Selecting Business Software #6: Use A Process

What process will you use for selecting your software? Let me describe the typical process I’ve seen:

  • Make a list of the things you don’t have now or don’t like about your current software.
  • Identify possible packages
  • Call the vendors of the software for demos
  • Review the demos
  • Get together with staff to discuss the demos
  • Select the software based on the demos and price–particularly price, since by this time most of the software will have started to look and sound the same.
  • Begin to implement the software.
  • Wonder if you made the right decision.

This is the process that most businesses seem to use. It has a several issues:

  • The only needs identified (first bullet) are things that are wrong with the current software. Things that are right with the current software are ignored (see The Gladys Principle post).
  • The vendor generally controls the demo. Only things that work well will be shown.
  • Proposals are rarely apples to apples.

If you do things this way, I can just about guarantee you that you’ll select the software vendor with the slickest presentation rather than the best product. If you don’t want to do that, use a process that includes a needs analysis and a review process that evaluates your needs against features rather than vendor against vendor or (more likely) price against price.

A Better Life With Technology! NOT??

The most stressful thing that I had to do when I was in public accounting was go into the office. It wasn’t because there were other CPAs there, either. It was because of phone messages. It never failed that I got stuck in the office and was late for appointments because I was trying to return calls. And I hate to be late. People who know me may find that hard to believe…but it’s true.
The best thing to happen in those days was the advent of the Motorola “brick” phone. With it, I could hit the office, get messages (or even call to get messages), and be on the way to an appointment. Reduced my stress immediately. Great addition to my life.
I feel the same way about the email on my Treo. Unlinked me from the office or home computer. Allows me to read newsletters when I can. Great addition.
Some executives are torn…is this good or is this bad? Guess you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Executives Torn Whether Tech Gadgets Help, Hurt Work-Life Balance, Survey Says – News by InformationWeek

SecondLife Has Legal Problems

In an easy-to-miss article, InformationWeek reported on legal challenges that SecondLife, the virtual world, is facing. Since people in SecondLife talk about the virtual world as if it were real (leading some to suspect that the only reason they need SecondLife is that they don’t have a first one), some of the residents of SecondLife are suing the company that created it, Linden Lab, for property rights violations.
As the article points out,

[T]he company sells the idea of ownership on its site: “Become a part of history by purchasing land and developing your own piece of Second Life,” the site says. “The Pricing and Fees are simple; you pay $9.95 a month plus a Land Use Fee proportional to the amount of land you own.”

So what exactly does this mean legally? Do we have property rights to property that lives only on a computer?
Shudder….
Reminds me of The Matrix….
Maybe the people in SecondLife are just a bit too un-focused on their first one…
Virtual Worlds Collide With Real Laws – News by InformationWeek

Selecting Business Software #5: Prepare for Change

In the 1980s when I was in college, an article came out in one of the leading journals describing technology projects as a process of “unfreezing,” “change,” and “refreezing.” I’ve found this image useful for what DGG does. In most businesses, there is at least some element of resistance to change. Often, I see businesses that delay needed Information Technology changes until the last minute, then expect them to proceed without a hitch.
Reality intervenes in these cases.
I’ve written somewhere else that 10 years ago software was behind business. If we got a 75-85% fit for needs with off-the-shelf software, we were doing pretty well. Now, with the advances in hardware that make extensive software optimization unnecessary, and the advances in software development tools and techniques that allow quick development of complex software, it’s possible to quickly add features to software. So software–in many cases–is ahead of the business…it does things the average business doesn’t need to do today.
And therein lies the opportunity and the danger.
The opportunity to become much more efficient by applying best practices to the operation of business. And the danger that the change will be too difficult to absorb.
Make sure your business is thawing before you begin a software project…it will go a long way toward ensuring the project’s success.

