When looking for/at business software solutions (exploring), what does the word “Customization” mean to you?
This word alone means different things to different software buyers. Some think high dollar costs to produce “custom” functionality developed by software programmers. Others are satisfied by user-defined fields that can be used in the systems reporting tool. Either way, the key here is to select a system that provides flexible options inherently or via established addons. One way to test for this is to be willing to challenge software vendors before and during presentations and not allow “dog-n-pony” shows that only highlight what vendors want to show you.
Warning: If you skip the Needs Analysis step then you willingly put vendor(s) in the driver’s seat of your search and ultimately your investment!
Below is a list of key components in your search process to consider regarding customization.
Ease of Use
What exactly does this mean? Sorry, but it means what YOU mean it to be; Lame, I know. Virtually EVERY software vendor claims this for their product, and likewise virtually EVERY software buyer demands it. But no one really knows what it means! ??????? I’ve witnessed a few things though over the years that helps win engagements in this particular search area.
1) Customized Procedure Guides – this generally involves taking screenshots after your database structure has been established and writing step-by-step procedures of your entry process. There is huge value in when your organization experiences turnover, but this must be maintained.
2) Pre-recorded tutorials – often accessible via a secure website or hopefully through the Help menu/icon option. This is less customized to you, but still a nice “ease of use” feature.
3) Editing field names, tab names and/or position, or choosing how many characters can be entered into a particular field (i.e. Customer number or name). Some systems even allow end users to add Help text as an append to standard system help documentation. Cool!
4) User-specific settings, creating “Favorites” lists, Quick Links to other apps, and much more.
Product support services are critical to protecting your investment as well as long-term satisfaction. The options available to clients though vary by product vendor. In some cases, options are offered which allow for more customization in your purchase. For instance:
- Phone support – would you like to speak with U.S.-based techs or is India ok?
- Phone support – annual agreement, pay-per-call, pre-purchased batch of hours, etc.?
- Chat Now option – just click here and a representative will chat online with you.
- Online Knowledgebase – allows users to search by keyword, incident number, and in some cases even view your call history.
- Consulting services – some vendors only offer in-house services while others have “authorized partners” (aka VARs, Resellers) that are more local to your location.
- Training – classroom, online class, one-on-one private session, pre-recorded tutorials, etc.
- User Groups and/or Customer Forums – these can be very valuable as they allow you to speak with actual product end users like yourself. Often, participation in these is free too.
Here we go again, what exactly does this mean? In many cases the following options may exist:
- API – Application Programming Interface – when available, a really nice tool that allows for interaction (aka integration, interface) between software programs. Stated plainly, “I want my systems to talk to each other!” – share data, reduce duplicate data entry, etc.
- Professional Development services – where you tell the vendor what you want and for a price they’ll develop the application according to agreed upon specifications.
- Source Code – there are some companies that actually license their program source code which allow you to develop, internally or externally, additional product capabilities. This need typically only applies to buyers with unique application needs, the kind that will be virtually impossible to find “out of the box.” Give this some thought before going this route because it likely requires a much great investment and could limit support services and/or effectiveness.
Note: Customizability and Configurability are NOT one in the same. The latter usually involves using out of the box administrative settings that tell the software to perform and/or make available certain existing product functionality. Buyers often pay consultants for “setup” or “implementation” services that focus on configuring the application settings to your end user processes and preferences.
Put your product search effort into context. For instance, I once helped an organization that was initially looking at $10,000 nonprofit fundraising software before we met. Those vendors were diligently competing and trying to “close the deal.” Unfortunately, this client was very small – under 5 employees, less than 1,000 donor records, and an operating budget of less than $200,000. What were those vendors thinking!! $$$ perhaps? Meeting quota?? Smokin’ something illegal? This real life example emphasizes why I stress so often the value in the Needs Analysis software search step. Happy ending…I was able to help this client perform an effective assessment of their issues and system requirements, search for “appropriate” solutions, and make a purchase – in this case GiftWorks. Their investment was under $1,000 and that included an Events module to track their annual Golf Tournament. We were also able to negotiate a two-year support services agreement at reduced pricing. Again, “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.”
OK, this Solution Exploration topic is truly an endless subject. So, we’ll move on to Collaboration: Vendor Outreach and Presentations next. In the meantime, what’s your software exploration story? Did you follow logical steps like these, or “wing it” as you talked with vendors? Every company strives to be good stewards of their resources, and this is just one area of business that cutting corners becomes costly and produces poor outcomes. Let me know what you think.
Image credit: © Petr Vaclavek – Fotolia.com