• Software Search Homework

It surprises me when someone contacts Blue Link looking for new inventory and accounting software and they do not know what they really need out of a new system. Often, there is one specific problem that they want to solve and they have not really considered all the other operational processes that could be improved. While you may be frustrated with your existing systems, before you start looking for new software, there are 5 key areas to consider that will make your search easier and much more productive. With this information in hand, you will be able to ask the right questions of the prospective software supplier and answer the questions any respectable inventory and accounting vendor should be asking. This helps to make sure you don’t waste your time speaking with vendors who aren’t the right fit. 

1.       What is the Reason for your Software Search?

Usually, something has happened within the organization that has led to the desire for a new software system. Before you take on the responsibility (and time investment) to start a software search, make sure you understand what you are looking for.  Find out the answers to the most important questions first:

  • What happened that has led us to begin this search?
  • How do we expect the new software to solve this problem?
  • Will we be able to afford new software if we find something?
  • Is this problem temporary or can a new solution help to solve it indefinitely?
  • What is our budget?
  • When would we want the new software to be installed/ implemented?

If any of the questions above cannot be answered, a big red flag should be raised and you should be asking yourself if the time you will be putting into this search is going to be time well spent. Sometimes, out of frustration, a search for inventory and accounting software is started and the only answer we hear is, “Our current software does not do what we want it to”, but no consideration has been given to the process of actually implementing a new system. Make sure your company is ready to take on this project before you spend too much time performing a search. Once you determine that a search is warranted, it is time to find out other areas of your operations that new software could improve.

2.       What are Your Current Processes Around Inventory Management, Purchasing and Warehousing?

Engage the staff that are purchasing your inventory and performing the daily operations in the warehouse. They will be able to provide you with information on how they perform various tasks and make suggestions on how their processes might be improved. Furthermore, it also helps with “Buy-in” when a new solution is implemented if the people using the new software feel they have had input to the solution. The questions to ask include:

  • What tools are used to determine what to purchase?
  • Do we ever run out of inventory to ship?
  • How long does it take to fill an order?
  • How often are there errors when shipping?
  • How much dead stock are we carrying?

Depending on the answers, a new system might be able to improve the efficiency and accuracy of your warehouse and purchasing activities. Think “if we do not have enough product to ship, we cannot sell more product”, together with “if we have dead or slow-moving items they cost us money” – in either case we are losing money.

3.       How are Sales Managed?

In our experience, sales processes are normally one of the biggest areas where new inventory and accounting software can drastically improve a company’s operational performance. Here are some questions that could be asked:

  • How many sales orders are processed each day in total?
  • How long does it take to process an incoming order?
  • Do you have access to all the information you need to perform your job?
  • Is there anything that would help you improve the customer’s experience while processing their sales order?

Find out as much information as you can in this area as it will ultimately improve your operations.  Ask yourself, “If we can improve the sales process how will this impact our sales?”

4.       Review Accounting Processes

If you have been in business for any length of time, you are either using a generic accounting package or a solution that has accounting functionality built-in. In either case, there are still areas where improvement can be made. Consider asking these types of questions:

  • How are invoice payments received and reconciled to the appropriate customer account?
  • Are you using paper to collect accounts receivable?
  • How are payments processed to your suppliers?
  • Is there any functionality that would make these processes more efficient?

Most companies are not looking for new inventory and accounting software because their accounting functionality is inadequate. What you want to make sure of is that you will not be losing functionality with a new solution. Ask yourself, “If we can improve the accounting processes will it make an impact on the work load of our accounting staff?”

5.       What Would be Nice-To-Have?

This section allows you to better understand the “what if’s” in your company. As an example, “What if we had barcode scanning in the warehouse?” or “Could we be more efficient if we had online ordering for our Customers?” This is where you and your co-workers can think outside the box and allow your creative juices to flow.  Remember though, added functionality normally costs money, so keep this in mind before you make too many promises. 

With the information you have accumulated, you can now put together a more detailed list of what you really need and what you would like to have in new inventory and accounting software.

There’s a supplementary question you should be asking: do you have the authority to purchase a new system? Before you actually start contacting software suppliers, have a meeting with the decision maker(s) and offer them your findings. This will allow them to consider if your next steps are still warranted and again offer for some “buy-in”.

Blue Link Software Buying Guide