Corporate IT spends a great deal of time justifying the return on investment (ROI) it gets from hardware and data center investments, but it often neglects software investments altogether. By some accounts, 80% of most commercial software features go untapped, with only about 20% being actively used. What should you expect from your software investments and how do you make sure you’re getting it? Here are 10 ways to maximize your software ROI.

1: Evaluate usage

Few IT departments take the time to do this, but if you survey the usage of commercial software — by evaluating its entire set of functions and features and then determining which are regularly being used — you can determine how much of the total solution your company is really using. In many cases, the fault lies within your own organization. There is a tendency to install the initial phase of the solution and then lag behind in implementing follow-on features and functions.

2: Secure an input channel to the software vendor for new feature development

Companies that actively pursue ongoing collaborative relationships with software vendors are most likely to get their requests for enhancement heard. If your software vendor has a user council or committee, it is worth your while to be on it.

3: Check your software for business scalability

Too often, scalability is defined in IT circles as the ability of hardware and software to grow in processing and capacity. When it comes to software scalability, this scalability should be assessed in terms of capability expansion in the software that maps to the business. For instance, if your business goal is to move the entire sales force to mobile communications and order taking, your order system software must be able to accommodate the needs for mobile computing and mobile security. Always ask to see a software vendor’s technology expansion roadmap to ensure that it aligns well with that of your own business.

4: Ensure strong service and product support

Software solutions providers should have strong service and support ethics so that you can be assured that provider will be there for you when necessary. This is why it’s important to include service and support SLAs in all your contracts with commercial software vendors.

5: Invest in software that is easy to integrate

Before making a final software selection, you should assess what pieces of existing business software the new solution will need to interface with and what it’s going to take to effect a successful integration with those pieces. Once the analysis is done, it’s a straightforward process to ask the vendor what APIs and other means of integration it provides.

6: Estimate time to deploy

How long will it take you to deploy the new software — and what effect (if any) will this have on the enablement of critical business strategies?

7: Evaluate all contract options

Standard software contracts run on either three- or five-year terms. Some renew annually. Never go longer than three years on a software contract, because a lot can change for your business in that time. If the vendor tells you that it only has a five-year contract, modify the contract by injecting an opt-out option for your company at the three-year point.

8: Look for great user (and IT) training

Most software solutions providers focus on their product development but skimp on product documentation, user manuals, and training. Your end business users (and IT) will be able to take advantage of a solution only to the extent that they are well trained and comfortable with it. Avoid software vendors that lack strong training for their software. Relying on online FAQ sheets is not enough.

9: Measure end-user and IT satisfaction

Are your end users and IT staff satisfied with the overall solution, the expertise behind it, and the vendor’s support and service staff? If there is dissatisfaction, meeting with the vendor to eliminate points of contention is essential to guarantee that you are getting the most out of your software investment.

10: Take a reading on business value

If the software isn’t building revenue opportunities, lowering costs, creating operational efficiencies, reducing risks, or making other tangible contributions to your end business, it’s time to step back and assess exactly what the software is doing for you.

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How have you maximized the value of your organization’s software investments? Share your advice with fellow TechRepublic members.