Lexicon Systems, LLC Blog

lex'•i•con: the vocabulary of a branch of knowledge. Thoughts on environment, health & safety (EHS), sustainability and information technology to support them.


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12 tips for killer software demos

When selecting enterprise software, demos are a key part of the due diligence process. Even with a short list of 3–4 vendors, sitting through several days’ worth of demos can try your patience. Learn how you can work with prospective software vendors to deliver a killer demo to engage and inform your stakeholders.

12-tips-killer-software-demos

Freepik/Jill Barson Gilbert

I recently facilitated an enterprise software selection process. This required gathering information on software and vendor capabilities, interviewing reference customers and participating in multiple software demos, among other activities.

While each software vendor on the “short list” can address a vast majority of the client’s business needs, each vendor has a range of capabilities. So, how do you set the stage to allow comparison and to make the demos informative and enjoyable, instead of exhausting?

12 Tips for Killer Software Demos

Avoid “demo killers” like poor preparation, dismissing key stakeholder needs, going off script, talking too much, failing to engage the audience, poor demo skills, bashing the competition and apologizing for the demos or software.

The most successful and enjoyable software demos were those where I worked with my client and the vendor in advance of the demo. Here is insight into my approach for “killer demos.”

1. Prepare

Ask important questions before the demo, for instance, the business drivers for the enterprise software; what systems the company uses today; the company’s primary concerns; the expected benefits of the new software; user community and job roles; stakeholders who will attend the demo; decision-makers and key influencers.

2. Focus on needs

Shape the demo around users’ needs — not wants — and priorities. This requires documented software business requirements, with user consensus on needs and priorities.

3. Avoid the standard demo

Standard demos show that the vendor did not consider the customer’s needs. Instead, take astandard approach as described in these tips.

4. Don’t change a thing… except…

Demonstrate the software in its standard, “out of the box” form — without integration,customization, or significant configuration — unless otherwise requested by the customer. An exception is minor personalization using the customer’s branding.

5. Show a day in the life

Simulate the user’s day-to-day experience. For example, show how a “power user” creates monthly reports, and enters detailed data. Show how a casual user completes an assigned task. Show how a site manager or a corporate manager views key performance indicators (KPIs) on a dashboard.

6. Stick to the script

Create a “storyboard” for the demo based upon business needs and priorities. If the customer provides software scripts and/or demo data, then make sure that the scripts align with the stated needs and priorities. Demo the software to best showcase its capabilities while addressing each script.

7. Start at the end… then go backwards

First demo reports, dashboards and workflow that show how a user interacts with the software. Then demo key data entry forms. Demo a workflow or two. Run a few key data queries. But demo software configuration, workflow configuration, report and dashboard creation only if the users would do this day-to-day.

8. Speak to selection criteria

Understand the customer’s software selection criteria, and address them throughout the demo and dialogue.

9. Address resource needs

Address how many subject matter experts (SMEs), project managers and IT resources the customer will need for implementation, roll-out and ongoing maintenance. Provide customer references that can back up these resource estimates.

10. Have IT experts available

Summarize the software’s architecture, hardware and software needs; installation options (on premises, Cloud, Software as a Service) and implementation — but don’t bore a room full of subject matter experts with IT details. Have IT experts present or on call during the demo to answer IT questions.

11. Distinguish yourself

Address how your software will improve the customer’s business. Be positive about capabilities and transparent about third parties you use to deliver software and services. Boast about your successes, and back up statements with evidence. Do not make negative or false statements about the competition.

12. Deliver strong

  • Know your audience – anticipate and address their needs.
  • Engage the audience – control the content and flow, and encourage dialogue.
  • Have a strong opening – capture the audience in the first two minutes.
  • Make your case – benefits the customers will gain, and what sets you apart.
  • Respect the clock – arrive in plenty of time to set up, and plan to finish early.
  • Get trained – learn how to speak to a group and how to demo software. 

Conclusion

A well-delivered demo can make up for software shortcomings, while a poorly-delivered demo can destroy the chance of customers embracing even the best software. Demos can be compelling and enjoyable when the software vendor and prospective customer organize a “killer demo” through preparation, focus, speaking to business and IT issues, and strong delivery.

