Saturday, 31 August 2013

Selection of Package Software – Part 1

Over the past 30 years I have developed a structured approach to the selection of package software, which I find makes for a consistently successful process, ensuring the client obtains an appropriate system.

Typically, as a result of this, we are able to weed out suppliers who look superficially attractive but whose software is not right for the business. The client often starts with a limited view of the marketplace which can be addressed using the approach outlined below.

This process has a large number of key stages, none of which should be skipped. 

I hope you find it useful.

My approach is to firstly talk to all those involved about how they currently operate, and what their needs might be for the future. I also meet senior managers and help them to review their business strategy. From these discussions a detailed list of requirements is produced. 

It is useful to note that it is particularly useful to engage with staff at all levels. Doing so ensures that those involved are clear both about why the software is being obtained, and about the overall priorities. It is crucial to get the users committed early on to a project which can disrupt their work lives for several years. 

It is also worth having a few initial demonstrations if some staff (or managers) are not familiar with the kind of features available in modern systems. This gives them a chance to discuss how the organisation or its processes might be restructured with a new system.

One of my clients – a large bank – really benefited from this. I brought in a demonstration disk of new software and showed it to various members of staff on a laptop. They all got extremely excited about the new possibilities they could see, and as a result both managers and staff became more committed to getting a new system. 

Instead of feeling I was pushing them, it became a matter of them pushing me.
In parallel with the consultation process I prepare a list of systems to be considered based on knowledge of the suppliers available and their relevance to the client. At this stage I usually talk to a few users of each system to see how satisfied they are with the overall service they receive.
It is also important early on to talk to suppliers about the client’s approximate requirements and their size. This helps to identify rough overall costs before we have gone too far. Like the conversations with users, it also clarifies which of the systems will be appropriate for later consideration. Some will get excluded on the basis of price, others (for example) because their culture clashes with that of the customer – an aspect which I often feel is neglected. 

In talking to suppliers I also get a better idea of the overall timescale for the project given the likely resources which may be available.
With the information already available I begin the preparation of a detailed System Implementation Plan, building up realistic timescales and estimates of the resources which will actually be required. Starting at this early stage encourages everyone (especially management) to have an understanding of the scope and implications of the project from an early point onwards.
In consultation with client staff the requirements list is then reviewed and prioritised to finalise the features which are to be presented to potential suppliers. This becomes the basis of a formal Statement of Requirements. As part of this process it is helpful to identify which features are Essential, which would be Desirable, and which would be nice to have if they were free. This prevents a system being selected just because the Chairman likes one particular feature. 

In the later stages the requirements are finalised and then sent out to shortlisted suppliers, their responses are reviewed and final demonstrations take place. 

Continued in Selection of Package Software - Part 2.

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