By Mike Yeager
Whether you’re considering an expense management tool for employees or a completely new accounting system, at some point you’ll likely have to purchase new technology for your business. As a financial technology provider, we deal with this on an everyday basis. Here are our top tips and insights for navigating the process of choosing and implementing new software.
Find the Right Product and Vendor
When purchasing software, you’ll typically move through an in-depth process that includes research, discovery, demonstration, and finally purchase. Here are some tips for this often arduous road.
Research – This is one of the most crucial steps in the entire process. Before you spend your resources on software, it’s worth diving into your current challenges, future needs, and purchase parameters.
Here are some things to think about:
- What are the biggest problems you’re trying to solve?
- What things do you want most from a new solution?
- What parts of the business do you need the tool to manage?
- What’s the budget for the initial purchase as well as ongoing costs?
- When do you want a new tool in place?
- Do you want to deploy it on your own servers or in the cloud?
- Do you want to connect it to any other business tools?
- Can your team handle any of the setup?
- What do you want from the software provider?
Your team’s input during the research phase is vital. The employees who use the existing software often will have loads of insight. Make sure you have a good understanding of what they do daily. Determine their biggest pain points and what they’d most like to change about the existing system.
Discovery – When you first connect with a software provider, they’ll likely want an introductory meeting to learn about you and your business, dig into the problems you’re having, and understand what you hope to achieve by purchasing new software. They might also ask about your budget and timeline expectations.
The discovery period is also an excellent opportunity to learn about the software vendor. It’s crucial to find a vendor you’re comfortable with, especially if you’ll be using them for ongoing needs related to the software.
Here are some questions to ask:
- How much experience does the vendor have working with companies like yours?
- Does it have any references?
- What does the implementation process look like? What does the vendor handle, and what will your team be responsible for?
- How does training work?
- What is the support plan and what services are offered to customers?
- How often is the software updated?
- How are upgrades handled?
- How does the vendor evaluate and plan for new features? Do they share the product roadmap with customers?
- What’s the long-term strategy for the vendor and the product?
- What’s the ownership structure?
- What’s the culture like?
Demonstration – A demo is your opportunity to see the software in action. It should be personalized to you and your business based on what you discussed with the software provider during discovery. It should be a live demo (not screenshots or a recorded video), and you should have the opportunity to ask questions and dig further into any component of the software.
Make sure all the key players participate in the demo:
- Search team (anyone helping with the research and selection process)
- Decision maker (the person responsible for approving the purchase and budget)
- Key users (a few people who use your current software daily)
- Technical team (your IT team or anyone involved in the technical setup of the new tool)
Carefully evaluate the software using the criteria you developed during the research stage. Does the product meet your top requirements? What’s missing, and how critical is that functionality? Are there areas where you need to dig deeper? Do you feel confident your team will use the product? Do you feel confident in the vendor?
Purchase – Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand all the pricing details. In addition to the software cost, make sure you know the cost of associated services (implementation, training, etc.) and ongoing support and maintenance
Set It Up for Your Business
How your software is set up impacts how it works, so the key to a successful implementation is to be involved. Work with the vendor to tailor the new solution to your business.
Here are some tips for a successful implementation:
- Understand your responsibilities versus the software provider’s responsibilities, and take ownership of your tasks.
- Know your implementation timeline and key milestones so you can track progress and don’t leave things to the last minute.
- Appoint a project manager from your team to help manage the details of the project. Make sure this person is equipped to make decisions or seek direction from leadership when needed.
- Establish an implementation team composed of those who will use the new software. Pick employees who understand your processes and can help decide how the software should be set up. Give each person a role, such as report setup or training.
- Don’t gloss over setup decisions thinking you’ll figure it out later. You may be locking yourself into something that will impact your team and your business moving forward. Be sure you understand the decisions you’re making so you can make the best ones.
- If you’re going to be loading information into your new software, take the time to clean up legacy data so you can start with a clean slate.
- Train during the setup process. Don’t wait until you’re live on the new software to start learning how to use it.
- Test the new software so you can make adjustments before you take it live. Practice day-to-day scenarios so you know how the software works and how to use it.
Engage Your Team
It doesn’t matter how good your new software is if your team doesn’t use it. Engage your team throughout the buying and implementation process so they’re invested in the software as much as you are. Here are a few guidelines for user adoption:
- Identify key team members to be involved in choosing and implementing the new software. Pick those who understand your processes and who will be using the new tool. Ask for their opinions and listen to their recommendations.
- Market the software to your employees. Explain the features, benefits, and how it will impact each role or individual. Build excitement and anticipation as you get your team ready for the transition.
- Clearly communicate what’s happening, when it will happen, who will be impacted, what your team needs to do, and where to get more information.
- Management must engage in the implementation process and use the new software. If employees see supervisors skipping training or working outside the software, they’re likely to think it’s ok for them to do the same.
- Leverage your implementation team. Power users of your existing software will be able to champion the benefits of the change and explain to their peers how the new software will help them in their roles.
- The software vendor should provide training sessions, but consider holding your own workshops or Q&A sessions. This allows you to see how well your team knows the new software and will enable them to ask specific questions about how the software works with your processes.
- Check in with team members throughout the implementation. You’ll get a sense of how the project is progressing and you can immediately address problems, answer questions, and provide reassurance.
- Create incentives and rewards by celebrating team members who are jumping in, participating in the project, and using the new software.
- Set goals for the implementation and use of the new software and track and communicate the results. If you’re implementing new accounting software, and one of the goals is to reduce the number of days for month-end close, let your team know when it’s happening.
Set Yourself Up for Ongoing Success
Implementation is a big hurdle to clear, but the journey is just beginning. It will take ongoing effort to get the most out of your new tool and ensure it will continue to serve your needs as your business grows.
Here are some tips for ongoing success:
- Make sure your team understands your vendor’s support plan and what to do when they need help. Establish an internal resource to provide support and answer questions before going to the vendor for help.
- Understand what’s included in your annual (or monthly) fee. Make sure you take advantage of all the benefits included in your support plan/renewal.
- Keep your software up to date so you can get the latest features and the best support. Upgrading your software regularly, instead of waiting years to upgrade, also reduces upgrade costs.
- Engage with other users. No one understands the software better than the people who use it day in and day out. Other users will have tips and tricks, best practices, and answers to questions that can help you and your business.
- Have a plan for onboarding new employees. Make sure new employees are properly introduced to and trained on your software so they have all the tools they need to do their jobs and won’t be tempted to create workarounds.
- Take advantage of learning opportunities. Send power users to regular training sessions or other events hosted by your software vendor. This keeps their skills sharp and introduces them to new processes or features they can bring back to the rest of your team.
- Keep your vendor in the loop as your business grows or changes. As your business changes, so will your needs. Your software vendor can help you adapt your solution over time.
- Give feedback. Software vendors rely on user feedback to make changes or improvements to their software and develop new features. You can have input in the direction of the software you’re using by providing product suggestions and feedback to the vendor.
Investing in New Technology
Not every tool may require the same level of research or involve a lengthy implementation, but it’s important to think of technology as an investment. Take the necessary steps to invest in the right places and nurture your investment once you do. The right tools can support your business and drive you toward your goals, while the wrong tools can stand in your way.
Mike Yeager is vice president at Cargas, a software company in Lancaster, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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