A key first step when buying business software is determining what goals you wish to accomplish. Focusing on these goals helps you to find software that is the best fit for you and your business. When considering your goals, it is important that you include your end users in the process. The people who will eventually use the software you select will have the most pertinent input regarding the features it should include.
Input from end users is important for several reasons:
- End users have hands-on knowledge of the problems that need to be solved by the new software. Their expertise and proximity to the problems make them qualified to give suggestions for how to best fix those problems.
- End users have experience with the previous software application. This experience translates into valuable knowledge regarding what works and what doesn’t. If the previous solution had a feature that did order processing really well, but couldn’t print needed shipping labels, the best way to find this out is by talking to the people who know it: the end users. Which brings us to:
- End users can advise on which features are most needed. By having intimate knowledge of the problems that need to be solved, along with experience with comparable software, end users can provide you with valuable input about what functions the new software should be able to perform. Need to know whether resource scheduling or deadline tracking is more important? Ask these people!
- It will encourage end user adoption. Software is notoriously under-utilized and many features go unnoticed by end users once a purchase is made. Including end users (especially influential ones) in the buying decision and having them at demos and live presentations will make them aware of helpful features and receptive to fully using the software. Additionally, soliciting their ideas will make end users feel like their opinions matter and give them more of a stake in ensuring the software succeeds.
While end users are generally the most qualified to comment on the shortfalls of the current software and the “need to haves” of the new software, there are potential pitfalls in taking their advice unquestioningly:
- Users tend to focus on the 10% of things that don’t work with the current software rather than the 90% that do. The parts of the old software which users spent the most time on, and which gave them the most grief, may only be a small fraction of what the software does. When features of the software run well and don’t require a second thought from the user, they can often be ignored. Users thinking about what features to include in new software generally focus on the trouble spots of the old software. This focus causes them to give advice which may make you overlook other functions which you might also need, but which are not as visible.
- Too many cooks in the kitchen can “spoil the broth.” Getting advice is helpful, but if you ask 10 different people their opinion on a piece of software you’re likely to get 10 different answers. You cannot address everyone’s needs, but pressure from different groups of end users could lead to sub-optimal decisions when purchasing new software.
There are a variety of ways to go about getting end user input. Aside from simply asking for it face-to-face or via email, company-wide surveys can also prove useful. It is important however, no matter what method you use, to make sure the end user input you receive is as specific as possible. For example, “better tracking of order shipments” may be the overall goal, but that description is vague. A better one might be, “the need to receive electronic shipment notifications when a product has left the warehouse.”
Finally, while it is important to include end users in the software buying decision, you should also look to include all stakeholders to some degree or another. It is not simply the end users of the software who will be affected by a new system. What about your IT department? How will their work change (for better or worse) by having to manage the new software? Will the finance department see the way in which they report expenses or manage payroll change as well? The answers to these questions will have a significant impact on your company’s bottom line so making sure you take the time to get them is crucial when purchasing business software.
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