Tech & Work

Why IT has to be involved at the start of software selection

If you've made it so that IT is involved in your SMB's software selection process, you're one step ahead of the game. Here are the reasons it's important for IT to be involved before and not just afterwards.

If you've made it so that IT is involved in your SMB's software selection process, you're one step ahead of the game. Here are the reasons it's important for IT to be involved before and not afterward.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Selecting software in an SMB can be a bit challenging, especially if you're transitioning your IT organization. Like many small businesses, IT can typically be looked at as the computer fix it group. Whatever the business wants to do, we can chuck it over the wall to IT to implement.

Before we get into the "How to's," let's review the "why's." Why is a software selection process important?

1. It lets you eliminate half-baked ideas. I have found many cases where the installation of a software packages began as some manager's brainchild but, once  implemented, was too difficult to use or didn't really do what it needed to do. This is typically the result of shoot-from-the-hip tactics and only takes into account one vendor that the manager may have met at a cocktail party somewhere.

2. It lets you eliminate the proliferation of redundant systems. As organizations grow, a bunch of different applications can pop up that do the same thing. A scheduling software package is an example. Another would be some folks using ACT! and others using Salesforce.com. The more applications that are out there in the company, the higher the support costs and the thinner the expertise.

3. It helps with Project Portfolio investment makeup. The process helps focus expensive and talented IT resources on projects that are going to make the largest impact on the organization in cost reduction, revenue generation, or productivity enhancement. Additionally, many capital approval processes are not very mature in SMBs and capital decisions tend to be reactionary (i.e., we should probably fix that hole in the roof instead of buying a new coffee machine).

4. It gives you focus and offers solution orientation. The process helps the business side focus on what is really important in the software and can also help quantify the qualitative. Additionally, bringing in several vendors that operate in the same space will allow for a much more objective comparison and they may actually bring in approaches, modules, or features that had not been thought of originally that may be beneficial. Additionally, you can be there to keep the salespeople on task and to challenge areas where they try to throw a fast one by the business managers. The conversation changes very noticeably when IT is in the same meeting as the business managers.

5. Support. The process also allows the business to take into account support and management. If there is a software package out there that requires data entry, has a resource been assigned to that duty? This is not just IT support either. The process allows the business and IT to define roles and responsibilities with regard to the application. Who will be the subject matter expert? On the IT side, you can determine if the software company will be around in a few years, judge support network breadth and third-party consultant/contract network size and depth.

6. It allows success measurement and follow-through. What will we be able to do when the project is complete? What were the revenue targets? Have we hit them yet? Will we hit them by the deadline we set in the project planning phase? What do we need to change to make our goal? Follow-through is very important. Sometimes a business case calls for the elimination of headcount. As the time approaches to let those resources go, things pop up and it doesn't occur. Additionally, some applications or projects require some process management, like making sure all printing goes through the new print shop instead of Kinko's. When other contracts expire, you can bring them into the application instead of allowing them to auto-renew.

7. Buy-in. Finally, getting buy-in from all those involved is key to the success of many application projects. By including all of the stakeholders in the process, you increase the chance of a successful implementation. Large software packages tend to affect different stakeholders in different ways and including everyone in the process to view the big picture. If a software package makes one person's job 20% harder, but six other people's job 50% more efficient, that person who will be signing up to work harder will be more likely to perform if he or she can see the full impact.

16 comments
jmgarvin
jmgarvin

How many of you have more than one CRM? How about multiple flavors of different office products? How about the tons of flavors of specialized products that could be more universal? IT "doesn't understand" because typically they are given poor requirements in the beginning. Users need to explain their needs CLEARLY and they need to understand that software doesn't just magically work the way they want it to without effort by IT.

Jaqui
Jaqui

that IT should be RESPONSIBLE for software selection. we need an application to handle ___________ find the best one(s) for us to use and bring me the info.

No User
No User

A global listing of all software (and how to obtain it) that also categorizes each program and describes the uniqueness of each category and also lists the features and usability of each product and a comparison of each program in each category. I think the folks who make the software would find the above extremely beneficial if for nothing else then increased sales. You would think the SBT's who are all knowing at least about business and increasing sales would pick right up on that even if it was thought of by an IT professional.

