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Implementing New Software
Ask these three big questions before you do

Many people are disappointed, upset, or downright distraught when a software or technology project costs more than they had anticipated or been led to believe.  Occasionally, rather than being the saviour of the business, the project becomes the death knell – this is especially true for smaller businesses that have often pushed out the boat for the solution, which they have been told is essential for the business.  And for family businesses, where the failure has an additional factor caused by the personal relationships involved, it can be much worse.  

Family Business Magasine coverHowever, many of these projects do deliver huge benefits to the organisation.  So I thought that I would outline the components of any project so you understand what is involved and your project can be one of the success stories. 

If you are looking at more than one solution, it is essential that you compare apples with apples.  One way of doing this is to draw up a matrix of key considerations and get each vendor to give you the appropriate information.  Any vendor that will not assist with this exercise may be hiding something.

In the rest of this article, I will give you some pointers to assist with this comparison.

Who will do the implementation?

Software projects are rarely simple, and if you are to get full value, you will need someone who has significant relevant experience to help you.  If you have such a person within your organisation, then you are lucky, but if you choose to use this person, consider whether they can adequately do this job and their ‘normal’ job.  If not, something will have to give, and you do not want it to be your software project.  

It is usually better to work with a partner who has done many similar projects – they will bring insight from their previous experience to your project and should work with you to meld their experience to your knowledge of your business.  They also should be able to guide you to establish which changes are really necessary.  Making a new solution exactly match your current processes is rarely a good idea and many projects become much more time-consuming and costly when the client insists that this sort of change is done.  Most modern solutions have best practices built into them, so if you are making radical changes, you want to question why this necessary.  An external expert will also be able to assist with deciding which technique is the best way to make a specific change, considering both the current need and any impact on the project in the future.

As well as experience, you will also want to be sure that you feel comfortable working with your selected partner.

Cloud or On-Premises?

Cloud is a buzzword but all it really means is that the software is running on a server that is not located in your location.  In reality, cloud has been around for as long as businesses have used computers. 

However, there are some key questions to ask of any potential cloud provider:

  • Where is the data located and what are the legal implications?
  • How long have they been in business, how large are they and what will happen if the company ceases to exist?
  • How quickly and at what cost can I get a copy of my data? And what form will this be in?
  • What expertise is required within my company to manage the solution?

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Many of the cloud providers are offering free or cheap solutions.  If the solution offered is cheap there is probably a reason for it – it is impossible to provide high-quality support for $5 a month.  So what are you really getting?  

But if you choose on-premise you then have to provide and manage the hardware infrastructure yourself.  Do you have the ability and the capacity to do that?

Many people choose on-premise because they feel that the data will be more secure.  But is a server tucked away in a backroom actually more secure than one located in a data centre? Remember that the majority of security breaches are caused by careless (or unknowing) insiders rather than hackers.

 

Open Source or not?

Many technologies are Open Source.  Open Source means that the core code - which is the technology base - is available for you to edit or change. This may sound attractive at first, but it does raise some questions.

Modern software can be changed in a few ways:  

  • It can be configured which means making changes usually using tools provided within the software itself. Configuring is usually expected as a way to make standard software meet your unique requirements.  Examples of this include Microsoft Office templates.
  • Secondly, it can be customised, which means writing additional code which is outside the core application, to enable the software to do things that it does not do natively.  This is often required for integration or linking your software to other software that you already have.

Both of the above can be done for you or can be purchased, e.g. WordPress themes.  

  • Thirdly, you can make changes to the core of the software – if open source.  However, making these changes requires an in-depth understanding of how the changes will affect the rest of the product.  It certainly requires expertise in the product and you should always question why this level of change to the product is required.

Costs involved in the project

To compare pricing for technology projects in a way that does compare apples with apples, there are five aspects of the pricing that you should consider.  These are:

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1. Hardware, including

  • server
  • desktop upgrades/replacements
  • mobile or handheld devices

2. Software, which includes ongoing costs, e.g. monthly subscription and upfront costs

  • actual application
  • any associated platform costs
  • desktop upgrades

3. Implementating the project, which includes

  • changes to the application 
  • integration to other applications
  • migration of legacy data

4. Training of users

5. Support – the cost of maintaining the application once the go-live has been achieved and will usually include ongoing training especially of staff who are new after the go-live date as well as any support contract which may be optional or mandatory

For any given project, some of these costs may be $0, but the questions should still be asked.  

A realistic cost estimate can only be given once a scoping of your particular situation and requirements is completed.  So be wary of suppliers who will give a price without doing this detailed scoping.

Costs for projects of this nature can be given either as a time and material hourly rate or a price for specific items of functionality.  Often the time and material rates sound attractive, but can then become much greater as the time required can blow out.

This article, 'Implementing New Software", does not give answers, but I hope that I have highlighted the three big questions and other considerations that you need to work through as you decide how to proceed with the technology projects that will give your family business the edge over your competition.