Selecting Business Software #4: Do It Yourself? You Might Be Able To

Many clients like the idea of “do it yourself” software implementation. After all, industry studies show that between 1 and 4 times the cost of the software is invested in services (customization, implementation, training, etc.). Saving that money looks pretty good, and sounds even better.
In reality, ERP software is complex. It generally takes one full implementation for someone to figure the general functionality out, and several more for a consultant to begin to understand the true abilities of the software. This is in addition to weeks of training and staffing the call center. Until then, there are many mysteries in ERP software. How exactly does pricing work in this scenario? How can you get the sales tax report to come out like you need it to come out for TN sales tax? Is it possible to calculate TN sales tax (including the 2 tier, $3200 per item limit) with this software? Will that even matter?
When you get into specific features, you need to understand both the business and accounting implications of things. What exactly does backflushing do? What if I use LIFO and backflushing? How are items relieved from inventory if I purchase them and tag them for a particular job? Do they go through inventory? Do they affect average cost? And on it goes…These things are only learned through years of experience…even knowing to ask the questions, or that there may be issues requires experience.
And then there is the matter of add-ons and customization and modification. All-in-all, it takes years of experience to understand ERP software.
If I’m ever responsible for implementing ERP software as a CFO or CEO in another company (and I plan to be at DGG for a long time; someone else needs to clean out my desk), believe me I’m hiring a consultant to do the dirty work. And the first questions I’m going to ask are: How long has the lead consultant been implementing software? Will I be able to get hold of her or him when I have a question, no matter how simple? How long has the least experienced person I’ll be working with been implementing software? How closely will that person be supervised? Do I have an option to pay more to get a more experienced consultant if I want to?
I’ve seen a few companies do-it-themselves. Generally, they spend more trying to straighten out the mess later than they would have spent getting assistance in the first place.
Kinda reminds me of that time I was going to paint the house….

Security Vulnerabilities, What To Do?

Suppose you’ve been reading this blog and others, and you’ve decided to upgrade your information on security vulnerabilities. So you subscribe to a few of the newsletters from SANS, check out the CERT newsletters and site on a regular basis, and in general are flooded with information that you never knew existed. “How could there be so many security issues in the software I use on a daily basis?” you ask. But there are.
So you read an article like this one from the 12/4/06 (yesterday’s) @RISK newsletter from SANS:

Description: The AcroPDF ActiveX control, included with Adobe Reader and
Adobe Acrobat contains multiple vulnerabilities in its “setPageMode()”,
“setLayoutMode()”, “setNamedDest()”, and “LoadFile()” methods. A web
page that instantiates this control and calls one of these methods could
exploit these vulnerabilities and execute arbitrary code with the
privileges of the current user. Users can mitigate the impact of this
vulnerability by disabling the affected ActiveX control via Microsoft’s
“kill bit” mechanism for CLSID “{CA8A9780-280D-11CF-A24D-444553540000}”.
Status: Adobe confirmed, no updates available.
Council Site Actions: All responding council sites are waiting on
additional information from the vendor. Almost all sites rely on the
automatic update feature for their clients.

Now what do you do?
Really, there’s not a lot TO do. You’ve got two basic choices (since the vendor hasn’t released a fix): (a) Stop using the software, or (b) Wait for a fix. The important thing is that you now know that you need to be more careful when opening PDF file attachments to email or PDFs someone sends you, or PDRs from a web site.
Generally, the rules haven’t changed: Don’t open email or visit web sites that you aren’t sure about.
I once had an otherwise pretty intelligent guy tell me: “I get lots of unsolicited emails. Resumes. Job applications. Papers. If I didn’t open them, I couldn’t do my job!” Ok. I accept that. Just don’t ask me to connect your computer to my network.

Vista, Office, Exchange +30 More: The Real Issue

You may have read that Microsoft launched Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Exchange 2007 simultaneously last week. Microsoft also has about 30 more products that will launch during 2007, including version 5.0 of Dynamics NAV (had to backspace and change that from Navision…old habits die hard.), and several of their other upgrades to Dynamics products.
All of this is a good thing, I think. Office 2007 has a great new look, the first substantial makeover in the history of the product. I’ve been using it for about 3 months now, and have forced it on unsuspecting users of my home office computer (my family). All of them have adapted well–in fact, they haven’t mentioned it at all, not one complaint (and–believe me–that’s unusual). I think end users will like it equally well.
But all of this isn’t the issue…I have MS Office 2007 because it comes FREE with one of several subscriptions I get with my Partner Program membership (which, believe me, isn’t free at all). So, as long as I’ve got it, might as well use it.
What about your business? Should you spend the (probably substantial for any business) dollars to upgrade? Should you do it now? Should you wait? How should you decide anyway.
I’m an old business strategy guy. I believe in things like ROI and internal rate of return (IRR). So my answer is pretty simple.
Bottom line.
Not bottom line “colon” as in “Bottom line:” followed by an explanation of what for me is the Bottom line. The bottom line–as in the bottom line on the income statement–is the BOTTOM LINE.
If upgrading to the new version of Office and Exchange and Vista makes you money, your business should upgrade. If not, you shouldn’t.
Bottom line.
My take on the new products? I imagine DGG will be upgrading as soon as all of our software is fully compatible with the new releases, and as soon as we can move data to the new release. For MOST clients, at least the Office upgrades will be significant if they are heavy users of the products. Outlook has some significant productivity enhancements as do Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.
But of course, you’ll have to evaluate for yourself. Might be a good time to get started. And–by the way–this isn’t just a job for the IT staff. Administrative Assistants, Controllers, Bookkeepers and Accountants also need to be involved.
And that…dear readers…is the bottom line.