#2 Problem With Demos and Selecting Software

The #2 problem with getting demos to select software is that most demos aren’t driven by the needs of the company trying to select software.
Don’t get me wrong–a demo is an important part of selecting software. But not a demo of the features that work best in that particular software.
Demos–if they are done–should address (primarily) the key needs of the business. Here’s an example:
Several years ago, I spoke to a company that wanted software to control the delivery of their service. It would take the particulars of the (sometimes very complex) contract and manage the delivery of the service (which many times involved coordinating a number of different activities over a period of several months). The company was known for providing very personalized service (knowing names of family members, etc.), and the idea was to support not only the service side, but the scheduling and delivery side.
I didn’t participate in the demo, but the only demo that would make sense in this case would be a simulation of the contract delivery support the system can provide. Specifically, I’d want to see

  • Setting up a contract
  • Setting up the parameters (contacts, family member names, etc.)
  • Simulation of several of the common scenarios (from both the customer service and the operational side of the business)
  • Opportunity to address several unusual “what-if” situations
  • After all of this, I might have questions about accounting, export to Excel, Access, and Word, and the database backend. I might even want to look at the report writer and the database structure. If I planned on customizing the stuff, I’d want to see some of the representative code (I’d pick the functional area of the program and the function I wanted to see code on.) BUT (and this is a big but)…I’d want the answers to these questions ONLY AFTER I was convinced that the software could meet the needs I’d expressed in the needs analysis

Of course, this assumes that there WAS a needs analysis.

Vista Protects You From Yourself

I’m a clicker. I see what looks like an interesting email, and I click it. I have virus protection. I have spyware protection. They ought to protect me from anything out there….
Most users really are their own worst enemies. Microsoft is right…if they close the holes that hackers squeeze in through, I’m less likely to click on something that does me harm.
I like that.
Truthfully, I like Vista. It looks cool. It has some really nice features.
And in two months, my kids haven’t broken it. That says something.
I’m not sure what.

“The weakest link in the security of any system is the end user. It seems like we’re putting them down, but, realistically, there’s a lot we can do in technology to secure our products, but as long as user can be tricked into clicking a link or going to an unknown Web site, we’re at risk,” Fathi said. “We think that by helping users protect themselves better, we can make a big dent in the current methods of attacks being used by hackers.”

Vista Aims to Stop Hackers’ Social Engineering Ploys

Technology Upgrades that Don’t Work

I know Microsoft wonders why IT folk won’t jump on the Vista bandwagon. Why we won’t beat the drum and dance to the music.
Here’s the thing: I would, but….
The last month of the year and the first are upgrade months for us. There are tax upgrades, software upgrades, antivirus upgrades, etc. I don’t know why they are clustered at the end and beginning of the year for us, they just are. Probably has to do with the fact that we do a lot of ERP (accounting) software support and the IRS releases new tax rules about then.
Every December and January we load new updates for clients…and every December and January, there’s a new list of hot fixes, bugs, quickly rolled out versions, etc. from vendors who didn’t quite get all the bugs out. I know why it happens, but it makes for a couple of rough months for me.
And that’s why I–for one–won’t be banging the drum for Vista for a while…I don’t want to get caught in the fallout of new drivers, quickly updated software, incompatibilities, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll update my computer as soon as all the software I use is compatible…and I’ll load Office 2007 and tell all my friends how much I like it.
But today I’m tired of software that breaks just because you upgrade it.
So…software vendors…tell me again why I should encourage my clients to upgrade? Why was that again? I must have missed something…

#1 Problem With Demos and Selecting Software

The #1 problem with getting software demos early in the selection process (or as a replacement for the selection process, in most cases) is tunnel vision.
Software vendors train software resellers to demo only those features of their product that are (a) strong in relation to competition, (b) work well, and (c) are flashy. This biases the selection process in the direction of the features that look the best to the committee–even if it’s a committee of one.
I’ve seen too many businesses select software that I knew would not meet their needs because they got tunnel vision. They focused on a few features that they didn’t currently have to the exclusion of features they needed. It’s one of the key things I wrote about in the Guide To Selecting Business Software. It’s the key reason for having a selection process that includes needs analysis.

