A software specialist’s guide to evaluating systems

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Technology has the power to unlock major productivity gains and support rapid business growth. But only if you get the right platforms in place. Rob Tregaskes, our Subject Specialist on Internal Technology, shares the three steps you need to take to ensure effective systems, software and technology procurement.

How has your business achieved growth? If you’ve over-invested in people and under-invested in systems you’re not alone. This is a pattern I see all the time with scaling businesses. But it’s a pattern that could be limiting your expansion. 

Implementing a solid piece of software will support your business effectively over the next five years or even beyond. You’ll also reduce risk, improve productivity and recoup the cost. More than this, making the right systems investments for your business will give your people the productivity superpowers they need to accelerate your growth.

Over the past eight years, I’ve found that keeping these three points in mind will keep you on track when evaluating systems.

Point 1 – evaluate software in context

Assessing platforms in isolation skews your view which can lead you down a rabbit hole you have to reverse out of later. That’s why I advocate a more strategic approach to systems evaluation that begins with considering how your system will be used:

1 – Consider your business’ needs and systems’ architecture

  • What’s your operating model? What drives profit or is key to serving customers? 
  • Which part of the business will the system support? Will it help one particular area or the entire staff base? 
  • What work is being done by which teams?
  • What are the business’ products, services and associated pricing models?
  • Where are the hand-offs, internally or with prospects, customers or suppliers?
  • Which systems will your new platform have to play nicely with?
  • How will your new platform work with your systems’ architecture?

The answers to these questions will help you understand the parameters your software needs to be able to work within. They also give you the information you’ll need to understand your system requirements in more depth.

2 – Will your new system be core or peripheral?

  • Peripheral platforms don’t have a major impact on revenue if they go wrong. For example, if employee survey software doesn’t work, it’s not great but it’s not the end of the world
  • A core system is one where the issue will rocket up to the top of the business’ agenda if it goes wrong. Software that:
    • Impacts revenue or cash
    • Is used in communication with your customers or otherwise impacts the customer experience
    • Pays your employees so they continue to work

The two most core systems in any business are Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Finance platforms.  

3 – How much should you spend?

You can justify almost any software cost to yourself in isolation. But procuring software without looking at your entire stack cost will add up and have your CFO asking questions. 

  • Core systems are a massive company investment and undertaking, so you should get the best platform you can afford without scrimping on cost. 
  • Think about your new piece of software in cost terms by establishing the total stack spend. Ask yourself, does the total cost feel reasonable?
  • A helpful yardstick for a company with a headcount of 100-200 people is for all your business’ technology to cost 2-3% of your people costs. Smaller businesses should have a higher percentage as they won’t secure the same economies of scale.

Understanding the context for your new platform is a solid starting point. Next, you need to think about system requirements. 

Point 2 – fully understand your system requirements

A great way to do this is through user stories. This means thinking about the system from the perspectives of its users to establish must-haves and nice-to-haves. This focuses your search on outcomes instead of software and invariably provides a better result.  

It’s also useful to think further ahead in terms of system capability when buying a core system. One of the more technical aspects to consider is integrations. Nearly all modern software has to connect with at least one other platform to be useful to your business. So it’s really important to understand what these integrations look like, how robust and well maintained they are and how regularly they’re updated. 

I always recommend purchasing software that will integrate with your other systems straight out of the box. You could add custom code but this is an expensive cost that should be avoided. 

Software providers love to logo dump all of their integrations on their website. But these integrations won’t necessarily do what you want. To get beyond the logo to understand each integration’s limitations, ask the sales people to give you a demo or check out their help resources or YouTube. This will help you explore exactly how the software integrates with your current technology. 

Point 3 – factor in risk

System risk comes down to what you’ll need to do to replatform. You need to think about whether:

  • The software will still be fit for purpose at various times in the future 
  • Your company is going to grow faster than the platform
  • The software provider is big enough to service your business now and if you grow

The more core the system is, the more painful and riskier it is to move. So you’re going to want to go with a less risky more conservative choice. 

Let’s say you’re looking for a new CRM. And your acquisitive business plan will drive rapid growth with overseas expansion in the next three years. In this case, you should really buy for your requirements two years from now. Because you don’t want to have to change your system just as you go international. That’s already hard enough without adding in a risky and expensive core system change.

If you’re procuring a peripheral system that’s easier to change, you could try something a little riskier or more cutting edge. And, if it doesn’t work out, there will be less of a problem. 

Buying new software can feel like a high-pressure decision. But if you follow these steps, you’ll choose the right platform for your company. One that will empower your people and take your business to the next level.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Tregaskes

Rob Tregaskes

Rob Tregaskes is our Subject Specialist on internal technology and spends much of his time helping our companies to develop and optimise their whole lead-to-cash process, software and operations. He loves getting stuff done and improving processes to make them more efficient, often with the help of technology.