Saturday, 14 September 2013

Selection of Package Software – Part 2

In my previous article (Selection of Package Software - Part 1) I explained the importance of preparing a detailed Statement of Requirements. Here is the conclusion to this process.

Depending on the customer’s size, and how formal an approach they have to purchasing, we then use the Statement of Requirements as the basis for either a full Invitation to Tender (ITT) or a simpler Request for Information (RfI). 

This is sent out to an agreed list of suppliers with a clear timetable for the receipt of replies. Such a document ensures that suppliers have to formally assess the client’s requirements, and (if worded appropriately) can create a contractual obligation on them to meet their claims. 

The formal document should be sent to only a few suppliers (say, a maximum of six, but not less than three) as there is considerable effort involved in liaising with them, answering their questions, and reviewing their responses.
When the responses are received I carry out a detailed review, identifying for each supplier which of the key features they can supply, the overall charge for their offering (often using the total costs over five years as a guide) and the specific resources required for implementation. I also tackle any areas where there may be doubt, to make sure they really can meet the client’s needs. 

The results of this review are discussed thoroughly with the client so that we end up with a preferred shortlist of suppliers for further consideration.
Final demonstrations are then arranged. Here I would we ideally recommend a maximum of three to four sessions, although getting clients to agree to this can be tough! (They either want too few or far too many.) 

There is quite an art to making sure the demonstrations are not merely flashy occasions for the salesman to show off the features of his software. The process must cover the client’s requirements, and prove that the system can meet them. Some suppliers might ask for sample business scenarios, or even test data they can use. Others might not, and this helps in identifying who the client might prefer to do business with. 

It is crucial for key staff to attend the demonstrations, and for a review to take place immediately afterwards. We recommend that a checksheet is available so staff can identify – in a structured fashion – the good and bad points about each system. 

And don’t have too many demos in one day! One of my clients had five in two days and as a result the company’s board of directors was completely shattered at the end. I am glad they did not have any crises to deal with.
Once the demonstrations have taken place everyone should formally review all of the shortlisted systems and decide the one or possibly two (but not three) who merit final consideration. 

I obtain detailed references by talking to a random selection of users to find out what it is really like using each system, and what the supplier is like: Do they provide the level of support which they claim? Is the system really as easy to use as they say? 

Depending on the references it may be that one supplier is clearly head and shoulders above the others. Sometimes matters are not as clear cut, in which case additional demonstrations may be necessary. (A final demonstration of the preferred system might also be necessary just to show that the system really can do all that was promised.) 

I also like to arrange visits to representative users who can spend time (without the supplier being present) talking directly to the client about how they work with the software. Several clients have said this is one of the most useful parts of the selection process.
We then agree who should be the final supplier and complete contract and price negotiations with them. 

(I strongly recommend continually making it clear that you have other options available, which gives a better negotiating stance.) 

The outcome of this process is a system where it is clear (a) why it was purchased, (b) what alternatives were considered and rejected, and (c) what the implementation schedule is. 

The result is more confident management and often a more committed team.

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