Just Give Me a Demo

I should probably add this to the list of things you should (or shouldn’t do) when selecting software. It’s part of the standard way businesses go about selecting software. It works something like this:

  • Find 12 companies that sell software that looks like it might work
  • Call all 12 of them
  • Start research on the Internet about the software. Print out everything you find of interest, whether it’s one of the 12 software companies you called or not
  • Add all the new companies to your list, and call them
  • Talk to the first 8 or 10 that call, and request a demo
  • Accept the offers to demo on the web
  • Don’t take notes
  • Don’t have a list of questions to ask
  • See the other demos either on the web or in your office over a period of 4 or 5 weeks
  • Realize that you should have been taking notes and start after the 2nd demo
  • Make a list of notes about the first 2 demos so you can give them fair consideration at the end of the process
  • Since some of the software companies will call after 2-3 weeks, pack in 2 demos per day in the last 2-3 days of the period before the deadline
  • Call a committee meeting the day after the last demo
  • Reschedule the meeting because a key employee (who could only attend 25% of the demos can’t be there)
  • Reschedule again…same employee
  • Reschedule again…
  • Finally, insist on a meeting and have it
  • Make a decision to call back the 3 possible vendors you liked the best
  • Be disappointed at the second demo…it seemed like those products did more
  • Make a decision based on the best presentation of the 3
  • Document, document, document the process so management will see that it was thorough, thorough, thorough
  • And now….?

Does this sound like a process you’ve been through?
More tomorrow on what the best practices look like.

Windows Vs. Apple Mac

As they say in the legal shows, let’s stipulate to the fact that the Apple Mac is more stable than the PC. It’s pretty much a fact. All the tech sites like Engadget and Leo Laporte’s This Week In Tech (TWiT) say it. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few Windows loyalists out there that think Windows can do no wrong.
But here’s my $0.02: Before you critique Windows instability, recognize that Apple controls 100% of the product. They don’t deal with 100s of video cards. They don’t deal with processors and motherboards that come out AFTER the product is released that they’re expected to support. They don’t deal with drivers written by hardware manufacturers that are unstable.
So when you criticize Windows, take everything that’s relevant into account.

How To Mess Up When Selecting Computer Software: Don’t Listen To Anyone Who Doesn’t Report To You!

I got a call from a company with serious software issues in the last week. They called about a year ago and wanted to buy some software that we work with.
I listened to the description of why they wanted to buy it, then told him that it was the wrong software for his company. It just wouldn’t work.
He showed me the brochures and the web site. I showed him the software. I was right, of course, it wouldn’t work. But I was only right once it got to be his idea…I’m used to that…after all, I’m a consultant.
Meanwhile a highly-placed executive at his company fell in love with some software from a small software company. “Would I look at it?” they asked.
“Sure,” said I, “right after we finish the needs analysis and talk to all of your operational units.”
They didn’t hire me. I was sad for at least 10 seconds.
They called at the end of last year. They had decided to buy the software the executive wanted. “Could I help them design some training?”
“Sure. Let me tell you how we do it,” I said.
“Let me tell you how we have planned it,” they said.
They didn’t hire me. I was sad for at least 10 seconds again.
This week they called. The software purchase was a disaster. They had voted with a 75% majority in the management group to give it 2 more months and then give up. And the IT Director (who called) wanted to know if I knew someone they could hire in the Finance department with software implementation experience. That was what they needed, they had decided.
I wasn’t sad. Not even for 10 seconds. Nope, I told them, I don’t recommend employees anymore. They have head hunters for that.
Question: What went wrong here?
(My answer deleted…what’s yours?)

Is Steve Jobs Stupid? Or Just An Absent-Minded Professor?

I’m not sure if Steve Jobs and Apple are stupid or just bumbling. If the press is right, Cisco has a pretty firm grasp on the name iPhone…firm enough that Apple was negotiating over “sharing” it. Surely Apple doesn’t think that just because it owns the trademark (and 70% or so of the market) on one device that begins with an “i” that it can just prefix any old name out of the telephone directory with it.
Apparently, someone owns rights to iTV, because Jobs announced Apple TV as the name of the new device they’ll be releasing.
But why in the world would you have a major announcement of a device that used a name that another company owned? Particularly if you were negotiating with that company over an agreement to use the name?
Did Apple want to be sued?
Cisco Sues Apple over Use of iPhone Name

Buzz Away, Apple Reveals iPhone, Apple TV

The photo is from the Apple web site, and is (c) 2007 by Apple. There has been buzz since the middle of 2006 about a variety of devices coming from Apple: a widescreen iPod, a touchscreen iPod, an Apple phone. An Apple device that would browse the Internet, send and receive email, and download from iTunes wirelessly.
Guess what? There’s a single device now that does it all. Take a gander at the iPhone.
It almost (maybe it did) eclipsed the Apple TV, another cool device announced at MacWorld 2007.