This post first appeared on the Strategies for Software Lifecycle Management blog.

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3 ways to avoid costly software selection mismatches

Some organizations faced with enterprise software selection make emotional, rather than objective, decisions; select technology before understanding their needs; get caught up in vendor hype; or find a solution that does not match their ability to adopt it. Here are three ways that software selection pros make the selection process easier.

Recently, I joined a tech product review forum. This is a volunteer assignment where the sponsors encourage objective reviews. The reviews help prospective customers to make informed buying decisions.

My first assignment was to review a robotic vacuum cleaner. I found the product easy to unpack and set up. I needed to watch the robot the first few times I used it, to ensure that the machine did not get snagged on something. After multiple random passes, it cleaned the ground floor of my home. This took about three hours and two battery charges to do what I could have done manually in 20 to 30 minutes with a regular vacuum cleaner. The robot did only a fair job of picking up typical debris.

In the end, I did not recommend this product.  This tool did not meet my basic needs—to clean quickly and effectively, with little effort. The robotic vacuum cleaner is an interesting technology, but not developed to where it can replace traditional vacuum cleaners. It is early in the product lifecycle, slightly costly for what it does, attractive to techies, though not ready for the majority of us to adopt.

If I had purchased this product, I would have been out a few hundred dollars at most. But what if I had purchased enterprise environment, health & safety (EHS) software? I could have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, only to have a mismatch. Here are three things the pros do to avoid costly software selection mismatches.

1. Start at the beginning

Don’t start looking at software until you know what you need. First understand your needs and priorities, and then seek out products that best match them. If you know your needs, you should focus on at most, two or three candidate software platforms that best meet your needs.

Do not review the universe of available software, because this only creates confusion. Back to vacuum cleaners for a moment… If you need to clean hard flooring and pile carpeting in a four-bedroom house with five family members, one cat and two dogs, then forget handheld vacuums and shop vacs. Instead, focus on the products and technology that meet your needs.

Since enterprise software initiatives can involve multiple phases over month or years, consider your most pressing needs, as well as mid-term and long term needs. Mid- and long-term needs—and project objectives—may call for software that is flexible, configurable, and scalable to accommodate new users, new business processes, and future mergers & acquisitions.

2. Separate the wheat from the chaff

Sometimes it’s hard to tell one software package from another, just by sitting through a couple of hours of demos. You may like each software platform better than the one before, or worse, may like them all, when, in reality, they differ greatly. And you may be subject to marketing hype like, “We are the leading provider of EHS software to Fortune 500 companies” or “We provide the lowest Total Cost of Ownership in the industry.”

To make your life easier, take a systems lifecycle approach and carry prioritized business needs from one project phase to another. This helps you to create an environment for apples-to-apples comparisons.

  • During the Analysis/Needs Assessment phase, make sure to clearly identify and prioritize requirements, considering key stakeholder input.
  • Use prioritized requirements (and, as appropriate, mid-term and long-term needs) as the basis for a Request for Information before the demos.
  • Ask each of the “short list” of 2-3 vendors to demo their software according to use cases that you provide, and evaluate how each of the vendor packages meets your needs.
  • Make sure to discuss and document your software and vendor evaluation and selection criteria before inviting vendors in for demos.

3. Understand IT maturity

  • Technology Enthusiasts love tech first and foremost and want to be on the cutting edge; they are the first to try a new product.
  • Visionaries love new products as well, but they also consider how those new products or technologies can be applied. They are the most price-insensitive part of the market.
  • Pragmatists are open to new products, but need evidence the products will work and be worth the trouble. They are much more price conscious.
  • Conservatives are much more hesitant to accept change; they are inherently suspicious of any new technology and often only adopt new products to keep up with others. They don’t highly value technology, and are not willing to pay a lot.
  • Skeptics are not just hesitant, but actively hostile towards technology.

When you select software, make sure that you understand your organization’s IT maturity. Is your company an innovator, salivating for the latest technology, and willing to work with software vendors to iron out the wrinkles in a beta product? Or does your company sit solidly in the market majority, willing to wait for software to be tested and proven before you purchase it?

