As businesses grow and evolve, they tend to accumulate more and more software solutions – in the same way the rest of us accumulate socks. Over time, and despite their best efforts, they often end up with a motley collection of systems across the various functional areas of the business, with off-the-shelf solutions living alongside various home-grown or custom solutions.
Many of these are still used extensively, even if they are recognized as a drag on productivity; others have outlived their usefulness, but organizational inertia prevents them from being replaced.
As an IT leader, you’re heavily involved in the ongoing process of evaluating these kinds of systems and the options to replace them. This requires careful analysis of a whole host of factors to determine which course of action will have the biggest impact on the productivity of your team and the profitability of your business.
Sometimes what’s best for the business involves upgrading to a new version of a particular software solution or replacing it outright with a competitive product. Other times, you conduct an exhaustive evaluation of vendors and solutions, only to find that there is no off-the-shelf solution that provides the precise mix of functionality, usability and price you’re looking for.
In these cases, a bespoke software solution often presents itself as the only viable option. Once you’ve decided this is the best way forward, finding the right software development partner is a critical first step.
It’s not always an easy process, so to help you on your way, here are five essential qualities you should look for to make sure your software is built to your specifications and is delivered on time and on budget.
1. Deep technical skills
Technology waits for no one, and there are many companies out there that can’t keep up. So finding a partner whose team possesses the most up-to-date skills and experience relevant to your project is vitally important. Do they have extensive experience working with the latest software technologies, databases and platforms? Do they understand current methodologies, such as Agile and Scrum, for developing rapid prototypes and producing high-quality software quickly? Do they have a mix of proven software architects who can lead the design of the solution and a group of highly skilled coders who can implement it successfully?
The best software companies out there bring versatility to your project. They have a diverse, largely senior team of experts who have experience working in multiple domains. They’ve put in the time in the trenches and have encountered pretty much every thorny software development problem there is. And while versatility is important, the more knowledge they have of your particular domain, and experience working in it, the better off you’ll be.
3. A view to the future
While it’s essential for your software partner to be extremely well-versed in the most sophisticated technologies available today, they also need to have one eye fixed firmly on the future. You want any solution you build to be as “future proof” as possible. In architecting the solution, every effort should be made to ensure its extensibility as your needs change and as software technology continues to evolve (as it inevitably will). After all, there’s not much point in investing in a highly customized solution that’s destined to be obsolete in a year or two.
4. A high-touch approach
There are lots of people out there who can write code, but delivering a successful software project requires a lot more than that. In fact, writing software for business applications, regardless of the industry, is an enormously complex undertaking. The best software development firms adopt an end-to-end approach that encompasses the entire software development lifecycle, from requirements definition through to coding, testing, deployment, and beyond. Throughout these stages, ongoing communication between you and your partner and skilled and proactive project management are indispensable for ensuring the solution is built to your specifications and hits all the project milestones along the way.
5. Trust and credibility
Great business relationships are built on trust, and if you’re going to work successfully with anyone on a project, you need to trust their judgement and believe that they can and will do what you’ve hired them to do – like make the right technology decisions and ensure the finished product is of the highest possible quality. Trust is sometimes tough to gauge, but when you find a partner you believe in, it makes going forward with the next project that much easier.