Jaqui
Jaqui

If I ask IT to find the app that provides _____ for the business and bring me the short list of options, I don't want a listing of everything available, I want the top 5 options to meet the specific requirement. also, there are 5 different websites that have such a listing, of open source options, that are all search able, why re-invent the wheel?

No User
No User

And I doubt that they have EVERYTHING (open source) much less the categorizing and feature listings and comparison completely up to date. So nothing invented nothing to be re-invented. Whom would you suggest to be the ultimate repository of software knowledge? Billy in bean counting, Mary in marketing, Sallie in sales or good time Charlie in the c-suite in fact any of the SBT's? I'll just bet each of those brainy acts would dwarf IT professionals with their amazing worldly knowledge of "ALL" software and especially with their amazing talent to pick the best suited affordable program for the business. The bottom line is what would the problem be for an IT professional to pick out software verse anyone else? Answer none. Only a true brainless moron would see a problem with involving IT in an IT project. Since the fence has been built and sides have been chosen let us just leave it at that. I would have IT seated at the big table so that IT was an officially sanctioned part of the business and in doing so IT would be informed of the business needs and better able to implement IT in the business so that the business was best suited to perform it's business. That would be in the best interest of the business. In doing so I would have IT take the lead in the IT project of choosing the software. I'm sure that both frightens and confuses folks on the other side of the fence. Please don't worry I know that it frightens you folks when someone who lives in the real world and actually knows what is going on takes charge but I assure all of you over there that everything will be just fine. So please don't fret and just sit back relax and it will all be over soon enough. I know that you are slow so I'll spell it out for you. I would pick an IT professional to lead the project of acquiring software. I would also involve the SBT's who are to use that software. That would be the correct way to go about that process.

jonsaint
jonsaint

While the IT regime in the City of Fort Worth is not anywhere near Nirvana yet, a decision was made in 2002 when a disastrous outsourcing exoerience came to an end to implement better customer service relationships. To that end the job of IT Business Planner was added to the IT PMO and six people hired to manage the relationships with 27 operating departments. We are tasked with understanding our customers' businesses (and boy, are they varied) and future directions. Being on their premises several days a week helps us see bottlenecks and offer suggestions and also head off customer managers' latest enthusiasm inspired by the previous night's cocktail conversation with a dishonest salesman. We write the business process diagrams for the As-Is and the ToBe states when a software acquisition decision is to be made to show our customer managements what they are buying and how it will fit. They make better decisions when they can see the integration points to their business as usual paradigm. Oddly enough, we Business Planners are hated more by our internal IT community than we are by our customers because we see the customers as running businesses and not pods of technology. Our IT folks are specialists in their areas and not global thinkers so they do not appreciate our inputs. For instance when we implemented a Red Lights Camera project, IT saw it as a communications problem: run DSL out to the selected intersections. We had to come in and make them think about billing and receipting, Internet access to the violation records at the vendor, and court access for the speedsters who appealed. In our recent RIF, management chose to eliminate the project managers and add their reponsibilities on us because we see the intersection between IT and the customers so well. Life is not Nirvana like I say, but the customer departments who use us the most are running much better businesses than they used to.

Jay Rollins
Jay Rollins

A government body came up with this idea and implemented it? I am encouraged. The way you describe it, sounds like just the right medicine. Good luck!

