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Evaluating Business Software Programs? Dig Deeper From the Beginning

Focus on How Business Software Programs are Designed

iStock_000004470271XSmallAre you looking for the perfect business software program? There is no such thing as a perfect software. Every software you evaluate will do some things you like, and others you do not like. Every software will require some change on the part of your operations to use it efficiently/effectively. And every software company will have some deficiency in the area of support or training. This is the nature of buying complex systems, and the sooner you recognize it the better buying decision you will make.

But there is one starting point that should be universal when investing in business software programs, and that is the evaluation of the what (what underlying code and technology) and how (how the software is designed, maintained, and improved) of the software development.  Answer these questions satisfactorily first, and you will be most likely to end up with a business software program investment that serves you for the long-term.

4 Things to Consider

These are the things you must focus on carefully as you evaluate your options:

  1. The Underlying Technology. Do not invest in software that will be outdated in less than 10 years. Software written in older programming languages or databases designed for individual use and not network use (like Access or Filemaker) are inappropriate for most business applications. Likewise, technology owned and supported by private, small (often underfunded) companies – no matter how good – will only be able to continue its investment and development if it’s bought by one of the big behemoths.  This doesn’t mean you have to go with a licensed solution like Microsoft or Oracle – there are also fantastic open source alternatives to Visual Basic and SQL. Just make sure that your solution is based on technology that either has a massive international development community or is supported by a technology powerhouse capable of reinvesting in it.
  2. The Best Practices. Invest in software that is well-distributed enough that the software developers are constantly focused on improving the software for the entire industry/user group. Best practice behavior is about creating processes and procedures within the software that force users to engage in the activities that are considered essential or recommended for the best results. Using software with best-practices built in gives you the advantage of industry improvements and innovations without having to come up with all of them yourself.
  3. Ongoing Development. Along with the previous point, make sure that the software developer is actively engaged in meaningful updates and development. The business world and distribution methods are changing dramatically – if the software is not keeping pace it will be an unsatisfactory investment.
  4. Underlying Database Structure and Logic. If a system is designed correctly, then you will always be able to get the reports, functions, and applications you need from it. If the system is not designed correctly, then even reasonable adaptations or developments may be very difficult or even impossible for the developer to produce. For example, in one industry system I have encountered, the underlying table structure is illogical and poorly structured in several key areas. So extracting desired information is nearly impossible without manipulating the data (which is both time consuming and still inaccurate).

Most people – particularly non-technology people – pursue technology investment by providing a list to the sales organization asking “can the software do this and this and this . . .”  What the software can do is certainly part of your decision-making process. But how it is structured – the bones of the system – are also critical if you want your investment to last for the long-term.

This type of analysis is generally outside the skillset of most small business owners. Even if you can’t afford the assistance to properly evaluate the full software solution you are considering, you may at least want to ask for some expert advice on the pros and cons of your options relative to these four concerns before you proceed.

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