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Currently, there is a plethora of Enterprise Software Systems to choose from. From SAP to Oracle to Sage ERP to lesser-known software brands, one only has to type “ERP Software” into Google to find pages and pages of relevant hits. While the choice is fantastic for customers, it can create what is known as a paradox of choice. Too much choice leads to anxiety, confusion and eventually a bad decision. Are you choosing the correct software, the correct vendor, the correct processes, the correct modules, the correct customizations? The list of variables goes on and the stakes are high. A failed system is essentially thousands of dollars down the drain. A great system can set your organization up for years of future success. So, how do you make the right choices? These are some things to consider.

1. Know your budget. What money can you spend on this project? It’s no use calling up all the software vendors if you don’t know your budget. Speak with your management and work out what you can spend on this project. It’s best to plan this well in advance so it’s included in the annual budgeting. Be prepared to answer questions like, “What organizational problems will this software solve?” and “Is it possible to quantify the benefits and efficiency gained through this software implementation?”. These aren’t easy questions, and you will need to sit down with your team to discuss their processes to come up with answers.

2. Know your requirements and what modules you need. Usually, this comes down to the processes you are trying to automate. If you are the internal consultant/project manager, talk to people in your organisation and list down the processes. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty by doing the process yourself. Ask yourself, can this process be simplified? Is there other information that needs to be input at this step to help reporting?

3. Commercial Off-the-Shelf Software vs Customized/Bespoke Software

Commercial Off-the-Shelf Software or SaaS

Commercial off-the-shelf software is often sold today as ‘Software as a Service’ or ‘SaaS’.

What are the benefits of SaaS? First, you pay for the software as you use it. There are no upfront costs, only monthly subscription costs. This can really help if cash flow is an issue. What are the limitations? With software as a service, you don’t own the

executable file that does your computing—it’s on someone else's server. It’s impossible to be sure what the file really does, and impossible to change it. It also generally has limited customization functions. You work around the software and its limitations. Also, many commercial off-the-shelf software products are modular and stand-alone; in such cases, there is no efficiency gained through software integration. For example, if your CRM, Accounting, HR software and Scheduling etc are stand-alone, you will have to be constantly translating the data between the different systems, which takes time and effort from your employees.

Customized or Bespoke Software

Customized software is generally more expensive for good reason. Time goes into customizing or tailoring the software to your organization, so that time is chargeable and often as an initial payment. What are the benefits of customized software? If it’s designed well, it fits your organization down to the individual processes. It can dramatically reduce processing times and operational cycles, free organizational manpower, and make reporting faster. There will be minimal, or in ideal scenarios, no data translation between modules. Data will be accurate, real-time, and help make top-level decision-making easier. Customization is king, but it does cost a bit more money.

4. Try the software. It’s like buying a car, nobody buys a car without test driving it. Is its processing speed fast? Is the software stable or does it constantly freeze? Does it have the modules and features that you need? Do you like the interface? Is it easy to navigate? What needs to be customized? How much would it be to customize in those features and processes? Can the software scale and grow with your business?

5. Trust is key. Do you trust the system provider? Are they responsive? Do they have a big enough support team that covers each other? Do they own the software source code? How fast can they do customizations and changes? What is their service level agreement and is that good enough for your business? Do they have a good track record for implementation? Are there hidden fees? Who has control of your data if you decide to change vendor? Ask if you can call up some of their references and see how they have delivered in past projects.

Oftentimes, common sense prevails when choosing between software vendors. One thing, I see too often is customers going with a big software name to minimize individual risk. A big software name doesn’t guarantee success. Many a time, I’ve seen organizations go blindly with a big name, only to have the system and implementation fail. Conversely, it is quite possible to be penny wise and pound foolish—to choose the cheapest vendor and solution, and have them not deliver in terms of quality, or even software. By asking some of the questions provided here and weighing the answers, you can minimize your risk of choosing the wrong vendor and increase your chances of getting the system you need. Critical thought is needed and perceptive questions asked in this process; having a long view will help guide you in making the right decision.  

By John Ma
Software Consultant and Account Manager at Tigernix