No User
No User

You said that your company hired six IT Business Planners. Well they would be IT would they not? That said IT looked beyond the task at hand and saw the company that intended to utilize it. So you massage it to work better for them in their environment. OK that was IT that did that so how do you get off bashing IT then? The folks whom you negatively commented about have their job to do and if the company would like to expand beyond folks who already have their hands full and are focused on their task then the company can do as yours and hire IT folks to concentrate on all those nice things that you folks have brought to the table. Basically it's like this there are two ways to complete a job one is to do only that which is necessary and the other is to do that and also add things that are nice to do. I would not fire a crack programmer simply because of the lack of "Client and or Business" understanding. What I would do is evaluate the the need for those skills and see if they could be capitalized on by existing personal or if I needed to hire someone like your company did. It would be much more productive to do it that way. The bottom line and the million dollar question is how much concern about either the employing company's business and where applicable the client's business and associated needs is a given company willing to pay for? If the company MUST choose between paying folks to work on the project or going above and beyond to get into the touchy feely stuff about business which way would it choose to go? The overwhelming desire by the SBT's is to do it as cheap as possible and if concern for business isn't on the work order that the client is paying for then the company has no desire to eat the cost. The bottom line is if the company performing the IT project has to eat the expense then they overwhelmingly choose not to do it. If neither seller nor client will pay the expense are the IT folks then expected to donate their time free of charge simply because it will produce a better product. Most IT folks rightfully will tell you to go pound sand!!! No ticky no shirty, you don't pay we don't play, have a nice day!!!!! :) Are we bad, stupid and uncaring if we don't work for free? You do bring an interesting note. That is considering the business of clients in addition to the business that employs you. Add that as Yet another IT trait that the SBT's can't seem to understand. I think IT folks need to find ways to enrich the big dogs since enriching themselves is all they care about, then they just might accept the fact that we know how to do business. You see it's not about the company anymore it's strictly about how much cash and freebies the big dog's get dot period. ;) It's compelling to add that you are lucky to work for a company that will go beyond the work order and hire folks to go above and beyond. Most companies look for ways to make cuts.

No User
No User

First off this is intended to be a reply to the Article: Why IT has to be involved at the start of software selection if this post comes off as a separate article then TR needs to fix their web so the first post isn't off in la la land and everyone reading it knows it belongs to Jay Rollins Article: Why IT has to be involved at the start of software selection. It was a good article. The title struck me as being odd. I completely understand that you are being serious but it is just so telling of the true IT situation in general when it comes to IT's roll at the office place. The reason I mention this is do to the many articles on IT & Business alignment where business has taken the position the IT has put it's self outside the business and that is the source of the down fall of IT at least in the USA and why business has just given up on IT professionals to be able to perform operations and so on that meet the needs of the business. So their mind set is that if you outsource then you will be dealing with business even if that business is comprised of nearly or all IT professionals and the work that is outsourced is all IT. They feel they will get better results because they would then being dealing with IT as a business instead of dealing with IT professionals in house. In a very matter of fact way you dropped that title.... Why IT has to be involved at the start of software selection... It sure seems as if most businesses wouldn't involve IT in the software selection process. I agree you are very right about that and you could move that to IT as a whole. Which means that IT didn't pack up and walk out as we stand accused, we were shunned, ignored, run over and forced to walk the gang plank at the point of a sword. If IT is actually it's own little island nation standing outside the business then once and for all admit that it was by force from the standard business types (SBT)'s and not by the universal selection of IT professionals. Of course it's the standard business types (SBT)'s who have caused most if not all the problems and basically have landed us where we are today. Fighting with the (SBT)'s to take our rightful place at the big table making the business decisions that steer the business. I'm not picking a fight it just surprises me to see folks who take the (SBT) point of view and then write an article like this that is telling the naked truth. You feel compelled to write an article to let the (SBT)'s know that if they involve IT in the "ENTIRE" decision process at least when it comes to IT projects that you will have a much better out come. While that is true and also worthy of a DAH, it contrasts with the position that it is IT folks and not the (SBT)'s that are completely at fault with the current IT business nonalignment problem. IT folks are standing by ready, willing and waiting all the (SBT)'s need to do is spread their legs and remove their heads from their rectums and face the light of day. Right now the (SBT)'s hold the keys to the castle one day that shall change.

santeewelding
santeewelding

An insurgency is hatched.

jck
jck

I saw once, at a former employer... The editor of a newsletter published asked for some software. Purchasing got the request, and bought the software. Unfortunately, they bought the PC version. The editor used a Mac. :^0

No User
No User

There are so many different software packages that nobody knows them all nor the differences between all the competing packages. Not involving IT in something that screams of IT is just totally irresponsible. You might not know the software but you do know they have MAC and PC versions. ;) It's like skipping going to the doctor and taking all those tests and just going straight to the pharmacy when you get sick. In the short run that might cost less however that would be very STUPID!!!

Editor's Picks