Having the right software is essential to the operational efficiency of your business. However, it can be expensive to buy and maintain, especially if it turns out to be unsuited to your requirements, so it’s important to ask the right questions at the outset to make sure you get what you need and avoid overpaying in terms of time, money and resources, down the line. Here are some good questions to ask your software vendor before you jump in.
- How is the software priced?
The cost of software varies between providers. Some have a one-off fee, others base rates on seats, processors or concurrent users. For example, a programme could be installed on 20 machines, but no more than five people can use it at any one time - an important factor if you have a CYOD or BYOD policy for remote working.
It’s essential to know this up-front as it could lead to frustration and even hinder your business, if access becomes an issue, so make sure you know the limits of your software licence.
Affordability is obviously key, as things such as maintenance, customisation, updates, and training will all come at an additional cost, so be realistic about your IT budget and its limitations.
- Is service included?
Top-end software with a higher price tag generally comes with some level of built-in service. If it does, ask for details and whether it’s on-site or remote, uses a helpdesk or online trouble shooters, and ask them to be specific about the hours they operate.
If you’re a 24-hour business, but help is only available between 10am and 4pm, for example, that could be a big issue.
If additional services aren’t included, make sure you’ve enough support built into your contract as a minimum, before you sign on the dotted line.
Bear in mind, service is an area many providers count on to increase revenue, with add-ons and customisation, so it pays to be thorough up front, and availing of an IT consulting service may be a great option for you as they can advise on what will work best for you and can also provide the tech support you need by acting as your virtual CIO. Not only that, but they can also often offer a great discount on software packages as registered resellers.
- What’s the turnaround for resolving issues?
Bugs aren’t uncommon in software, so it’s wise to ask what the policy is around fixes, just in case you need them.
Some providers will respond to bug issues as soon as they arise, others will make a list of bugs as they come up and schedule a release to fix them altogether – at a time that suits them. That could be monthly, quarterly or annually, so get some reassurance about how that process is managed and whether a ticketing system is used to document tasks and fixes, to avoid any nasty surprises.
- How often is the software updated?
Staying on top of updates is essential. If you’re looking at multiple vendors, it’s a good idea to go with one that keeps customers informed about future updates.
Good providers invite customers to join their mailing list, so they can be kept up to date. If you go down that route, we recommend adding the email addresses of all users, so no one is out of the loop and the updates never slip through the gaps.
You can even ask about what’s planned for the next update, as software programmes are generally works in progress. They might have a list of the benefits and features in the pipeline, which provides great insight regarding where they’re going as a company and allows you to think about whether their direction matches yours.
- Is the software good for a growing business?
Scalability is important if your business is going through a period of change or growth. Adding new programmes to your system can take an enormous amount of time and effort when you consider the end-to-end process of choosing, buying, testing, customising and training.
Investing in software is about future-proofing your business, so think ahead and make sure the service it provides can stretch to grow with your business and its IT roadmap.
- Can it be customised?
Every business is unique and there’s no guarantee any one programme will match your needs 100%. But, if customisation is an option, you can get a lot closer to that perfect match.
As you’d expect, custom builds come with custom price tags, so be wary about buying software that needs to be changed too much, as the total price will increase.
Some live by the rule of thumb that customisation should never be more than a third of the software price. It really comes down to the specific needs of the business and the value they believe they can achieve from making the customisation.
At the very least, you should talk about costs up-front and look at whether changes can be made in-house or outsourced to another software developer, to get a better rate.
- What lessons has the provider learned?
Not all IT installations run like clockwork, but forewarned is forearmed and all that, so ask your provider if there are any known issues or common hurdles you can expect to face, as the software beds in.
Developers are always improving products and to do that, they need be on top of issues. Good software providers keep track of this type of information and shouldn’t be scared to share it.
It’s not about picking holes in the product or service, it’s simply about knowing what to expect and finding workarounds where necessary, so your operation isn’t negatively impacted.
- Is a refund possible if you’re not satisfied?
If you were making a big purchase for any other thing - sports equipment, furniture, a laptop, etc - you’d expect some satisfaction guarantee or a refund if you weren’t happy with the product.
Software shouldn’t be any different.
We’re not saying it will be easy, but, if you don’t ask, you won’t get, so talk to the provider about free trial periods and full or partial refunds if the software doesn’t stack up for you. At the very least, you’ll be going in with your eyes open.
Discover how IT can go beyond simple tech fixes to help your business grow by downloading our eBook on the Role of IT In Your Growing Agency: