Shopping for enterprise software today can be complicated with the number of vendors and wide range of offerings. A good practice before you go looking at solutions is a quick introspection into exactly what you’d like to gain from this purchase. A lot of companies go with a “due-diligence” checklist that covers everything from general information to financial records, security certifications to product and service capabilities, and even customer feedback.
Getting feedback from previous customers is an invaluable practice that needs to be on everyone’s checklist. The CEB or Corporate Executive Board Company (now Gartner) has an extensive due diligence checklist that’s generally more applicable to larger companies (fortune 500) and states customer referrals are key. It also states that about 60% of the time the decision is already made even before the vendor comes in to demo, due to customer referrals or previous familiarity with the tool.
Before you spend loads of time vetting a company and finding out about about their customers, a good idea would be to take a close look at the solution and ask yourself a few questions:
1. Is it compatible with my current setup?
2. Does it do everything I need it to do?
3. Is it better than my current solution?
Then, be sure to assess each of the following 7 important factors for evaluating enterprise technology.
Integration and compatibility are key and Anthony Chen, Director of Special Projects at Flexport, advises that factoring in “integrations and future-proofing is especially helpful for us as we want to experiment with the best ways to pass data around our database / partners.” If a solution doesn’t play nice with your current setup, it’s probably not worth your time.
Does it work? An important subtext to this question should be “does it work without disrupting my current workflow?” The sole purpose of software and automation is to free up our manpower to focus on things that require more creativity and involve less drudgery. If the solution need a lot of engineering time to setup and build features, a closer look needs to be taken on whether the invested extra time is going to be worth the benefits.
Vendors that offer pilot programs should be a first choice here as pilot programs are a great way to check just how feasible a certain solution is. A pilot program is like a test-run and involves running the program on a small scale to better understand the large scale implications.
The next and arguably most important factor is the price. How much a solution costs is just part of the picture, how much it costs in comparison to your current solution will tell you whether it’s going to be saving you money or not. A lot of people on a strict budget might want to look at price before anything else since if something’s outside the budget, there’s no point wasting time with it. In contrast, people with a more flexible budget feel price isn’t the most important factor.
If respectable companies are already using the solutions you’re about to buy, that’s a major positive sign for you. It’s also good to look at companies similar to yours that the vendor has worked with in the past, this could be a good indicator of whether the solution will be good for you or not.
5. User Friendliness
If everything has checked out so far, it’s time to get your hands on the software or get your engineer’s hands on the software to figure out just how easy it is to use. Greg Bybee, Vice President at NovoEd, emphasizes that“life is too short to work with difficult software.” If a particular tool is too hard to use or requires your engineers to develop additional skills just to use it, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.
Agility is next on our list and agility comes from innovation. Selecting a vendor is like selecting a partner and you want someone who’s willing to change and innovate in order to stay relevant. Look for a company’s latest updates, see what servers they use, check if they’re using the latest technology like containers or AI and look for how flexible they are with regards to change and innovation.
7. Exit Strategy
Last but not least, it’s probably a good idea to always have a clear exit strategy in case you outgrow a certain solution. Vendor lock-in is something to be avoided and SnapChat’s reliance on Google’s PaaS is a good example of why an exit strategy is important.
Though we’ve lined up the top considerations, the order may vary based on preference. Before you assess these qualities in a vendor, you need to have a list of vendors to evaluate. Sourcing vendors is half the battle and isn’t easy. Implementing the solution costs about twice as much to correct. Gartner says 54% of enterprise companies struggle to define a sourcing strategy and as much 59% end up renegotiating at least once.
Having a common sourcing framework may not be possible across the entire enterprise, especially since every department has unique requirements. Though that may sound daunting at first, if you break down your requirements into a quick 5 point checklist, it is possible to cover all bases in the broader sense.
1. Identify Your Areas Of Improvement
This could refer to addressing a problem or just improvements in general. Problems could be anything from overworked employees to a shortage in work staff. Both problem are easily addressable with some clever automation and a good software solution should not only free up your employees but also help you with the hiring process. Once you find your areas of improvement, you can further break them down into short term goals and objectives for specific departments. Tools are generally categorized by the departments that use them and now you’ve narrowed your search down to a specific category of tools and functions.
2. Get Everyone On Board
Recognizing the benefits of a solution are important, but what’s more important is to get executive buy-in to not only make a purchase, but also support its integration into your organization. You obviously want to get approval from the top first and a good practice is to compose a list of all the drawbacks of not using the software solution. For example, if you’re pitching a collaboration software, you would want to highlight the drawbacks of old fashioned spreadsheets and emails. Getting support on an employee level is no trivial matter either especially when you’re talking about changing the way people work on a day to day basis.
3. Assign Ownership And Create Accountability
Every stage of the project needs to have owners who are held accountable. Owners need to be assigned for budget, vendor sourcing and implementation. You also need someone to evaluate the outcome against what a successful adoption should look like. It’s good to have mix of people from across departments to eliminate bias and make sure teams collaborate more effectively.
4. Get An Outside Opinion
It’s easy to be close sighted with regards to your own company, industry and workflows, however what’s equally important is to know what the landscape of tools out there looks like. According to the CEB Sourcing Handbook, 66% of the 149 organizations surveyed spent more than 10% of their IT budget on outsourcing and contractors. This is probably because it’s difficult as in insider to have a holistic view of emerging technologies, vendor offerings and latest developments. Outsourcing helps you utilize external resources and specialists in the field of vendor evaluation to supplement your own internal expertise.
5. Prioritize Clear Communication
With regards to why vendor sourcing fails, the top reasons include strategic misalignment, basic miscommunication and a lack of true executive buy-in. Strategic misalignment occurs when both you and your vendor have different long term objectives and this is why internal evaluation and vetting the vendor are both equally important.
Miscommunication with regards to pricing and capabilities are fatal and can easily be avoided with good research. A lack of true executive buy-in could be on account of an all round initial enthusiasm followed by an absence of any active participation. This is why it’s so important that executive buy-in comes from the top and travels all the way through to the bottom.
Lastly, communication is key and it’s essential to explain to everyone on a ground level, the long term advantages involved with the changes happening and why they are so important for not just the organization but each and every person involved in the process as well.