Both software and services are critical to a successful implementation. The benefits of best-in-class software are minimized by a service provider that does not have the expertise or experience to configure your software properly. Conversely, mediocre software can be turned into an optimal solution in the hands of the right consultant. Ideally, you will find the right service provider to implement the best software fit.
What comes first? Is the software the chicken or the egg? The first step is gaining an understanding of what you want. Spending time internally to understand what you need and what you may want in the future will provide a basis for evaluating available solutions. After that, I generally start with the software. There are a lot of options out there, and it can be very overwhelming. Some of my favorite resources for software evaluation include:
- Software Comparison Website
Sites like Capterra, G2 and Software Advice have large repositories of information on available software. You can search by various attributes, create software comparisons and read customer reviews. These websites are a good starting point. Some offer free software selection services, but I don’t believe anything is really free. Software on these sites may be featured or promoted by the vendor. To me, this reduces the credibility of the information provided by the software selection services.
- Industry Groups and Tradeshows
Software solutions that target specific industry or niche groups will often participate in these events to make themselves known. Their participation also shows an investment on their part that will likely translate into knowledge of some of your unique business needs.
- Peers and Colleagues
The personal experience of people you know and respect is probably your best resource. Working on an internal project at Moore Colson, I have met with several other accounting and consulting firms to find out about their current solutions. This pointed me to some options I may not have considered otherwise.
- Your Other Service Providers
Your CPA, lawyer, outsourced payroll company and IT consultants may work with other clients who have similar needs to your organization. They have insight into the software other companies use and if they are happy with the product.
Once you have narrowed the field for software, you may be referred to a reseller or service provider. In many cases, you will have the ability to select which reseller you work with; however, most software companies only allow one partner to work with you. Keep in mind, if you start working with a reseller and you are not comfortable, you can switch. Software companies and resellers do not like this scenario, but the software company is usually more concerned that you buy the software. That being said, it is highly unlikely that you will receive competing proposals for the same software.
Here are the three most important attributes I look for in a service provider:
- Communication: Do you feel the service provider understands your needs? When you ask questions, do you understand their answers? If you are not confident that everyone involved understands one another, that miscommunication could be a red flag that impedes the successful execution of the project.
- Trust: The sale of software and software-related services is usually handled by a salesperson. Since their job is to work with you to make a sale, they are usually attentive and responsive. However, I am always skeptical. First, they may not have the same knowledge and experience as a consultant, and their answers may not always be reliable. I feel more comfortable with a salesperson that has been a consultant or that works with a pre-sales consultant to answer the questions they cannot. Secondly, they tend to say “yes” to your requests for software features and functions during the sales process. Be wary of anyone who always says yes. In software, the answer might be no. Often, the true answer is yes, but it comes with a price tag.
- Written Proposal: While the marketing pitch may be pretty, the scope of work is what really counts. The written proposal should clearly outline what services are being provided and at what cost. Don’t make any assumptions; if it is not in writing, you may be surprised by the results.
If you are still overwhelmed, there are consultants that can help with your software and software services evaluation. Just be sure that the consultant is independent. Anyone that benefits from your ultimate selections may not put your best interests first.
Shelly Bitter is a Software Consulting Senior Manager in Moore Colson’s Corporate Accounting Practice. She provides support to our clients wherever software expertise is required. Typical projects include system requirements analysis, software and vendor selection assistance, project management and report design.