Best Practices: Software Evaluation for Mid-Sized Organizations

Business Credit, September 2005 | Go to article overview
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Best Practices: Software Evaluation for Mid-Sized Organizations


Introduction

Enterprise software solutions promise dramatic improvements in your business. Successful implementations have shown that promise to be achievable, if the right solution is selected. Nearly 30 years working directly with mid-sized organizations in hundreds of software evaluations provides a unique perspective. At some organizations, software selection begins a process of rapid business re-engineering and delivers significant value to the organization very quickly. Other organizations struggle with the evaluation process, stretching the evaluations to years in length, and delaying any anticipated benefits of the solution for even longer, if they are ever realized at all. The Gartner Group, a technology research firm, notes that half of enterprise system implementations fail to produce a positive return on investment in the first five years! The key to achieving positive results: effective management of the software evaluation and implementation processes.

While this basic advice holds true for all organizations, mid-sized organizations face a unique set of challenges. Mid-sized organizations have the business process complexity of the Fortune 500, but not the staffing levels. Keeping management ranks lean is critical to the success of mid-sized organizations. Rarely do mid-sized organizations find that they can spare a manager full-time for an evaluation or implementation project. More frequently, several managers participate on a part-time basis in the project, balancing the evaluation and implementation tasks with the daily pressures of keeping the business going. In this high-pressure environment, there is an even greater need to keep software evaluations and implementations focused and on track.

In addition, today's Enterprise software solutions must be evaluated differently than those in the past. Years ago, different systems varied significantly in the features and functions offered, and solutions were measured by what they could do for your business as you were managing it at the time.

Today, evaluations must focus on how the solution will deal with change. Changes in federal and state regulations will mandate changes in your business system. Changes in technology will mandate changes in your business system. Changes in your management philosophies will mandate changes in your business system. Enterprise systems must change in response to each of these changes. Consequently, today's software evaluation must focus more on the vendor as a partner in managing change than on the software as a collection of features. The solution must not be viewed solely on its ability to respond to today's needs, but on the vendor's ability to deliver on tomorrow's needs.

Most managers, however, will have limited experience in managing a software evaluation or implementation. Without significant experience in managing dozens or hundreds of software evaluations, how can managers expect to be effective in evaluating the alternatives? This article brings together the best practices of software evaluation at mid-sized organizations. By learning from the best practices of hundreds of successful evaluations at other midsized organizations, today's managers can make better decisions about their own software evaluations.

The best practices that emerge from software evaluations at successful mid-sized organizations do not point to a specific product or feature set, but define a successful evaluation process. This process uses a straightforward approach to help organizations quickly establish and value the differences in vendor offerings, minimizing the resources involved in identifying the ideal vendor. This way, more resources can be focused on the confirmation of the value offered by the ideal vendor, leading to a more confident and less risky end result.

The process divides the evaluation workload between an "Executive Team" and a "Project Team" within your organization.

The Executive Team

The Executive Team must be formed from the executive(s) responsible for determining the goals and objectives for the project.

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