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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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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Learn from the experts and share best practices at September Sustainable Performance Forum

I am pleased to announce my upcoming presentation, “Business Requirements and Software Selection Best Practices” at the Sustainable Performance Forum, 25-26 September in Chicago, IL. The #Enablon #SPF Americas 2014 program features thought leaders on environment, health & safety (EHS) and sustainability, information technology (IT), and Risk. 

Former NASA astronaut, navy fighter pilot and test pilot and Boeing Chief Technical Pilot John O. Creighton will deliver the keynote talk on risk.

The Keynote panel features senior executives from industry, leading EHS subject matter experts and industry analysts. Author and writer Anna M. Clark will moderate the panel. Enablon CEO Dan Vogel, CTO Marc Vogel, Vice President Pascal Gaude and Enablon North America CEO Philippe Tesler will present their vision and company roadmap.

The Enablon team will lead program tracks on six different Enablon software solutions. Each track will include a session on issues & trends and a case study, in addition to presentations on the solution set and product road map.

Customers will have the opportunity to collaborate with subject matter experts and Enablon on future product enhancements. 

The program features two new tracks this year, beyond solution tracks and software training:

  • Technology Enablers–cross-platform, innovative information technologies
  • Implementation Strategies–best practices for business requirements and software selection; implementation, and more.

SPF also offers networking opportunities like industry roundtables and a gala dinner, and Lunchtime Expert series talks. Learn more here.

SPF-14_Houston-Regional_Header_600pxEnablon’s Sustainable Performance Forum (SPF) Houston 2014 attracted senior managers in industry, information technology (IT), software and content development and system integrators. The event, held 21 May 2014 in Houston, offered top-notch, informative presentations and a peek at the road map for Enablon V 7.0.

I had the privilege of moderating the pre-conference Customer Workshop and the SPF general session.

Customer Workshop presentations included

  • Dan Vogel, Enablon CEO and Marc Vogel, Enablon CTO – Enablon’s Mobile platform and Configuration Engine
  • Pascal Gaudé, Enablon VP, Global Services – Center of Excellence and Services Innovations
  • Alexis Merydith, Enablon NA Product Manager – v7.0 Road Map.

SPF speakers included

  • Loren Steffy, business/energy journalist and book author – Keynote: Safety in the Gulf of Mexico
  • John Kill, ERM Risk Expert – Risk Management Issues and Trends
  • Leah Cartwright, Enablon Process Safety Management/Management of Change Subject Matter Expert – PSM Issues and Trends
  • Alexis Merydith – v7.0 Road Map
  • Bryan Taft, Sr Solutions Engineer – Enablon  MOC demo.

Enablon is a leading environment, health & safety (EHS) and sustainable software company. The software firm will hold its annual SPF Americas meeting in late September in Chicago, IL.


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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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Good RFPs lead to better proposals

white arrows painted on ashpalt

Get all suppliers headed in the same direction.

Is a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Request for Quote (RFQ) in your future? To make sure that your RFP does not become a “Request for Problems,” consider the following advice:

  1. Engage the right team. Include a cross-section of stakeholders to develop the RFP and to evaluate proposals. 
  2. Send the RFP only to 2-3 qualified parties. By the time you reach the RFP stage, you should have a good idea of which suppliers can best meet your needs. Do not waste the supplier’s or your time just to get pricing information.
  3. State the evaluation criteria up front. Share the “high level” criteria such as fit with business needs, ease of use, supplier qualifications, etc. Spare the details.
  4. Provide project background information. This sets the stage and gives the supplier a reference point.
  5. Provide a proposal outline or response template. This  permits you to compare proposals on a level playing field. A clear outline will elicit better responses and a template should make responses easier to evaluate.  Limit the response length in certain areas as you see fit.
  6. Make it easy for the supplier to respond. Be specific with your request for information.  Avoid asking for superfluous information, and instruct the supplier to be brief.
  7. Provide a single point of contact. Typically, Supply Chain or Procurement is the contact. The single contact will ask the end-user of the product/service for help in answering questions in their domain. This levels the playing field and keeps politics out of the equation as much as possible.
  8. Request customer references–and check them! Assume that suppliers give only positive references. If you have contacts within other organization, then call them as well. Ask the same questions of each reference, including questions like, “Would you choose this supplier if you had to do it again?”
  9. Impose a “quiet period” from the RFP issue date through supplier selection.
  10. Provide feedback to ALL suppliers. After selecting a supplier, remember to give feedback to those who did not win the bid. Surprising, many organizations forget this common courtesy.

See the IT Insight archives for further reading on this and other topics related to software evaluation, selection and life cycle management

© 2013 Lexicon Systems, LLC.

Fresh off two software selection projects, I am reminded that software should benefit its users, not the IT group. A well-designed software application–or commercial software implementation–starts with documenting clear, solid business requirements.

Solid requirements (prioritized business needs) are critical to success. Good business requirements, coupled with objective evaluation criteria, can help a company to identify a short list of vendors and select a solution that best meets their needs, fits the company’s IT maturity and culture, and that users will adopt.

what happens in vagueness stays in vagueness

Business requirements must be clear, not ambiguous, to both users and IT.

Consider the following tips when developing business requirements. When eliciting requirements, the business analyst should:

  • be clear, not ambiguous.
  • document business needs in terms familiar to the users–not IT terms.
  • help stakeholders reach a consensus on needs (“what” the software does).
  • help the stakeholders to develop standardized business process work flows that are simple enough to use day in and day out. The software implementation will reflect these work flows, which “behind the scenes” are well thought out and can handle exceptions with built in “business rules.”

When eliciting requirements, the business analyst should not:

  • document “molecular” requirements; each should be “atomic” and describe a specific need.
  • discuss the software features or look and feel (“how” the software does it) This will happen after software selection, during design.
  • allow certain stakeholder’s opinions to override what is best for the group as a whole.
  • help stakeholders to develop different work flows for different locations. Use “business rules” to address differences and to allow consistent, enterprise-wide data roll-up and reporting.

Read more about an approach to well-designed software.

Click here for a wealth of articles on software business requirements, evaluation and selection, and managing the IT systems life cycle.

 


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Confronting disruptive innovation article available

Confronting Disruptive InnovationIT departments today must deal with several emerging technologies at once–social networking, mobile/BYOD, cloud and big data/predictive analytics. All of these are disruptive innovations, aka disruptive technologies.

Many organizations encourage disruptive innovation. Take Google for instance. Can you imagine life without Google search, mail, maps, Chrome, earth and other tools? These innovations first appealed to “fringe” markets of “techies” and later moved to the mainstream. simply did not exist just a few years ago, and they have changed the way we live and work.

Other organizations encourage the opposite–sustainable technology that improves the performance of existing products meant for the mainstream. Take Microsoft Office for example. Yes, the interface has changed dramatically over the years and we see new features, but this is a mainstream product with a purpose that changes little.

Read Confronting disruptive innovation to learn more.