There are seven steps to take when evaluating software to determine if it meets the needs of your business. The best practice is to consider your employees’ needs, your customers’ needs, and your needs as the business owner to manage the business. Choosing software for your business provides an excellent opportunity for employee and customer engagement in the decision-making process.
By following these recommended steps, you will be able to make a better-informed decision. Documenting the decision-making process is useful. Use some system (note-taking, spreadsheets, etc.) to collect the data and keep it organized.
Seven Steps for Software Evaluation
Step 1: Define the Problem(s)
Define the business problem(s) you’d like to solve with software. Think about the usefulness of a software solution with positive results in mind.
Document the answers to these questions:
- What “pain points” are you trying to eliminate? A pain point is something you want to get rid of or improve by using the software.
- How will you know if you succeeded in solving the problem(s)?
Step 2: Must-Have Features
Identify the software features on your “must-have” list. Consider price, ease-of-use, functionality, scalability, and integration issues.
Document the answers to these questions for each software solution being considered:
- What is the total ownership cost (TOC) of using the software? TOC not only includes the actual cost of the software a monthly subscription, but things like includes labor to install and maintain the software.
- Does the software have a steep learning curve, require special training, or is it easy to use?
- Does the software meet the “must-have” functional requirements?
- Can the software scale to match the company’s future growth?
- Can the software integrate with any existing systems you plan to continue using?
Step 3: Engagement
Be sure to talk to the people who will actually be using the software and understand what they need. Ask any employees who will use the software to evaluate the options and give their opinions. If the software directly impacts customers, ask some of your best customers what they think.
Document the answers to these questions:
- How many employees will use the software?
- How many employees will need remote access?
- What types of devices will employees use to access the software?
- What level of support is needed from you, internal IT staff, and the vendor?
- What will be the impact of the selected software on the customer experience?
Step 4: Research
Research possible solutions and make a list of the options that provide the best solutions. If this process seems overwhelming, you might want to hire a freelance consultant to help create a software evaluation report.
The American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines quality software based on eight criteria, which are:
- Functional Suitability
- Performance Efficiency
The quality of a software solution, while it is in use, depends on five characteristics, which are:
A spreadsheet checklist is a good way to organize the choices of software solutions for comparison. If you like to use an online tool for your spreadsheet analysis, try Airtable free version, which is easy-to-use and has real-time collaboration capabilities.
Step 5: Narrow the Choices
Refine the list based on functionality and fit. Consider standalone software solutions, web-based solutions, and software as a service (SaaS) solutions offered on a subscription basis, with all the software running on cloud servers maintained by the software company. Make a shortlist of the best potential choices.
Step 6: Reviews
Read reviews to see what others have to say about the software. The review systems useful for software comparisons include Capterra, G2, Software Advice, and GetApp. You might want to check Trustpilot to read reviews about the software company.
Step 7: Try the Software
Sign up for free trials of the software on your shortlist. Be sure to re-visit the employees and customers identified in Step 3 above to get their opinions of the best choice from the options on your shortlist. If appropriate, encourage them to try the software also during the free trial period.
Make your final decision.
As a business owner, the degree of your involvement in the decision-making process for evaluating business software depends on your interest level, technical skills, and the investment needed. Try not to rush through this process. Allow sufficient time to make a fair evaluation and a wise choice. Be sure to handle any major system changes with plenty of warning to employees if their work will be disrupted.
With the amazing array of business software innovations, even a tiny startup company may appear as fully functional as a major enterprise with the right software system support.