Searching for new inventory and accounting software to manage your business is a cumbersome task involving a lot of time, money and mental resources. Between initial discovery calls with potential vendors, to more in-depth discussions, to multiple demonstrations, the search process can quickly become overwhelming for employees. This increases with the number of vendors you evaluate. Evaluating too many vendors can lead to information overload and hinder the search process by making it difficult to distinguish between the functionality, costs, and fit of each. Another factor that can hinder the search process is waiting too long to involve decision makers. Below we discuss why.
First and foremost, when making the decision to replace existing software systems, it is important that you assign a “project manager”. Ideally, this person understands business operations across all departments in order to speak to potential vendors about required functionality and specific processes. This person needs to be engaged in the search with visible support from management and ultimately the final decision maker(s). Having someone take ownership of the project helps to ensure everyone involved stays on track and that it remains a priority. However, it is important that the search does not take time away from the project manager’s normal responsibilities or cause them additional stress. If the project manager is not dedicated to the search or does not have the bandwidth available to find a new system, it will impede the results.
Who to Involve and When
To find the right solution, it is important to create a list of potential vendors by doing preliminary research and then scheduling initial discussions with those who make the short-list. This initial conversation will act as a starting point for discussing scope, needs, fit, budget etc. at a high level only. It is important to use these initial conversations to narrow down your list of vendors for further discussions and demonstrations. At this stage in the process, it is enough to only involve the project manager, assuming they have all the information they need from management and the rest of the team – in terms of must-have requirements, an understanding of processes and an appropriate budget. After these initial discussions and when the list of vendors has been narrowed down, it is appropriate to begin scheduling more in-depth discussions.
[Note that although you may be able to eliminate certain vendors right off the bat, frequently it is necessary to have more in-depth discussions to help you narrow down your list even further. At this point in time it is ok to evaluate a higher number of vendors, however, the goal is to significantly narrow down your list before seeing demos.]
It is during this first set of more in-depth discussions that you will want to involve decision makers and other members of your team, even if they do not participate in the entire conversation. The danger in waiting too long is that it can result in your evaluation criteria changing and the duplication of work.
Unless your team and the decision makers have had multiple in-depth internal discussions, it is likely that there are certain priorities and concerns around the software search that you will miss. What is important to the controller at a company from a functionality standpoint is not going to be the same as what is important to the warehouse manager, sales manager or owner. Therefore, it is essential to involve people from different departments not only when creating priorities for the software search, but also during discussions with vendors. This reduces the risk of missing certain features and of the evaluation criteria changing. It also makes it easy for each department to ask their own questions around specific requirements.
Duplication of Work
The second risk of waiting too long to involve decision makers and other people from your team is the duplication of work. There is no point in the project manager sitting through detailed discussions or participating in a live demo if the decision makers or other people from the company want to participate as well. What often happens is that the project manager goes through the process, and then as soon as it comes time to sign off on a proposal, decision makers and management worry that aspects of the search have been missed and insist on revisiting conversations and demos with vendors. To avoid this issue and the duplication of work, involve other members of your team as soon as possible.