Ten Steps for Evaluating and Selecting Software and Service Providers: Investing Resources in Preparation for Purchasing Software and Services Is the Best Way to Ensure That Your Organization Gets the Best Service and a Quality Product

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Selecting software tools is not an easy task. Whether opting to hire external consultants, go it alone, or just rely on sales people, the level of complexity remains the same. In the long run, obtaining external assistance may prove to be a cost-saving measure. There are a number of potential pitfalls to be avoided in the evaluation and selection part of the process.

Perhaps the greatest pitfall to avoid is purchasing software that has an initial lower cost but eventually higher maintenance or service and support costs. The true cost of a solution will include implementation and training. Also note that over time, upgrades can contribute significant additional expense to the total investment cost.

Steps in the Evaluation and Selection Process

There are 10 distinct steps in the evaluation and selection process. For a successful conclusion, each of these steps should be conducted prior to purchasing any records and information management (RIM) software.

Step 1: Create a Project Team and Action Plan

Form a project advisory or guidance team to oversee the entire process beginning with the action plan--or roadmap. This team should include at least one key executive sponsor. Direct and visible support from someone like the senior vice president of operations or the chief information officer will be crucial for retaining momentum and being successful.

Also, try to gain representation by other key senior management functions connected to each of the primary or key business groups. Moreover, include experienced primary users from these processes.

The guidance team should prepare an action plan with measurable goals, objectives, and milestone markers for measuring progress and success. This plan will serve as a roadmap for tracking progress and correcting course as you move through the process. Be prepared to alter the plan as the process moves along.

Additionally, consider engaging a consultant who possesses the expertise and knowledge about these steps and different systems and software products. This may mean investing a few thousand dollars, but it could pre vent a $200,000 mistake. To determine whether hiring a consultant would be a good investment, ask yourself:

* Does my organization have qualified staff with enough time and expertise to do the necessary research and analysis to determine its needs and select the best solutions?

* Can my organization afford to leave its core business to learn what we need to know?

Step 2: Identify and Map Sources of Information and Records

Before evaluating solutions, identify the content to be managed beginning with all the sources, physical dimensions, and quantities for paper and electronic files and formats (e.g., e-mail, digital voice mail, digital video, data bases); digital and analog recordings; physical artifacts and samples; and any other non-standard sources of information.

Avoid the trap of excluding end users from the process; their knowledge of workflow detail is essential for proper configuration Moreover, if they're not involved, they may rebel, refusing to use the new tools and leading to eventual failure.

Step 3: Review Current Process for Potential Improvement

Document processes to find potential areas for improvement. Record, as it occurs, who, what, when, where, and how each bit of information is created, captured, stored, accessed for re-use, and modified.

During the subsequent assessment stage, review every step. Examine each stage and all steps in each of the business process tasks. Then ask, "How does each task add value to the internal or external customer?"

The resulting answer may eliminate several steps and help improve your organization's workflow even before new software implementations or technology upgrades.

Avoid the trap of believing once you complete implementation, everything will instantly be fine. …