Architecture"is the art and science of designing buildings and also describes the act of providing services. "Software selection"is the art and science of determining the best solution for automating the operation of your business, but there is more to the process than just selecting the software. Just as a home owner wouldn't spend thousands of dollars on a new home without assistance; we expect business owners would treat buying software as an equally complex task and call on similar outside assistance.
In some ways this complex task has become simpler. The software market is shrinking due to acquisition. The software vendors are providing graphical users interfaces (GUI) as a standard feature. The web and EDI has provided a standard approach to the sharing of data and standardized data access and data analysis tools are common place.
But the task has also become more difficult as this standardization around similar databases and interfaces make it harder to differentiate. As many have achieved a very high level of functionality you can no longer count on only a numerical ranking of features and functions to make your decision.
In response to those changes our approach to software selection has evolved as well. You may consider incorporating these changes into your own selection project.
Linking Business and IT goals You already know that buying and implementing software systems is expensive and time-consuming. If you're lucky, you only tackle this chore once every 10 years or so. To increase the odds that your software package will last that long, it is mandatory to create a connection between your business strategy and your technology strategy.
Many methodologies recommend that you prepare a business case that outlines your business objectives, defines tactics to achieve those objectives and prepares a financial forecast before making any kind of major purchase. Unfortunately, most business cases tend to overstate benefits and underestimate the risk, especially how long the project will take and how much it will cost before success is achieved.
Companies that have developed their systems internally are especially vulnerable to having IT make the investment decision on improvements without providing an adequate justification of the business benefits.
To prepare a realistic business case you must:
Define all of the components of the project; including internal (people, processes, technology, etc.) and external (suppliers, customers, etc.) components.
Define the business benefits that the investment should produce; this should include the metrics that you will use to determine if the project is achieving those benefits.
Determine what the scope of the effort will be to implement the project (acquisition, implementation, training, change management); don't underestimate the time and costs of this effort.
This process results in a much more meaningful and realistic business case. For an illustration of this process visit our website.
Creating a Manageable Long List Consolidation has reduced the number of vendors selling software but has not always reduced the number of packages available. Distributors who start their search by reviewing product literature or browsing websites get lost in the numerous choices available. We know because we get a steady stream of phone calls from software guide users asking us how to tell the packages apart, as they seem to do the same thing.
We've found it is necessary to have a framework for assessing which packages are best for your business.
Narrowing the list of potential choices is the first big step in the selection process.
When you're starting your research ask yourself these questions: