We all know that making an investment in new software is a major investment. There are the procurement and licensing costs, not to mention training, plus the inevitable loss of productivity as teams start to learn and the new software.

Yet, so many companies pick a commercial off the shelf software (also known as a COTS) without doing their homework first. All too often, they pick the system that seems to have the most features, but they don’t look at what they really need and why. They don’t complete a business requirements assessment first, or take the time to identify how best to align their processes to the new technology, and then they wonder why user adoption is spotty. If users are not actually using the new software within the first three months, or worse, they revert to the old way of doing things, the software deployment has failed. Even then, however, it’s not too late. Here’s where you can begin if your company is looking for new software, or has deployed a software that is not meeting usability expectations.

Identify the business problems and needs. Gather the core users in a room for a few hours and take an honest look at the current state. What are the biggest challenges in getting work done today, whether it be in an existing system or through manual efforts? What challenges absolutely have to be addressed? From there, it is essential to collect and document the business requirements to identify what the team needs. What are the core tasks? What are the different roles? How can the team be more efficient?

Weight and prioritize the business requirements. Which requirements are “must have” needs, versus “nice to haves?” Weight the requirements so that the most critical requirements are prioritized as high value. Not all of the requirements can be high priority, so be selective about what is critical versus a nicety.

Evaluate the options. Pick three to five software products that might meet the needs and request demos. Tailor the demos to ensure that the vendor reviews how your “must have” requirements are addressed in the software. A standard vendor demo won’t get you where you need to go, but if you can help guide the demo, you’ll get the valuable information you need to make a good decision quickly. If you are already using a software package, put it through the same evaluation to see how it may/may not be meeting the defined needs.

Consider a custom system, if nothing out there really meets your needs. If the COTS products out there only address 50% of what you need, or if you will only really use a small portion of the COTS system, then it’s time to consider an investment in a custom system. Remember, however, that COTS products are built for the masses: it could be more cost effective over time to build your own custom application that does exactly what your company needs it to do. There is a misconception that a custom system can cost more than a COTS tool. Using a COTS software that doesn’t fully meet needs is, in fact, a more costly investment. The longer you use it, the longer those tedious manual processes will exist, all while you are paying for software that should be addressing those manual tasks.

It is critical to do the required “due diligence” when considering any system deployment or upgrade. The idea of “measure twice, cut once” can be what makes your procurement and implementation truly successful. Whenever I am approached to help remediate user adoption issues, I always ask for the original business requirements that were collected to select the system. Even if they don’t exist yet, it’s never too late to reverse course and do a system needs analysis the “right” way.

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