Software // Enterprise Applications
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12/16/2013
09:06 AM
Tony Byrne
Tony Byrne
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6 More Enduring Truths About Selecting Enterprise Software

Buying business software can be a tricky business. Pay attention to these truths and warnings.

5. Technology selections must be test-based
The three keys to selecting software are test, test, and test. All else is guesswork. Don't waste your time building massive spreadsheets asking for checkbox answers to vague statements about integration, ease of use, and robust support. (On that last one, I'll offer a tip: All enterprise vendor tech support sucks; it's just a question of how bad.) Instead, rely on testable, narrative use cases as the core of your selection process.

Enterprises sometimes resist this because testing takes time and effort. Selection team leaders rightfully ask how much they should invest here. The answer depends on how important the technology is to your business success. What's the cost of picking technology that plays out as a poor fit -- or outright failure?

Incidentally, we find that iterative, empirical testing usually saves you time in the end. It improves your negotiating position and reduces the infamous gap between product selection and implementation.

Lesson: Empiricism is your best friend here.

6. Technology is not intrinsically a good thing
You already know that most technology implementations fail to bring expected business returns. So beware of analysts who cheerlead for the technology industry or a particular software segment, and avoid pundits who assume that technology adoption is a sign of enlightenment.

First, ask yourself: "Do we really have a technology problem here?" If you can't answer that definitively, you should pause and reflect further on the next steps to take.

Above all, don't look at a technology acquisition as an end in itself. You may achieve some program milestones by selecting and implementing new software, but did you really improve your business? Did you make your customers more satisfied? Did you make your employees more effective?

Lesson: Shape your technology selection efforts as the first step in a journey that has clear business objectives along the way, and don't hesitate to terminate a purchase entirely if you discover that new technology won't take you where you need to go.

What do you think?
You may sense a bit of cynicism in this list, but hopefully you'll see some passion, too. As an integrator myself in the 1990s, I got so frustrated witnessing poor technology choices in the initial stages of big enterprise initiatives that I decided to shift careers to see if I could do something about it.

Enterprise technology buyers deserve the right software fit. The right technology and vendor aren't sufficient for business success, but they're usually a necessary precondition.

But what about you, the enterprise customer, and the lessons you've learned? Did I miss any big ones? Chime in using the comment section below.

Tony Byrne is a 20-year technology industry veteran and president of Real Story Group, which focuses primarily on research on enterprise collaboration software, SharePoint, and web content management.

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artr
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artr,
User Rank: Strategist
1/4/2014 | 5:09:20 PM
Re: Select the Partner and Vendor / Software Together
Wirh the increasing availability of "cloud" services, that should be the route for online application development, along with back-end  functions. That will not only simplify integrations between all application components, but will also facilitate application trialing and testing to insure the proper user experiences, as well as flexible access to live assistance. It will also support increasing mobile device usage, not just desktops.

Put as much of  your user technologies into the same network "pot" (and NOT in the endpoint devices) and you will get rid of a lot of the problems we have always had with application software development and maintenance. That goes for end user personalization and customization controls as well. This is not something new, but really is "back to the future" when computer time-sharing started being used in 1964 with "dumb" teletype terminals. 

Let the migration begin in earnest during 2014!
rmerrill53701
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rmerrill53701,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/16/2013 | 6:23:14 PM
Select the Partner and Vendor / Software Together
This is some great advice, even on smaller scales than "Enterprise," where my experience lies.

I would only add one thing. Screen and select the implementation partner together with the software. Chances are, you're going to need third-party help implementing your new software. The trustworthiness and competence of that partner are going to overshadow the selected software, unless your choice was really poor.

Pre-purchase testing is expensive, so I also have a process for choosing which scenarios to focus on, described in Software Selection: An Overview of the Tall Nails(c) Process.

It's a risky business, and it's easy to armor your selection process in the wrong places. Good article!
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
12/16/2013 | 10:32:48 AM
Open Source
Love the use of the word theological in this column. Open source certainly used to be a religious debate for some people. The growing influence of the OpenStack community shows how the situation has changed.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
12/16/2013 | 10:03:32 AM
Tech Isn't The Only Thing
I'd say "tech isn't the only thing" rather than "technology isn't necessarily a good thing." Writing up one of our InformationWeek CIO of the Year profiles, University of Kentucky CIO Vince Kellen told me that in addition to doing all sorts of fancy predictive analytics about student retention, the executive in charge of retention said, "why don't we just ask students if they plan to return?"

As a result, the school added a simple question to a series of mini, one-question, yes-or-no polls that the school sends out via mobile devices. So in addition to having high-tech predictive models, it also uses the low-tech mobile question, "do you plan to return to school in the spring/next fall?" If the student selects "no," they're sure to get a call from their guidance counselor. 
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