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Choosing the Right Applications

June 9, 2014

One of the most important decisions you will make is choosing the software that runs your business. More specifically, I’m talking about the main applications used for the daily operation of your company.

Known by various acronyms (ERP, LOB, CRM), these applications are not purchased from a store.

Instead, these applications are just about always purchased direct from the developer. Written specifically for your type of business, they are often offered in modules that integrate seamlessly with each other, such as:

  • businesscollageCustomer Relationship Management
  • Marketing and Sales
  • Accounting including Receivables and Payables
  • Human Resources
  • Parts & Service
  • Inventory

Written by programmers targeting industry verticals or even businesspeople in your industry who couldn’t find a suitable off-the-shelf product to run their business, these applications generally work like you do rather than making you work within the confines of an off-the-shelf program that needs heavy customization and third-party utilities.

So, while the software will encompass some or all of the functions of general businesses, it will focus on specific industries. In this area, I most often see such applications for boat dealers, retailers, restaurants, hotels, auto dealers, real estate, and construction.

These programs reduce or eliminate duplicate data entry so data is available to all members who need access to it without re-typing it. The best ones include Dashboards and reporting to give you the Big Picture of your company’s performance and operations, or the ability to integrate with third-party programs that provide that functionality.

A word of caution:

It’s easy to get locked into a specific application and can be expensive to get out if it doesn’t live up to expectations. The cost alone (we’re talking thousands of dollars here) should cause you to perform your due diligence, but if that doesn’t phase you, perform your due diligence anyway to answer these questions:

  • What happens if the software developer goes out of business. Will you be stuck providing your own technical support? Are there peer support groups you could get help from? Could you move to a new application fairly easily or will you face a steep learning curve and expensive data conversion costs?
  • Does the application integrate with retail products like Office and Quickbooks if needed?
  • Will the application require major changes in your network security to function properly (i.e., do users need to be administrators on their computers, thus increasing the risk of security breaches)?
  • How much do technical support and application upgrades cost, especially in subsequent years when those costs aren’t rolled into the initial purchase price any longer?
  • Does technical support work roughly the same hours you do, or will you have to wait a couple of hours for support from a different time zone?
  • What are their typical tech support response times — they should have statistics and possibly guarantees on this;
  • If there is a Cloud-based version and it doesn’t offer all of the functionality of the on-premise version (as is sometimes the case), can you live with the reduced feature set?
  • Is a mobile version offered and what are its limitations?
  • How is their Cloud version backed up?
  • What happens to your data if the Cloud version is no longer offered?
  • Can you set up a demo for your staff or even better, run a trial version for 30 days to give all employees a chance to use it and make comments?
  • Will the system requirements require you to buy a new server and/or workstations or upgrade existing network hardware to run the application efficiently?

You should also get to know the executives of the software company and learn about:

  • Their history
  • How long they’ve been in business
  • The owners’ succession plan
  • What upgrades they plan to roll out in the next few years?

One other consideration here — if you have very specific needs that can’t be met by one of these applications, you may need to go with a custom-designed program written by a programmer. In that case, all of the above goes, but you have to be even more diligent about tech support issues and costs.

As you can see, choosing these applications is a major, company-wide decision. Look at not one, but multiple applications in your price range and whether they operate similarly enough to make a somewhat smooth change to another application if that becomes necessary.

If you’ve decided you’ve outgrown the limitations of Quickbooks and Microsoft Office and would like help with performing your due diligence, give Eric Magill a call at 302-537-4198.

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