Comparing Apples and Oranges: Methods for Evaluating and Selecting RM Software

By Mark, Teri J.; Owens, Jane M. | ARMA Records Management Quarterly, January 1996 | Go to article overview

Comparing Apples and Oranges: Methods for Evaluating and Selecting RM Software


Mark, Teri J., Owens, Jane M., ARMA Records Management Quarterly


Anyone contemplating purchasing records management software understands what an overwhelming task this can be. There are many records management software products on the market today, and more being developed every year. Trying to pick the right product from all the products available can be as difficult as comparing apples to oranges.

Software selection is a highly individual choice, there is no "one right answer" for everyone. However, your selection method can mean the difference between success and failure.

We will not be reviewing specific software products or features, but will instead focus on the necessary decision-making tools to winnow through the product descriptions and promotions to find the product that best meets your organization's needs. While we are using records management software as our example, you may use these evaluation methods to purchase any product, including file shelving, furniture, computers, printers, copiers, teler phone systems, etc.

BUILD YOUR TEAM

The first step is to build a selection team made up of individuals within the organization who can work together through the software selection process. The team should include select staff representatives from the Records Management (RM) department and technical representatives from the Information Systems (IS) department. Be judicious in your team building. Make sure your team members will be dedicated and committed to the software selection process.

It will also be beneficial to obtain assistance, as needed, from other departments, such as the finance department for budgeting assistance; the purchasing department for guidance in writing the Request For Purchase (RFP); and the legal department for reviewing the license agreements and maintenance agreements.

CULTIVATE MANAGEMENT SUPPORT

Upper management needs to be fully apprised of the progress of your selection process. It is important to highlight your successes and advisable to be honest, albeit lowkey, about any problems you may encounter.

IDENTIFY YOUR NEEDS

Decide what you want to automate. Review your current processes and differentiate between your needs and your wants. In other words, what product features or functions do you absolutely require, or need, in the new system? What product features or functions would you like to see, or want, in the new system, but do not require for the success of the program? It is very important to be realistic in this process.

Next, develop the foundation for your search: the requirements document. This document lists, in order of importance, the features required in the new system. Assign a quantifiable weight to each item listed in the document. Determining the relative weighting scheme should be one of the first tasks of the selection team. The weight is determined by how important the item is in relation to the success of the program. A "want," therefore, would carry less weight than a "need." In the Sample Requirements Document (Figure 1) we have listed 1 as the lowest priority (nice to have) and 3 as the highest priority (essential). (Figure 1 omitted.)

The requirements document should include a timeline for the project. Identify your deadline--the target date for installation--then work backwards, noting your interim goals and the expected dates.

This is the stage where you will want to make sure that the IS department is fully involved. You should know and understand the hardware and software standards that the IS department has developed for the organization. The records management software should be the "cornerstone" within the IS document management strategy. The long-range plans for the organization should be developed collectively by the RM department and the IS department.

Do not get caught up in the "hype" presented by vendors. Make sure you examine your own system thoroughly before you talk to any vendors. It is essential that you know and understand the requirements of your system prior to reviewing any of their products. …

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