Also consider where the software lies along a product lifecycle curve. Is it an early market product, lean and mean, gaining momentum, made by a vendor with lots of innovative capabilities? Or is it a more mature technology with plenty of breadth and depth, integration and reporting capabilities, in its fourth or later version, with more enhancements on the way?

Select enterprise software that’s a good fit for your organization and its needs. These are just three ways to make a better-informed and objective enterprise software selection. If you do not have all these capabilities within your organization, do not be afraid to ask your IT group or a trusted advisor to help.

This article originally appeared in the Strategies for Software Lifecycle Management blog.


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New CIO.com blog post | 5 ways a consultant can benefit your software implementation

lifecycle-navigationIf you shudder when you hear the word “consultant,” you’re not alone. Yet a consultant can invigorate and strengthen your software initiative, while saving time and money.

Here are five ways that a consultant can positively impact your software initiative (read the full post).


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What golf teaches us about evaluating legacy systems

golf-ball-on-lip-119364397-100265266-primary.idge

Credit: Thinkstock

A decade ago, a 72-hole score of 10 under par could win the PGA championship. Today, it’s a new game, where 20 under par clinches the trophy. As in golf, the right software and information technologies – when used strategically by skilled pros – can make a business more competitive. Here are some pro tips for evaluating legacy systems.

Last weekend, I watched the PGA Championship on TV. Several 20-something golf pros made the tournament exciting, setting new distance and scoring records. I asked an avid golfer friend how the young players could score 20 under par for the four-day event, when a decade ago, 10 or 11 under par would have won the trophy. My friend said that it’s the equipment – high-tech golf clubs make the high-tech balls go farther. Yet the average golfer would be thrilled to score par, which has remained the same forever.

Business performance and agility depend on IT equipment – hardware and software – and how well you use it. If your organization has a variety of legacy systems that are not integrated, do not communicate with each other, are built with outdated technology, or do not perform the way you would like, then it’s time for an evaluation.

Take lessons from a pro

Few great golfers are self-taught; nearly all use teaching professionals with specific methods and drills.

If your organization does not possess the skills to evaluate legacy systems, then enlist a pro. Your pro should employ a proven methodology and should be conversant in business, subject matter, and IT.

Assess your game

Pro golfers periodically assess their game and make adjustments to stay in the game.

Take the time to properly assess your IT systems to keep your organization in the competition.

  • Does your short game (immediate needs) or your long game (mid-range and long-term needs) need improvement? What are the most critical unmet needs?
  • Are your legacy systems agile, flexible, and scalable to meet your needs?
  • How well do your legacy systems align with your current IT strategy? For example, have you transitioned from on premises to Cloud deployment? Do you have a lean IT staff and outsource maintenance and support? Is mobile technology a must for new systems?

Look in your bag

It is good practice to empty your golf bag every now and then. You never know what you will find – unused gadgets and old golf balls just make the bag more cumbersome.

You should do the same with legacy systems. Put everything on the table. Identify all of the software and tools assigned to the task at hand. This includes “shadow IT” systems and small tools that are not approved software applications. Also, you may find that some software is not used as intended. These complicate, rather than enable, your business.

Engage lines of business and power users to help triage legacy systems. Document which systems and tools you should keep, eliminate, or replace.

Rank your legacy systems in order of importance. At the same time, consider what you can consolidate to lighten your load.

Get a grip

If you’re still using small wooden drivers with steel shafts (e.g., Excel spreadsheets and homegrown databases) and everyone else is using oversized titanium drivers with carbon fiber shafts (e.g., integrated, holistic software apps), then it may be time to replace your legacy systems with newer technology.

Sometimes all you need is a new set of grips on your golf clubs. This is a low cost, effective, solution that can provide additional years of play. The same goes for software. You may be able to extend the life of your system by

  • expanding the user community,
  • extending the systems to additional facilities, or
  • enabling new features and functionality.

If legacy systems are holding you back, then enlist a pro to help you sharpen your game. Conduct a proper legacy systems evaluation, triage your IT tools and apps, and determine if extending their life makes sense.

