An Insider?s List Of 10 Things You Should Ask Before Buying Software
From an insider?s view these items are a must before making the decision to purchase any off-the-shelf software for your business.
1. What determines the software price? Is it Per Seat or Per User or Per Processor?
The cost of software is determined in many ways. The two most
popular ways are Per Seat or Per Concurrent User. Per Seat is determined by how
many seats in your business will be using the software at any given time. On the
other hand, Per Concurrent User is based on a set amount of users that can
access the software at one time. (Example: concurrent users means a program with
a license for 5 users can be installed on 100 machines but only a maximum of 5
people can use the system at once.) Per Processor is calculated on how many
machines (PC?s or servers) the software will be running on. Many larger
enterprise software applications use this method to determine their prices.
Many programs that are higher in price should include some
amount of on-site services or support. If it does not, ensure that both (service
& support) are built into your contract before purchasing. But, beware that this
is the area where companies make most of their profit. Some companies count on
your returning with requests for customizations of the software. Now that you
have the software and have spent significant time purchasing hardware and
dedicating resources, they know you are already ?half way in the pool?; they
also know that you will have trouble refusing to pay extra money to get what you
want. These services can include anything from training classes, customizations,
or help with installation issues. In the case of local software companies, keep
in mind they should automatically provide some sort of on-site services (at a
minimum) before purchasing. This can only help to streamline your implementation
process and increase the likelihood of your success, with the added benefit of a
higher return on investment (ROI). Who wouldn?t like to have that?
This is most widely overlooked when purchasing software.
Sometimes unsatisfied users will expect a refund after deciding that it is not
what they want. My experience has been that once the developer receives payment
for software, it can take next to a miracle to get a refund of any kind. Prior
to purchasing your next piece of software, be sure to find out their return
policy and number of days that you can have the software in your hands and still
be able to send it back to get a full or partial refund. With custom-developed
software it can be even trickier for the buyer, you will need to build this into
the contract before work begins. It goes without saying how important it is to
determine this up front in case you change your mind.
Some companies will say that they will fix software issues as
soon as you find one. There are others that will compile the list of ?bug? fixes
and release it on a scheduled basis convenient for them. This can happen either
monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly or yearly. Neither path is better or worse, as
long as you are dealing with a reputable software company that stays true to
their word. Knowing this before purchasing the software allows you to better
handle your software end-users and enables you to provide a more accurate time
frame of when your users will see changes or have their issues resolved.
This is another widely overlooked key item. There are two lines
of thought that companies can use for updating customers. The company might
decide not to notify its customers at all when updates rollout. They may think
that if the customer has a problem they will contact them. At that time would
they inform the user of an available update? Beware of this method of service,
or lack there of. Steer clear of companies that do not provide this as an option
to their clients. The second line of thought would be for the company to notify
its customers regularly about updates. They may also offer an option of
including the customer on a mailing list. In this case be sure that they have
multiple contacts that are on the email distribution list so that everyone who
should know will not be left out of communications loop. If the software company
does not offer either one of these options, you might want to reconsider your
Software that is scalable in design simply means that it can
easily grow with your business, at minimal cost to you. Factors include end user
customizations, current database structure, and inputs and outputs like reports,
and connectivity to your other database systems. Scalability is very important
for small businesses, because they are dynamic in growth. No one wants to jump
through hoops of testing, development, customizations, and training, to purchase
software only to find out a year later that you have outgrown it and you need to
replace it. With proper planning at the time of purchase only you can increase
your chances for a successful software experience.
If you require customizations to the software to meet a specific
need, a good rule of thumb is that it should be no more than a 1/3 of the price
of the software price. Never forget that many times software companies will
negotiate with you on customization. As a customer any software company worth
your time should want to keep you happy. In some cases there may need to be some
give and take by both parties. A good rule of thumb would be to always discuss
your needs with management directly. Gatekeepers tend to drag their feet at
times. Purchasing software knowing that you will need to make major changes
should be a sign that you really need to take a step back and look at all of
your options including: in-house development, outsourcing, and partnering with
software developers to cut the price.
No matter what generation (e.g. 1yr 2nd version, 10 yrs 4th
version, etc?) the software is currently in, the software company should at
least be able to warn you of the hurdles that they have experienced in
implementations they have done. If not, this should raise a red flag for you.
The software company should be keeping track of this type of information,
especially if they are constantly attempting to improve their products. You will
find that they sometimes run into the same issues 2 or 3 times before they take
notice and take action to investigate and resolve it before future
Whether you are across town or on the other side of the world,
if you need help and support is not available to you, the only option will be to
take the system down for an unknown length of time and wait for help. Before
getting married to a software company by purchasing their product, find out
where the company is located and if the company has what I define as a ?passive?
or ?active? customer support system. Follow up with pointed questions like,
?Will you only return my call at certain hours of the day??, ?Will I have to
leave messages and wait at the phone for your callback??, ?Will I have a direct
callback from a representative or will I be reassigned to someone different
every time I call??. Finding this information out earlier rather then later
should give you peace of mind when an urgent situation or quick answer is
Before they say no, put them at ease by letting them know that your goal is to find out what features they might be including so that you can plan ahead for your business. Chances are that if someone requested something, you will also be able to make use of this feature. Also obtaining this list will benefit you in three other ways:
1. If you know that a feature is forthcoming, you can notify
users beforehand and seek feedback from them on whether this is something they
would like also.