!
IT departments and company leaders often have strong opinions on this topic. Be sure to cover this issue while getting budget approval and before you get too far into the vendor selection process.