Up-to-date tools and equipment, coupled with a good strategy, skills and training, can make both golf pros and organizations more agile and competitive.


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Debunking common software implementation myths

I read an article this morning about three ERP (enterprise resource planning) implementation myths. I come across the same ones in EHS (environment, health & safety) software implementations. Let the debunking begin…

Myth 1. You cannot use your software selection consultant to implement the software.

no entryI have seen resistance to using a software selection consultant to implement the software. The hiring organization perceived that the consulting firm could not do both; there should be a separation between selection and implementation.

If your consultant has proven project management, communications, subject matter and technical skills to successfully implement the software, then use them. Once your consultant helps you to document and prioritize needs and select software, then they know your needs and business better than anyone else at this point! Take advantage of this knowledge.

Bringing in another group to implement the software will cost you lost productivity, duplication of efforts, extended timelines, and other avoidable costs.

Myth 2. You must have a software vendor or reseller implement your software.

sign-160675_1280While the software vendor/reseller should be conversant in the software, they may lack subject matter expertise or a broader perspective of implementation best practices.

Instead, I recommend a team approach to implementation:

  1. an integrator/implementer that is comfortable with the software and its configuration,
  2. vendor representatives–implementation and product specialists, and
  3. software customer key stakeholders.

Myth 3. The most important aspect of implementation is technical proficiency.

signs-38588_1280I have seen talented technical staff lead software implementations that become “challenged” when the teams focused solely on technical issues.  Warning!

Instead, I recommend a team skilled in several disciplines. Beyond technical (IT) proficiency, subject matter expertise, and industry experience, remember to round out the team with skill sets such as:

  • project management
  • risk management
  • business process management
  • organizational change management
  • training
  • analytics
  • etc.

With these implementation myths are debunked, you can make more informed decisions on your path forward for software implementation. This is my “quick take.” You can read the Panorama Consulting perspective here.


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New Apple MacBook Air appeals to the mobile business set

In late April Apple beefed up its MacBook Air product line. The lightweight notebook computers now boast faster, 4th generation Intel processors, longer batter life, bigger flash storage, faster and better WiFi and slightly lower price tags. This makes the Air more attractive to on-the-go business travelers who need or prefer a full-fledged computer over a tablet or smartphone.

Apple MacBook Air 2014

Photo: Apple

The new MacBook Air specs go head-to-head with the most powerful Windows laptops. Apple is taking the opportunity to win business users over to its hardware and the OSX operating system.

Why? Here are several issues that left market share up for grabs:

  • Windows XP End of Support
  • heartbleed and security vulnerabilities with Internet Explorer
  • Sarbanes-Oxley compliance concerns
  • increased use of Cloud applications in large organizations
  • Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) and mobile apps.

Read New MacBook Air specs make for better business laptops and visit the Apple Web site here.

Those who need less powerful computing power have a number of other options, from smartphones to “phablets” to tablets and ChromeBooks. For further reading on the risks and benefits of sticking with Windows XP, and the increase in organizational use of non-Windows operating systems, see recent IT Insight columns:


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Business texting on the rise

Text messaging is a quick and easy way to communicate–as teenagers and twenty-somethings have known for years. Business texting is on the rise, part of the BYOD (bring your own device) trend.

Benefits and risks

Sometimes texting is more convenient than email or a phone call. It is “short and sweet” and promotes an almost immediate response. I send business texts to certain clients, as I know that they prefer it. When I can, I use iMessage service available to iPhone, iPad and Mac users.

No technology is risk-free. Some of the risks of business texting are:

  • Commingling of personal and business text messages on the same device–some users prefer to separate the two.
  • Security of data transmitted over cellular and WiFi networks.
  • e-Discovery–as with email and other electronic communications, the texts stay in the system.
  • Recipient of text does not respond quickly–if you need an immediate response, or something more than a few words, a phone call or email is better.
  • Potential injuries. Texting while walking causes more–though usually less serious–injuries than texting while driving (more…).

Texting

Next time you have the urge to send a text message, decide if this is the best way to communicate. Weigh the risks and benefits. And don’t text while on the move (unless someone else is driving)!

For further reading, see The Rise of Business Texting.