When we stop to think about it, it’s not hard to see that software of one kind or another comes into play in almost all aspects of our everyday lives.
As individuals, we’ve come to rely on it more and more as we continue to accumulate (software-driven) electronic gadgets and use them wherever we happen to be. We buy goods and services using software. We manage our banking and finances using software. We socialize and communicate with our friends and family in a hundred different ways using software.
Could we get by without it? It’s doubtful, but not beyond the realm of possibility – assuming we undertook some serious behavior modification and endured some intense pain first!
In a business context, though, it’s a different story.
If we were to suddenly shut down all the software applications used by even a single department in most organizations, we’d be sunk. All productive activity would grind to a halt in a matter of minutes. Employees wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other; sales people wouldn’t be able to close deals; clients wouldn’t be able to pay their invoices; and employers wouldn’t be able to pay their staff.
This is why the software selection process is so important. A company’s many software applications – web, mobile, desktop – are indispensable. We rely on them just to keep business operations going.
At the other end of the spectrum, however, the right software, with the right set of features and capabilities, can be a significant competitive differentiator for your business (or nonprofit, or government organization). It can help you sell more products, raise more money, provide better services or engage better with your customers.
The key players in the software selection process, therefore, have an extremely important job to do as they look to define detailed software requirements. If you are one of these lucky few, consider the following tips for tackling one critical aspect of this process: clearly and thoroughly defining your organization’s software requirements.
1. Consult all your stakeholders
In software circles, everyone talks about the importance of defining good software requirements, and with good reason. While it’s become something of a mantra, there’s no magic involved. It’s more a question of common sense: if you don’t know what you want, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up with the wrong thing.
Doing the analysis up-front is time consuming because you’ll need to consult extensively with a whole host of stakeholders, including business people, technical experts, and users, among others. But it’s well worth the effort. After working with all of these groups, you will end up with a comprehensive list of wants and needs for you system.
2. Prioritize the user experience
In any discussion of software requirements, the needs of your users should be a high priority. So spending time with the eventual users of your system to fully understand what they need to do with the system is often the best place to start. What kind of user experience are they looking for? No matter what a system is capable of doing, the ease with which your users can interact with it will increase their willingness to embrace it as an essential tool in their toolkit.
3. Focus on the fundamentals
Now that you’ve got your list, it likely includes dozens of features your stakeholders believe are “must haves”. Sometimes this will be a pretty good list, and sometimes there will be many items that would be difficult to consider absolutely essential. In either case, it’s rare that you won’t need to prioritize and eliminate at least some of the items on it.
So your task at this point should be to evaluate the list and pare it down to the fundamental requirements of the system – that is, the features and functionality without which the system cannot succeed.
4. Don’t get caught up in the bells and whistles
The flip side of tip number 3 is not getting too caught up in the many bells and whistles offered by some of the available systems. As compelling and cool as some of these innovative features may be, you need to take a hard look at the value they will ultimately provide to your business and determine whether they really belong on that list of fundamentals.
5. Start talking to vendors
Once you’ve got your initial list of software requirements distilled down to the fundamentals (although these will undoubtedly evolve as you learn more), it’s the right time to start researching the different systems on the market that may be a fit.
When you start having some initial conversations with vendors about your specific requirements, you’ll likely get a sense for which vendors are interested in understanding your needs and challenges and which ones just want to sell you their software. This is a great way to start narrowing the list before you even think about moving to any kind of formal procurement phase.
Jamie is NetFore’s Vice President of Business Development