14 Questions You Should Ask Before You Buy a Software Package

Often buying off the shelf software is more cost effective than building your own software system. In our experience, we often find that software buyers overlook some key factors in selecting the right solution to suit their organizations, often with disastrous consequences. Here are 14 questions you should consider before you pull the trigger:

  1. Business Strategy: How will this software package improve or even transform your organization’s processes so that it goes higher, better, faster? How will this technology improve your organization’s competitiveness? How can you measure the reduced labor, faster responsiveness, greater throughput and higher customer satisfaction you expect this package to deliver?
  2. The vendor: Does the vendor or software house have a proven track record? How long has the software developer or vendor been in operation? How many customers are using the package already? Are they prepared to provide references? For an off the shelf software package, having more than four developers in the team greatly reduces your risk.  How many developers do they have on the team, not counting troubleshooters, report writers, testers and other support staff?
  3. Functionality: Vendors often make more money from the customization than licensing.  Does the software do everything you need it to? If not, how cost effective is it to customize the package to cover the functional gaps or what other packages do you need to buy to cover those gaps? Cost estimates for customization are difficult to do accurately, so how much have other comparable firms spent to do their customization on the same package?  Is it better to build the customization inside or outside the package?
  4. Costs: What are all the costs? How is the pricing structured? Do you pay based on numbers of users (often called seats), concurrent users (unlimited numbers of machines, but a maximum number of users logged into the system at one time) or numbers of computer processors? What are the upfront costs, including installation and training? What are the ongoing costs and what services do they pay for?  Does the package require you to purchase additional licenses for third party software, such as databases, for it to work?
  5. Return on investment: What will be the financial benefit of the improved efficiencies, greater throughput and higher customer satisfaction gained from using the software package? How does this translate to a return on investment or payback period when considered along with the costs?
  6. Obsolescence: What underlying technologies have been used to develop the package and are these technologies being regularly updated? What announcements have been made by the software package developers and/or the underlying technology authors about their long term development plans? Does the vendor or package developer run customer focus groups so that users can influence the direction in which the package develops?  Are the underlying technologies used to develop the package widely used? Are developers trained in using this underlying technology readily available?
  7. Integration: Does the package need to share information with other programs? If so, how has it provided for programmers to extract or pass information to the package?
  8. Internet access: Does the package allow offsite access? Will you need it to support access from different devices with diverse screen sizes and formats?
  9. Scalability: Will the software accommodate your organization as it grows? How easy will it be to migrate your data should you need to migrate to another package in the future?
  10. Compatibility: Is it compatible with your existing IT infrastructure? For example, does it need a certain operating system version for server, desktop or mobile devices? What additional costs are incurred in achieving compatibility?
  11. Documentation: Is there online or offline documentation to assist users as they learn to use the package?
  12. Performance: Is it responsive? Are there long pauses between keystrokes or moving from one screen to another?
  13. After sales support: What after sales support is there such as training, a help desk and regular updates? Are there user community forums to obtain additional help?
  14. Disaster recovery: Are there back up and disaster recovery options?

From our experience, finding good answers to these 14 questions will significantly increase the chance that your technology decision will be a successful one.

If you 'd like to find out more about how to decide whether to purchase an off the shelf software package, contact us:  info@stp.co.nz

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